White-tailed deer fawns are born. The first monarch butterflies arrive. New cattail leaves grow 2 to 5 feet, making marshes look green again. Gardeners harvest leaf lettuce, radishes, green onions, and rhubarb. Wild turkey hens are out with newly hatched chicks in tow.
Now is when many clutches of wood duck eggs hatch. The young stay in their nest box or tree cavity the day they hatch, even if it's in the morning, and then leave the next morning. Around 8 a.m. is a popular time for young wood ducks to jump. Look for broods of young wood ducks following their mother over land and through wooded ponds, lakes and streams. One brood is produced per year.
Unquestionably, the drake wood duck is the most beautiful of all waterfowl, with the female also being more colorful than the females of other species. Both are crested, multicolored ducks. The male is patterned in iridescent greens, purples and blues and has a distinctive white chin patch, while the duller-colored female has a broad white eye-ring.
These woodland ducks are equipped with sharp claws for perching in trees. Weighing 1½ pounds, the duck sits lightly on the water with its long tails well above the surface. Serene as the woodies appear, they have surprising strength and will come off the water like a rocket when disturbed.
Appropriately named, the wood duck is found near wooded lakes and streams, feeding on insects and plant materials from duckweeds to acorns. Woodies winter mainly in southern states and southward into Mexico; a rare few stay in Minnesota.
Each male attracts a female in late winter or early spring with their call and attractive, colorful breeding plumage. Wood ducks nest in trees but only in natural cavities or ones made by other animals in the trunk or large branches. They prefer hollow trees close to water, but, if trees are not available, they will nest further away and will also use nesting boxes set up in the right locations. No outside material is transported to the nest by the bird, but it makes use of any chips or other material that already may exist and mixes down from its breast with it.
During the first week of April, wood ducks check nesting boxes and tree trunks with natural cavities, after which nesting begins. The usual clutch contains 10 to 15 eggs with an incubation period of about 30 days. Males normally desert females at the beginning of incubation, and the females rear their young alone.
Jim Gilbert's observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.