To conceal their nests, most waterfowl species utilize the cover of cattails, reeds and willows common to warm-water ponds, bogs and marshes. Taking precaution to higher levels, however, several species — wood duck, American goldeneye (whistler), Barrow’s goldeneye, bufflehead, hooded merganser, American merganser — nest in tree cavities that are often the courtesy of squirrels and pileated woodpeckers. Allowing that the cavities may be 40 feet or more above ground, it’s not surprising that eyewitnesses to the spectacle of, let’s say, unfledged wood ducks leaving their nest, describe the experience as unforgettable.
Accordingly, on the day of departure the duck flies to the base of the tree and calls to her brood. Directly, the ducklings appear at the entrance to the nest. In disarray, then, they begin tumbling out and, with stubby wings and webbed feet instinctively outstretched to slow their descent, flutter to the ground unharmed. Thereupon, the duck hustles the voracious youngsters to the nourishing aquatic habitat in which they will grow quickly and become fledged in short order.
Considering that incubation is essential to the hatching of eggs, it’s interesting that during periods of exceptionally warm weather ducks actually sit on clutches of eggs to cool them. Indeed, aside from their awe-inspiring migrations, the survival strategies of waterfowl are remarkable to say the least. So much so that ducks, geese, swans and the like continually attract large audiences — sportsmen, naturalists, bird watchers — to the grand theater of the outdoors, where the performances are priceless, not to mention the price of admission.