Today we were talking with some customers about the eggs in our wood duck box. Denny and I were describing how we are able to check on the eggs that are being laid. It was kind of slow at the time so I walked the ladies out to our box to show them our set up.
Before I open the wood duck box, I always pop my camera in the entrance hold and snap a photo to make sure the female isn't sitting in the box. I can immediately see the photo on the camera's view finder. If she's in the middle of laying eggs, the last thing I want to do is open the side door and freak her out. So far we hadn't seen the female in the box. We'd seen a female wood duck flush from the area near the nest box when taking out the trash and there has been a pair of wood ducks feeding under the feeders, so naturally we assumed a wood duck was laying eggs in the box.
Today when I snapped the photo I discovered there was a hen in the box, so we left it alone. Here's the photo:
I explained to the ladies that we wouldn't open the box but showed them the photo on the view finder. After they left, I studied the photo closer.
I thought to myself that the top of this hen didn't look like a female woody to me, but then again I have never really looked at a hen wood duck from this angle. I zoomed in the photo on the view finder and showed it to Denny. At first he thought wood duck, but then noticed that this bird doesn't appear to have a white eye ring.
Tonight after closing the store Denny, Ron and I went out to check the box one more time. I stood near the box and heard some hissing, the hen was still inside. Denny found a male hooded merganser swimming in the stream near the nest box. When I downloaded the photo and looked at it on a larger screen, there is no doubt that the hen in the box today is a female hooded merganser.
What does this mean? Is this really a hooded merganser nest--they normally nest ten feet or higher and our box is only six feet high. Are two different species putting eggs in the nest box? We will have to wait until the female is away from the nest to compare eggs. The eggs have been laid every other day since we found them in the box which is more characteristic of mergansers, however there should already be a cup of down around the eggs when the first two were laid and no down has been in the box so far. Since the female was in the box all afternoon is she finished laying eggs and now incubating? That would mean there are only six or seven eggs in the box. Oh, why didn't I pay closer attention to the shape of the eggs when we had the box open?
I don't know if I have the patience to find out all the answers.
It's a waterfowl soap opera, it is.