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The Silver Maple and the Wood Ducks

October 23, 2018

When we lived in Wheaton, just a few blocks from Northside Park, an impressive silver maple graced our front yard. Despite its size (taller than a two-story house and reaching a main branch over our neighbor’s one-story roof), it still looked healthy and strong, except for one small hole, about 15 feet up, where a branch had broken off years before.

I love silver maples, despite their tendency to shed small branches. They are lovely in spring with the blush-tinted new leaves, in summer rustling with breezes or rain, and in fall when the leaves trade green for yellows and hints of red. And I knew the neighborhood squirrels liked them nearly as well as the white poplars in our back yard for winter nesting. But I hadn’t counted on the ducks.

We often saw a mallard, or two or three, after heavy spring or summer rains, if the low parts of our yard puddled. But those never stayed. The lake at the park was so close, and it held water all year. But apparently a wood duck noticed the hole in our tree, nicely out of range of predators, and decided a few blocks away from the park was close enough.

The first we knew of this came a few weeks later, and we might never have noticed much, as the tree was in full leaf and the family had been relatively quiet. Until the mother didn’t come back. Luckily, the little ones must have been fairly close to the time Mama Wood Duck would have taken them out of the nest to water, because their reaction to increasing hunger was to leap from the nest!

Our neighbor noticed them in the grass because of her dog’s interest in our lawn. She alerted us, I found a shoebox and lined it with a towel, and rounded up the hungry little ducklings for a ride to Willowbrook Wildlife Center, where they could receive proper care.

We’ve moved to Warrenville since, and I’ve had lots of delightful trees here, trees which have held not only bird feeders but nests, including cardinals, mourning doves and (in a suitable small birdhouse) a wren family. Birds and squirrels alike feed on the seeds from my walnut, American linden, and redbud. But the wood duck family is still the most memorable bird family, and the reason I always remember that silver maple fondly.


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