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Marsh Musings
Mommas and Babies
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It is that time of the year! Babies of all kinds are on the ground or in the nests getting ready to hit the ground or water. Fawns are here and baby geese and ducks are swimming around. Eagles are already on the move, owls are out, and everyone is busy trying to keep little ones fed.
We usually have a Robin in the tree over our front deck, but this year she nested on the light box right under the edge of the office building next door. It is also directly under a night light, and the nest was never in the dark. I wonder what she was thinking. That baby did fine — ended up making a huge mess on our deck and getting safely into the big tree.
It is normal behavior for baby birds to outgrow their nests and then endure the very dangerous time on the ground still being fed by the parents and learning to fly. My game warden buddy gets lots of calls from concerned folks finding those babies and putting them in boxes (drives the concerned parents crazy) to be “saved.” Before you ever pick one up, watch for a while and see if a parent brings food. Brian has returned a lot of birds to the yard and the parents resume the feeding program. This is the most dangerous and vulnerable time of life for these kids — cats, snakes, hawks, dogs, etc., kill a bunch of them.
Wood Ducks are vulnerable to a somewhat unusual predator. Rat snakes are uncanny in being able to find Wood Duck nests in boxes and trees. They are strong climbers and enjoy eggs and ducklings. Todd found one in the box just off his back deck. We got the snake out, got some cute pictures and saved six eggs. We also rearranged the bush just below the nest so it is much more difficult (you notice I didn’t say “impossible”) for the snake to gain access. No, we didn’t kill him. Everyone has a place.
Raccoons are underrated as killers. Todd found one on top of his rooster pulling out tail feathers and into the process of getting a meal early in the afternoon. They reach through wire netting and screen to catch chickens or ducks. We have nine new Khaki-Campbel ducks in a pen that we hope will be safe. Todd keeps a radio playing which seems to discourage the raccoons somewhat.
These ducks are supposed to lay about 300 eggs per year which out-performs chickens — we will see. A lady in England bred these ducks at the turn of the century — the “Khaki” is for the uniforms of the British soldiers in World War I. Duck eggs are supposed to be “the egg” for homemade pasta. I have some resistance at my house.
Killdeer are spectacular in protective behavior. Their kids are as incorrigible as any on the planet, I think. The parents are constantly chirping at the babies while being completely ignored. The babies don’t particularly stay together and run around in plain sight a lot of the time. If you get close to the chick, the parents (one or both) will spread their tail feathers and drag a wing to appear injured. They also make lots of noise to attract the predator to follow them. They stay safely out of reach but are persistent in the performance until the chick is safe. Then they fly off and laugh at you.
Watch for the babies in your neighborhood. If one is on the ground, watch for the parents to bring food. It is a busy time of life for these little ones and they are spectacular!

Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast.