I usually do not write much about area waterfowl during the warmer months because most of the ducks with us during the winter depart our area by the end of March.
I am not talking about the ever-present mallards, muscovies, mute swans and Canada geese that are here year-round. Those species are not wild and do not exhibit most behaviors that their truly wild cousins do.
There are only two species of area wild waterfowl that will stay in Mecklenburg County to nest and raise their broods – the wood duck and the hooded merganser.
I was surveying the Matthews area last Sunday for breeding birds as part of the Mecklenburg County Breeding Bird Atlas project when I was very surprised to chance upon a female hooded merganser and five young tightly bunched behind her.
Hooded mergansers have been documented as breeding within the county before, but the records are few and far between. While the species is one of the more commonly encountered ducks in the winter, I think it is safe to say the species is a rare nester at best. It was the first evidence I had ever seen in this area.
The wood duck is much more common as a breeder in the southern Piedmont. If you are out in the field enough in the spring checking out ponds and wetlands, you are almost sure to come across a hen wood duck with young.
Just recently I found a female with 13 babies in single file behind her within a quarter mile of Interstate 77 off Arrowood Road.
Birders seem to be especially fond of both species because the male’s plumage is showy, bordering on gaudy. I find them interesting as a species because, unlike most ducks that nest on the ground, these two species nest in trees, specifically cavities or hollows. They will readily nest in duck boxes, too, if they are available.
If you have ponds or wetlands on your property or have access to some in your area, consider putting some duck boxes up.
It’s a great way to help out two of our area cavity-nesting species.