The Best Gift I’ve Had All Year

I received the best gift today, the best gift I’ve had all year – probably the best I will have this year!  It didn’t come in a box, and it’s not something I can touch, actually no one reached out and gave it to me, rather, I was aware enough to receive it on my own.  And it was wonderfully exhilarating!  What could it be?!

WOOD DUCK BABIES!

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Mommy wood duck walking into the woods with her babies.

It’s not the best picture I’ve ever taken, but you can see the female with a trail of little ones following after her.

Chepe had seen the ducks when they were scoping out our property for a nest, and we thought they would make it on the other side of the driveway.  I started to see them flying in every night at about 7:30, and one day I saw the female land in the highest cavity of a large old tree that has four different holes in it.  I was pretty surprised because last year a squirrel had raised her babies there, and I had seen her coming and going from that same hole.  Sure enough, that squirrel climbed right up and in a few seconds later, and abruptly came back out.  Must be Mrs. Wood Duck was the winner.

Over the next month or 6 weeks, I would occasionally see the ducks fly in at night, once at about 7:30 am too, so I was pretty sure they had made their nest in that hole.  I was a little doubtful about the height of it though, as they had chosen the highest hole in the tree and the babies jump out – yes jump – when they fledge.

This morning, as I was packing the kids into the car with lots of spare time before the Memorial Day Parade in town, I happened to see Mama Duck fly down and land on the ground, and then begin to mill around peeping.  My radar went off and I got excited wondering if her babies were fledging, so I walked over for a second to watch though the kids were all ready yelling that they were ready to get going.  Indeed, I did hear a little plinf in the leaves, and then another and another, and there they were, three little ducklings milling around peeping after her.

I jumped up and down with excitement.  Do you know how many times the baby wood ducks jump from the nest in the tree?!  One time, folks!  After they fledge, the female leads them to a body of water, because they are dabbling ducks and need it for food and protection.  Thus, the babies jump out of the tree and never return until they are old enough to lay their own eggs…and I witnessed their jump!

I ran over to the car and unbuckled Elizabeth; we had read about Wood Duck babies in her Ranger Rick, Jr. magazine and had watched the suggested videos about them too (check it out here at the National Wildlife Federation’s kids’ page duck video), so I thought it was so cool that she was going to be able to witness their fledging.  She spotted the female and the babies on the ground, but I kept us a little ways away so as not to disturb them and I don’t think she was able to get a hold on any falling babies.  Three more jumped down into the soft bed of dried leaves at the base of the tree, and then all, peeping, followed Mama Duck as she led them away.  There must have been about ten babies.

I could hardly believe it, and was so excited, because really, if we had been 15 minutes later getting in the car, which would have still made us on time for the parade, we would have missed this amazing event!  Am I lucky or am I lucky?  I called my sister and she said that she hadn’t heard me that excited since I had pulled my car off the road in New Mexico when I spotted a scissor-tail flycatcher while road-tripping back from California.

I will keep my fingers crossed that the pair will return next year, and that the family was able to make it to a body of water safely, since our woods are bordered with 2 roads and cleared lands and I have no idea what body of water they are intending to travel to as there aren’t any apparent to me as a good destination from here.  I did drive around in the evening checking the roads to make sure that they babies hadn’t been hit or orphaned, but didn’t see any ducks, and I hope I don’t.

Good luck Mama Duck!

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