THESE TREE-WALKING DUCKS ARE A DELIGHT
“The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn:
God’s in His heaven
All’s right with the world.”
In the spring, as the sun begins to creep over the horizon and light the eastern sky, I am often at my window or outside to watch the miracle of dawn. A new day dawning, especially in the spring, is a sight to behold. The world takes on a rosy glow, and with each glorious sunrise comes a promise of hope and renewal.
Spring mornings are alive and vibrant. The birds are singing; flowers are blooming; and my hillside is “dew-pearled.” With only my feathered friends for an audience, I often recite Robert Browning’s poem about spring, as I greet the new day.
Strange things happen in the spring. This time of year, eccentric ladies arise at dawn and recite poetry on the front porch, and ducks can be seen walking in trees. Ducks walking sideways on a tree limb early in the morning are enough to make one doubt one’s senses or question the previous evening’s food and beverage selections!
The tree-walking ducks I am talking about are, of course, wood ducks. The incomparable wood duck is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful birds of North America. Wood ducks look almost oriental, as if they were hand painted by a venerable, ancient Japanese artist. Vibrantly colored with iridescent feathers and a magnificent swept-back crest, the wood duck is the beauty queen of the duck world.
Wood ducks are found in areas with hardwood trees along rivers, ponds and in wood swamps. Wood ducks are cavity nesters, nesting primarily in trees, but they will also gladly set up a domicile in a wood duck house, if one is available. And, it is at this time of year that pairs of wood ducks can be seen flying through the woods with amazing agility in search of favorable nesting sites. (Wood ducks begin nesting as early as February, with March and April being the peak months.)
Two decades ago the wood duck population in Mississippi was at an all-time low. The prospects for the future of the beautiful bird were rather bleak. With loss of habitat, bottomland, hardwood forests, and over-hunting, the wood duck population declined, and it became a species of great concern to conservationists.
Today, the wood duck has made a dramatic comeback, and this is due primarily to the combined efforts of Ducks Unlimited and other conservation groups. According to David Wesley, the director for Operations of the Southern Regional Office of Ducks Unlimited, his organization has put in place with its partners more than 70,000 acres in wetlands. At present, they are working with approximately 400 private landowners and farmers. On public lands they are working with such agencies as the Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Forestry Commission to restore our wetlands, and to date, 40 projects have been completed.
Where there is a dirth of suitable habitat, wood duck houses have been a boon for these once almost homeless birds. The ducks have even adapted to urban areas where there are wood duck houses and an adequate supply of water. For birdwatchers, especially wood duck aficionados, the good news is that once these birds nest in an area, they are imprinted and comb back year after year.
The wood duck is a conservation success story, and some fine spring morning, if you should see ducks waddling along a tree limb doing the two-step, rest assured that your sanity is intact. It is spring; the “lark may not be on the wing,” but if you should have a wod duck, a bird of unparalleled beauty, then “God’s in his heaven All’s right with the world.”