December 26, 2017
Cold Weather Courtship
- as seen by -Scott Silver
Casual (but observant) visitors to any wetlands in winter may notice something that at first seems strange – waterfowl, like this male wood duck, engaged in a beautiful and energetic courtship display. These displays may seem out of place in the cold weather months especially since everyone knows the warm days of spring time are when most birds in our area nest and raise their young.
Less well-known is that for many species of waterfowl, it is the cold weeks of late autumn and early winter when pair bonds are formed for the coming year. A visit to a wooded pond or a swamp during this time of year is likely to reveal wood duck drakes (males, above at Queens Zoo) in beautiful breeding plumage spreading their wings and turning their heads from side to side in an attempt to attract and cement a bond with a female that will last throughout the winter and into the spring.
At that time, many females then nest in trees several yards above the water, and the males warn off any other ducks while she incubates the eggs. It may be that the warm days of spring are the time for raising ducklings, but the cold days of early winter are the time when these duck pairs form that result in those ducklings.