Thursday, February 24, 2011

Check your furnace for wood ducks

Where I live spring doesn't arrive until May. But some of nature's creatures are as anxious for it's arrival as I.

1. That includes Wood Ducks.

Woodies are hole-nesters. They'll use nest boxes, but prefer hollow trees. Sometimes they'll confuse other structures for hollow trees.

You may be surprised to learn that one such place can be your furnace. It is important that you do watch there, 'cause it's a very dry, dusty place, unhealthy for a duck.

A prospective mother wood duck can be quite creative when searching for a new home. She wants a deep, dark hole, where she and her nest can be protected from marauding crows, blackbirds, raccoons and other predators looking for an easy lunch.

Chimneys can be quite attractive. At least, mine seems to be. On two occasions I've had to retrieve these ducks from my furnace and release them back to the wilds.

I live in the Wolf Grove of Lanark County in eastern Ontario. It's a large, rough area of limestone ridges, dense mixed forest, streams and many beaver ponds on the very southern fringe of the Canadian Shield.

Lots of dead trees. Great wood duck nesting country.

I found the first wood duck in my furnace quite by accident. In my passive-solar efficient house I no longer need to use the wood furnace for heat by early spring. But on a couple of occasions a couple of days apart I heard metallic noises from the furnace room. I put it down to my two cats, who liked to clamber around on the air ducts in search of adventure.

Then, a day or so later, I was passing the furnace door and heard the sound again. I knew both cats were outside and couldn't imagine what the sound might be. Soon I heard it again, coming from inside the firebox.

On opening the door I found one very dry and dusty mother wood duck. How long she had been there I have no idea, but I had no difficulty catching her and releasing her outside. She seemed strong enough, able to fly well, and headed directly down my long driveway and into the woods.

I passed the experience off as unusual and thought no more about it. For a couple of years.

Then, one late March morning, I heard that metallic noise again. I knew it wasn't cats, because my allergist had some time earlier directed me to find other good homes for them.

"Surely not another wood duck," I thought and headed for the firebox door.

Wrong again.

There was a second would-be-mother-wood-duck, equally dusty and disoriented, but certainly not as dry as the first one.

This one was able to get out of the firebox, and we had an energetic game of tag through a large cloud of wood ashes before I finally pinned her in a corner of the wood pile with the aid of my butterfly net.

She also flew strongly down the driveway and out of sight into the woods.

I've often wondered if it was the same bird. I even thought of applying for a federal bird-banding licence, just in case she came back again. In the end, I decided a screen over the chimney was simpler, and I haven't had any wood ducks in my furnace since.

But if you use a wood furnace and don't have your chimney screened, I suggest you watch your furnace for wood ducks as spring approaches.

The maternal instinct leads us all into some strange adventures - even for wood ducks.

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Images and stock pictures of waterfowl and other wildlife are available at the on-line catalogue


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