Dressed For A Wedding

Though all waterfowl are handsome in my eyes, some stand out for their hyper-handsomeness. I have yet to see Mandarin or Harlequin Ducks, among the most elegant, but the no less attractive Wood Ducks make a semi-regular appearance in Colorado. Their distribution map shows them sparingly throughout most of the American Southwest in the summer, but some migrate through, or even winter in our region.

Their common name stems from their habits: nesting in tree cavities, and perching on tree branches, made possible by their clawed feet. To distance their eggs from predators, they prefer to nest high—30 or more feet above the ground. They are unique among North America’s ducks in that they can have two annual broods. Their average clutch of 13 eggs hatches after about 30 days, and the newborns hurl themselves out of the nest and float down to join their mother on the ground when they are only a day or two young, never to return to their protected, down-lined home. They stay with Mama Duck until they are old enough to live on their own, Dad having moved on after performing his procreational duties.

Hunted to near-extinction by the turn of the 20th century, Wood Ducks have recovered, thanks to strict hunting regulations, and the provision of nesting boxes, which are readily adopted by the future parents when they meet certain criteria. Even though the birds conduct their lives in wooded swamps, nests have been found over a mile away from suitable habitat.

Woodies are also known as Carolina ducks (where they were first described), swamp ducks, or water pheasants. Coming across these typically shy creatures that are wary of humans is always a treat. In November of last year I found a cluster at a pond in Pueblo, our neighboring city to the south, where their tolerance to human presence allowed me to take several close-up portraits. It was the first time I noticed some of the finer details of their plumage. Their beautiful bodies are bejeweled with a wide-ranging palette of colors, and highlighted by white stripes, arcs, or, in the female’s case, teardrop-shaped eyeshadow. This astounding array of feathers inspired their scientific name, Aix sponsa, a combination of the Greek word Aix, for waterfowl, and the Latin term, sponsa, for betrothed, or spouse.

In short, a Duck Dressed For A Wedding.

A small group of foraging Wood Ducks (German: Brautenten)

A pair of Wood Ducks, male in the back, female in the front

Female with her stunning eyeshadow

A pair of Wood Ducks, male on the left, female on the right

Male with his multi-hued plumage

Female with never-before-seen highlights

58 thoughts on “Dressed For A Wedding

  1. Wow!

    Absolutely stunning (or should I say incredibly beautiful?).

    I’ve seen Mandarin ducks at the Zoo, but nothing as beautiful in the wild. These male Wood Ducks are far more attractive to my eye as they’re a little more subtle in colour.

    Thanks for sharing, Tanja. You’re so lucky to see these ducks in the wild 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I puzzled over why this should be a “bride duck” in German and then I noticed your pointing out that the species name “sponsa” similarly means ‘betrothed.’ That still leaves the question of why this species should have gotten singled out for that description, when the members of other fancy species could as easily be imagined to be dressed up for a wedding. Do you have any insight into this?

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  3. Mandarinenten sieht man schon mal bei uns, häufig sind das dann aber Vögel aus einer Gefangenschaftsflucht. Holzenten habe ich noch nie gesehen, sie scheinen aber im Verhalten sehr ähnlich zu sein. Auch Mandarinenten sitzen gern in Bäumen und brüten auch in Baumhöhlen. Dein Post ist sehr interessant und die Fotos finde ich super.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Herzlichen Dank, lieber Werner. Als vor einigen Monaten einen Mandarinente im Central Park in New York auftauchte, war das eine Riesensensation. Aber das war leider etwas zu weit weg für mich.
      Aber glücklicherweise bekomme ich diese wunderbaren Brautenten von Zeit zu Zeit zu sehen, und das ist immer ein Genuß.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Das finde ich auch, besonders, daß die Entenbabys mit ein oder zwei Tagen aus dem Nest auf den Boden segeln. Das habe ich bisher nur im Film gesehen, würde es aber wahnsinnig gerne mal erster Hand beobachten.
      Ich hoffe bei Euch ist es nicht zu frostig.
      Liebe Grüße,

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ich kann mir vorstellen, dass du es gerne sehen würdest, wenn sie ihr Nest verlassen. Ich glaube, dass ich dabei ziemlich erschrecken würde, wenn ich so kleine Federbälle vom Baum runterfliegen/segeln sehen würde!
        Unser Wetter ist einigermassen ok, es ist halt Winter und wenn man das akzeptiert, dann kann man es gut ertragen. Was weniger schön ist, bzw. war, das ist der „Freezing rain“, der natürlich gerade dann fällt, wenn ich auf dem Heimweg bin!😉☹️
        Ich hoffe, bei euch ist es wettermässig ok!
        Viele Grüsse von Québec nach Colorado,

        Liked by 2 people

      • Ich hätte lieber Schnee als den trockenen, kalten Wind, der momentan die Front Range hoch- und runterbläßt, aber wenigstens bekommen die Berge wiederholte Schneefälle, so daß wenigstens die Wasserversorgung eine Weile lang gesichert ist.
        Glatteis ist nicht so schön, fahr bitte vorsichtig.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I am glad you like these beauties, Neil. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Wood Ducks “are strong flyers and reach speeds up to 30 mph.” This will come in handy (or should I say wingy) for those birds that migrate.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Beautiful, beautiful images, Tanja! Such a pretty duck. The water ‘art’ background your captured is lovely too. Thank you for the info on Wood Ducks, I needed a refresher on them; they are a year-round resident in our area. I’ve photographed these ducks at the zoo; but never in the wild, always missed the shot. So they are still a pursuit for my lifer list of photographed birds. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  5. In Deutschland kann man manchmal auch einzelne Brautenten sehen. Das sind Flüchtlinge aus Gefangenschaft. Die Mandarinenten sieht man schon häufiger in Parks. Vielleicht hat man davon auch einige ausgesetzt.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Oh fantastic. You were able to get some crisp shots with the lighting and cooperative subjects.

    The usual bachelors have not been amassing creek side behind our property this winter, as in so many years before. They are missed. We do occasionally hear their squeals in the distance, however, so they’re not far away. Our neighbors are probably oblivious. :/

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Tanja – This is a delightful post. I didn’t know that wood ducks nested so high in trees. I love the description of the young ducks floating to the ground to be with their mother. Your pictures are beautiful. They make me want to try my hand at painting some ducks! Thank you for another wonderful post! -Jill

    Liked by 1 person

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