Sunday morning Bridger, my dog, was particularly interested in two trees at the edge of our yard.  With all of the wildlife that comes and goes, I was curious to see what he’d found.  I went near where he was and cautiously looked under the first tree.  Nothing there.  Then I looked under the second tree, a black hills spruce, where I saw a shallow nest holding 8 eggs!  I thanked Bridger for showing me this well-hidden nest and then we both quickly left the area so as not to disrupt the nesting process.

I was puzzled.  Mallards and wood ducks occasionally hang around our pond.  Years ago, a mallard pair would even waddle up to the deck to eat spilled sunflower seed from under the feeders!  However, I hadn’t really seen the mallards around yet this year, certainly not anywhere out of the water.  But who else could it be?

2011 Mallard
Mallard under the bird feeder 2011

In years past I’ve unsuccessfully encouraged the ducks to hang around.  Wouldn’t it be fun to have some wild “pet” ducks? One year I bought duck chow which everyone loved; the dog, the geese, the raccoons, coyotes.  Everyone except the ducks.  Last year Birds Unlimited recommended cracked corn as a sure-fire favorite food of mallards.  I sprinkled it in the neighbors yard near the water’s edge (so as not to be feeding my dog again).  I never saw the ducks eating eat, but it was gone every morning.  Once again, I think I was feeding a fat raccoon.

All day Sunday this nest sat empty, I didn’t see any ducks around.  I was hopeful, but not optimistic.  Our yard is busy with people, mowers, our dog, the neighbors free-roaming cat, raccoons, opossums and more.  And now she wasn’t around after laying so many eggs. I was afraid it was doomed from the start.  Why did she think this was a good spot?

We put out a motion-activated camera to monitor the nest and roped off the area to keep Bridger away.  After leaving the eggs unattended all day, Mama Duck, as she’s been named, returned to the nest Sunday evening.  Monday morning Bridger noticed her on the nest.  She flushed when he locked eyes on her and began slowly walking toward her (some might call it stalking).  She made a ruckus, flapping and quacking as if she was trying to scare him away or distract him from the nest.  Bridger never approached very closely and returned to the house when I called him. Mama duck didn’t go very far.  She slowly and cautiously returned to the nest.

She finished laying on Monday and began the 28-day incubation that will produce 10 adorable peeping ducklings.   Since then she’s been very tolerant of us, seems used to Bridger (who leaves her alone now) and doesn’t flinch at lawn mowing.  She carefully covers her eggs when she leaves the nest to eat and hang out with the drake who is too never far away.  Although he never comes up into the yard, he seems to keep a watchful eye on her.  There is another drake that comes around quite a bit and keeps him company, too.

So far the raccoons and opossums haven’t found her eggs unattended.  She’s fended off some crows (!) and the neighbors very curious, persistent cat.

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She seems to be shooing the crows away (cropped camera trap photo)
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She also appears to be holding her own with the neighbor’s cat (cropped camera trap photo)

She just may be successful here yet.  I’m certainly rooting for her.