Duck Aix sponsa

Everyone I know has chickens, or is thinking about getting chickens, or belongs to a chicken time-share (a concept which should be awarded a prize for efficiency and cunning), or is otherwise involved in a relationship with poultry. The really far-out folks have turkeys, runner ducks or guinea fowl, but the fact is I can’t barter with anyone on the island these days without getting eggs. (Going rates for the following: formulae on a spreadsheet = 1 a piece, virus clean-up = a dozen, spyware infestation is at least two dozen, brown.)

I have nothing against chickens but I already have domesticated (sort of) insects, a day job, and a gallery. Chickens are work. They require housing in this climate, and housing with wiring for heat and lights if you want any eggs 6 months out of the year, water, water heaters, food, grit and medication. If one of my 100,000 bees gets in an accident or comes down with something and shudders off this mortal coil a little early, I don’t notice. Chickens are big enough that it bothers me when one gets ill. Or depressed. Or goes missing – we have coyotes, fishers, fox, and German Shepards in the neighborhood so that’s a real possibility. Somehow all these issues distilled during our dinnertime conversation into the perfect solution for the problem we weren’t having – wood ducks.

Wood ducks are beautiful wildfowl that are native to this area. Their name translates to “waterfowl in a wedding dress”. A century ago they were the most plentiful waterfowl in their range, capable of producing two broods a season of 8 – 20 eggs. Nest boxes and habitat restoration are slowly bringing these colorful migratory ducks back, especially along the Connecticut River flyway, but there’s no reason they couldn’t make a home in Maine, at our house.

I recognize a culture as well-established based on its minutiae – and the Wood Duck cultural minutiae is epic. There’s a Wood Duck entry in Wikipedia and the Cornell Lab, of course, but there’s also a Wood Duck Society which just had its 25th anniversary meeting in Minnesota, and the USGS has a great page that includes information on assistance programs for restoring habitat. There are at least four Google pages for buying, building, kitting out and siting nest boxes, and learned lengthy discussions (and arguments) about what to use for material inside them.

So, how do you get wood ducks? Google will get you to, where $130.00 will buy a mated pair. Of course, they also sell every conceivable type of earth poultry and some birds that are definitely from Mars, but you can buy wood ducks! I’m thinking that come April, 2012, twenty-six years is the wood duck wedding anniversary.

I’m off to read up on habitat requirements, which we seem to have in spades, and preferences for food and cover in all seasons. Good thing we preserved the stand of button bush  (Cephalanthus) when we put the lower driveway in – it’s one of their favorite foods.

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