I cannot think of a more glorious way to herald the coming of Spring, than the vision of a male Wood Duck (Aix sponsa). All of the splendor of life is represented in the array of colors and patterns worn so splendidly by this primarily North American treasure.

I could not have been more surprised

to see this Wood Duck pair come into view as I stood patiently near the winter-brown marsh grasses at White Rock Lake, intent on observing and photographing Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus).

My day started with volunteer work, helping to pick up garbage from the lake’s shores and creeks with the outstanding organization, For The Love Of The Lake (FTLOTL). The section of shoreline that I helped clean looked pretty good – I think it had been combed a time or two already. The area where I spent the rest of my Saturday was probably not combed by anyone. Certainly not multiple times – so next month I am going straight back to that side of the lake to clean up.

John Audubon’s famous illustrations of birds are often described as dramatic. He emphasized the behaviors that played out in front of his eyes through vivid watercolors and depictions of birds in action. My copy of Audubon’s Birds of America is old and the colors are faded, but I doubt that even Audubon could have captured the changing iridescence  of a male Wood Duck’s breeding plumage.

Notice how his crest is brilliantly colored in greens and purples in the photo above.

Two camera-clicks later, and a slight turn of his head lights up his cheek in green, blue, and purple. Top it off (literally) with a bright red eye, and you’ve got a breathtaking example of Nature in all of its glory.

As is so often the case with exquisite beauty, people want it. The text that accompanies Audubon’s plate ends with the sentence, “This bird has increased immeasurably since it was placed on the no-shooting list.”

Wood Ducks were protected at least as early as 1918 with the The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which specifically placed bans on shooting Wood Ducks regardless of “season.” Numerous historical documents and press releases put out by the US Fish and Wildlife Service are available at their Historic News Releases website. I read through many of these documents, looking for the perfect quote to offer insight into the attitudes and mindsets of the time – but I could not choose. If you have an interest in the history of the US Government and its work to protect Wood Ducks and other water (or “wild”) -fowl, I encourage you to visit the website. You can browse historic news releases with a simple drop-down list by year, which goes back to 1914.

Today, I have contributed two photos of this magnificent bird to the Encyclopedia of Life. This organization has embarked on the considerable task of providing the world’s most complete internet database for every species known to man. The brainchild of naturalist E.O. Wilson, the Encyclopedia of Life continues to grow and evolve in its drive to become one of the best resources on the internet.

I’ll close by mentioning that I am anxiously awaiting the new series, “Life,” offered by the Discovery Channel, and beginning March 21, 2010.

What better way to honor the dead, than to celebrate life?

13 Responses to “Wood Ducks and the Celebration of Life”

  • WOW! Exquisite photos of the Wood Duck Amber! This species has always eluded my lens, but I keep trying.

    • This was the fourth time I’ve seen Wood Ducks, and I have been lucky in that I have had my camera EVERY time. This is by far the closest I have ever been, though. Hang in there! I hope you get your Wood Duck pics soon!

  • OMG! I was there when you were there (mind you, I’m always there–I live there!). How I missed you I can never know, but you certainly enjoyed one of our beautiful bounties. There never has been nor never will be a more majestic avian creature than the wood duck. I’m so glad you had this experience.

    • White Rock Lake is a pretty big lake! And there were many people out on such a beautiful day – but I’m sorry I missed you. I walked from the boathouse where they kayaks are (I think), along the shore toward Sunset Bay. It was a GREAT day!

  • Absolutely fabulous photos of the male Wood Duck Amber! Like John, this very shy, always alert species of duck has eluded my lens also and is always on my list of waterfowl to photograph. You have done an excellent job of capturing his beauty.

    I also congratulate you on your constant conservation and volunteer work for the environment. I admire people like you who practice what they preach. Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place to live.

    • Thanks so much, Larry. I have to tell you, this group that organizes and sponsors the lake cleanups (FTLOTL) is truly inspiring. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of – I come home feeling really good about how I spent my time.

  • [...] also seem le… »jasonAbsolutely fascinating. Great find, Amber!Were I to guess, … »Larry JordanAbsolutely fabulous photos of the male Wood Duck Amber! Lik… »Amber CoakleyThat's a good way [...]

  • A gorgeous bird. One of those spectacles where you look at it and think that it can’t possibly be real–sort of the same class as the Painted Bunting.

  • joan:

    I’ve only ever seen Wood Ducks at a distance in poor light and that was exciting. Seeing them in such good light and being able to capture such great images must have been a real thrill.

    • It sure was a thrill – this was my best look ever. I have a friend who keeps Wood Duck nesting boxes on her property – she has a camera on them and it is “now showing” at Cornell’s Nest Cams (Greenville, TX – J. Maxwell). I visited her once, but still never saw the Wood Ducks this well!

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