There are funny terms in the world of birding. First of all, we turn the noun “bird” into the verb “birding.” Then, there is the term “life bird.” This is used for the first time you see a bird. It is a great phrase. I had a friend fighting cancer, and instead of a bucket list, she wanted to add events to her life list. She thought it was a positive statement of affirming life. I agree with her; so now I have a life list of first-time experiences.
Another term is “jinx bird.” A jinx bird is a life bird that eludes you. For one visiting birder, she wanted to see a male wood duck. Everywhere she went, she would look soulfully at the birding group leader, saying, “All I want to see is a wood duck.” I took this challenge on and went looking for the ducks. I found a pair of wood ducks paddling around a lake. I called her and said, “Come quick, I have your dream duck.” She jumped into her car. As she turned onto the road that led to the pond, the ducks flew off. What in the world made those ducks fly off? I don’t have a clue. It was going to be a jinx bird for a while longer.
While most ducks leave the Georgia coast in the early spring, wood ducks never leave us. They are beautiful creatures. The females are pretty in a subtle way; however, the males will knock your socks off.
They are small ducks with big heads that look even more prominent because of the color. The male has an iridescent blue-green long crest that lays down the back of the neck. Even showier, the iridescent green head is outlined in white from the duck’s cheek down to its white throat. The breast is a hardwood, red-speckled with white dots, also lined by white strip and then a black strip. The sides fade into a warm butter yellow.
The female is a warm gray-brown with a similar profile as the male. One of her features is her white eye ring with the teardrop shape at recedes towards the back of the head. She would be gorgeous, but the colorful male overshadows her.
It is alright, for she is the mom and takes good care of her brood of chicks.
Wood ducks are swamp and woodland ducks. They love the edges of lakes and rivers, floating in and out of the thickly wooded edges. You can see how they could be a challenge to find. The females make their nests in cavities in trees. Hunting these ducks in the late 1800s and early 1900s caused the population to plummet, and a lot of work went into bringing this duck species back from the brink.
Art Hawkins built the first wood duck box in 1937. You can see these boxes placed in lakes today. Having water around the box keeps the ducks safe from predators like raccoons. The females can lay up to 10 eggs; and after the chicks hatch, they leap out of that box and hit the water swimming. These chicks will grow into spectacular adult wood ducks.
I hope that birder finally got her jinx bird because wood ducks are worth the wait.