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Updated: 05/08/2013 08:01:13AM

Peacocks of the pond

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Female wood ducks are drab and camouflaged, likely to protect her and her young from predators.

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When I encounter wood ducks in Florida or Virginia, I can only marvel at these peacocks of the pond. The female is drab and camouflaged, but the male is absolutely stunning in its coat of many colors. Wood ducks are in a way the aquatic equivalents of painted buntings, and they breed all the way from Florida to southern Canada. They resemble the remarkably colored males of many species (such as cardinals and orioles) that apparently use such amazing hues to convince the female that they have what it takes to produce a healthy brood of chicks. Indeed it appears that the preference of females for bright colors has selected the males through evolutionary eons to adapt brighter and brighter colors. The ability of a male to produce such colors may indeed reflect its health and good genetic potential. On the other hand, it probably increases predation since the males are so conspicuous.

Since wood ducks breed in tree cavities, it is somewhat surprising that the female is so drab. She would not be seen while on the nest, yet the hatchlings leave the nest immediately and enter a pond where they and their mother’s camouflage are likely important in escaping from predators.

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