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Scott Rall: Spring's many wonders

BY SCOTT RALL Daily Globe outdoors columnist I was out checking my wood duck boxes the other day and met a hen wood duck who has become my favorite duck of all time. When I opened the the man-made nesting box I had put up a few years ago I usuall...

BY SCOTT RALL

Daily Globe outdoors columnist

I was out checking my wood duck boxes the other day and met a hen wood duck who has become my favorite duck of all time.  

When I opened the the man-made nesting box I had put up a few years ago I usually tap on the side of the box, so if there is a hen inside she knows I am coming to see her.  I tapped on the box and nothing happened, so I figured the box was unused as of yet or she was out taking a break.

I opened the box slowly and peered inside.  She just sat there and looked at me.  I figured in a second or two she would take flight. As I closed the box after about 15 seconds she then decided it was time to exit, but instead of bailing out and making a getaway she perched in the opening for a few seconds longer and looked at me.  

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I was only about 18 inches away. After a few moments she then headed off.  As she did, my 18-month-old black lab Raider made chase. It was a cool experience.

Wood ducks are more human tolerant than many other ducks.  You can check in on them from time to time and they won’t freak out and abandon the nest.

I was somewhat disappointed in the fact that of the 12 boxes I have up, only four had a duck in them. I have seen more than the normal amount of wood ducks around this spring, so I thought my tenant rates would be higher.

A wood duck does not build a nest.  They will not bring any nesting material to the effort.  This is why it is so important to put fresh wood shavings in each box every spring. What she will do is pull down feathers from her breast to pad the eggs and cover them when she leaves.

A wood duck will lay one egg per day for about 12 days.  After she lays an egg she leaves the nest until the next day and then returns and lays another one.

A duck’s incubation period is about 27 days.  If she stayed on the nest for the 12 days she was laying her eggs they would all hatch at different times. By laying one egg per day and then leaving and only incubating them all at the same time, they will all hatch within 24 hours of each other.

If you don't hatch within the 24 hour window she will leave you behind. She uses the down feathers to cover them when she leaves so the embryo in each egg does not die if it gets too cold at night

I did have another occupant in one of my boxes, a duck called a merganser.  This is a cavity nester too, and their eggs are almost white compared to a light green color of a wood duck.  It is cool to see the male sitting on top of the house as if he is acting like a guard of some sort.

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Nature is an amazing thing.  Birds like wood ducks, pheasants and many other fowl get much brighter colors in the spring and these fade as the season progresses.

If you could harvest a rooster pheasant or a wood duck in the spring, the taxidermy mount would be much more brilliant.

The showiest duck of all the wild kingdom in the spring is a duck called a spoonbill, or the slang term is shoveler. These are not a duck many hunters want to shoot, but in the spring they are the brightest white and deepest crimson I have ever seen and the brightest of any duck that flies in Minnesota.

When you harvest one in the fall they look like they have been totally faded out by the summer sun.  A very big change happens to this duck’s outside appearance over a period of only 200 days.

All of this spring brightening is all in the name of showmanship.  Male colors are the brightest in the spring to they can have a better chance of landing a lady friend. Between showy colors and spring vocalizations it’s all about love.

When a turkey gobbles or a rooster pheasant crows they are trying to attract attention, plain and simple.

I hear all the time from folks that they think there are so many pheasants around. Everyone thinks the populations are really high. This is not true. What is true is that you see lots of roosters in the spring because almost every rooster in the state is standing on a road somewhere trying to be seen.

A high vantage point gives the best visibility and also allows the sound of the crowing to travel the longest distance.  These same rooster pheasants will vanish into the cover when the mating season is over.

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The other thing that sits on the roof of my duck houses that I really love is a red wing black bird. He will sit on the tallest pole or post and sing his heart out in an effort to find a lady.

I actually leave some perches for them to do their thing from.  These are either short, about six feet tall, or if they are taller, they are very spindly.

I don't want a pole 12 feet tall that is strong enough to hold a red tail hawk whose favorite thing to do is make a meal of a displaying grassland male. A strong wire will hold a bobolink or a red wing black bird, but not a hawk. Remember this in your wildlife property.

We have a few burns left and the rain seems to have finally stopped. Pheasants Forever, with my help, has entered into an arrangement with Nobles County and the City of Worthington to do two pollinator projects on city and county land.

I got the county burn location, Midway Park west of Reading, done last week and the Prairie Justice Center site should get done this week. These spots will be maintained as black dirt with chemical spraying until fall when we will do a fall dormant seeding.  You will be able to drive by both of these sites next early fall and see thousands of flowers blooming for the benefit of butterflies, honey bees and other native pollinators.

Drive out to Lake Ocheda or a similar site this weekend and just listen. Try to get off a busy road.  You will hear all of nature carrying on as they have for tens of thousands of years trying to bring forth the next generation of God’s wild creatures.

I even saw beautiful miss snapping turtle last weekend laying her eggs right in the middle of my mowed path. I marked the spot and moved the path.  Inside is OK, but outside is way better!!   Please don't miss it.

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