Twelve very lucky Black-bellied Whistling Ducklings made their new homes at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in October. The ducklings were rescued after getting separated from their parents in early September and spent several weeks in the care of the Conservancy’s von Arx wildlife hospital. Ron and Gaylene Vasaturo are volunteers with both Corkscrew and the hospital and delivered the ducklings. They told us that the ducklings were raised without human interaction to assure an easy transition into the wild and to avoid imprinting.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary's Research Technician Alex Meinders provided logistic assistance and took photos.
"The ducks were quiet for a few minutes and seemed apprehensive to leave their carriers,” said Alex, “but once one did all the others followed suit. Then they gathered at the water's edge while whistling the whole time, maybe acclimating to their new environment,” he added. The group eventually took flight and spent the next several minutes repeatedly taking off and landing in close proximity.
The Sanctuary was chosen as the release spot for these ducklings because Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are frequently seen along the boardwalk and in the backcountry, meaning they would have an excellent chance of meeting up with other ducks. In winter months, it is has become more common to see multiple flocks of whistling ducks come together at the Sanctuary, with the birds often numbering well into the hundreds. The Sanctuary provides great habitat and abundant food resources, with shallow wetlands that are perfect for these herbivores to glean seeds from sedges and native grasses. An ongoing effort to restore more than a thousand acres of marsh and prairie habitat at the Sanctuary will make this area even more accommodating in the coming years.
The release took place in one of these restoration sites, where work has been underway since the past year -- a testament to the tremendous value our marsh and prairie restoration has for improving wildlife habitat. Within a few days of the release, Alex had already seen three different families of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, each with about ten ducklings.
Staff will continue to monitor these ducklings as they begin to disperse and thrive in their new home. Visitors are encouraged to look for the ducks in the wet prairie and along the boardwalk closest to the Blair Visitor Center.