I hope this story finds you safe, healthy and in contact with loved ones as we navigate through this uncertainty in our daily lives. Be safe!
In 2019, a hen wood duck began nesting in the box we had installed two winters before at my favorite wetland. I had long dreamed of witnessing that leap of faith as day old ducklings began their new life on the pond. With only a vague knowledge of her time frame, and no access to the box, I began a vigil of my own. I would sit in our newly built blind every day from dawn until late morning waiting for that magical moment.
After sunrise, the wood duck hen would leave her nest to stretch, eat and preen before returning to her brood, rarely keeping within my sights. During my two week stint, I spent most of my time watching a lone hooded merganser that was oddly invested in the same box.
The video below tells the story of these two hens, as witnessed through my lens.
The light was never in my favor. Mornings were foggy, overcast and sometimes rainy until the the day of the leap. On that day, the sun rose hot and harsh, creating sharp back lighting for the mid-morning jump.
Following the final scene, please continue watching for a slideshow with images and video of life on the pond through those two weeks and beyond. The final scene was filmed two months later, revealing a mother hen with an 8 week old duckling. I like to imagine this was the same family, nearly grown and newly feathered, preparing to leave the pond, and Mama, for the very first time.
For the best experience, please watch at full resolution (4K) and with full audio to hear the story. Narration is also transcribed below along with my thoughts about the hen merganser.
A Tale of Two Hens (Narration)
“Mornings were peaceful as fog formed a shroud around the pond.
A hen wood duck was sitting on eggs, on a vigil that fueled my own.
After sunrise she would break to eat, preen and stretch before resuming her precious burden.
A lone hooded merganser appeared each day to surveil the area.
She endured dense fog and driving rain.
She wasn’t always alone.
She perched at length on the occupied box, sometimes with a friend. Or two.
One early June morning the sun rose hot and the fog burned quickly.
The hen wood duck stuck her head out of the box.
She jumped to the water and began to call.
She then flew off, circling the pond, ever wary of threats.
Back in the box she waited for her moment.
The hooded merganser appeared on the scene!
And before any time at all…
…five brand new wood ducks began life on the pond.”
Interspecies nest parasitism is fairly common between Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers. I have witnessed mixed families of the two species on this same pond and suspected the merganser might have laid one or more eggs in the nesting box. On the day of the leap, there were no merganser ducklings in this brood. The hen hooded merganser briefly followed the small family, bathed and returned to the log, perching among the sunning turtles. Later inspection of box contents revealed only two unhatched wood duck eggs. The mysterious connection between the hen hooded merganser and this box, or family, remains unresolved. I will continue my visual research as the seasons permit, so stay tuned!