So far, all is well in the old Ironbark Tree, updated

It is Day 12 of Daisy’s brooding. Thank you for joining on this magical journey of the little duck who, instead of making her nest near the water, chose the great big nest of the White-Bellied Sea Eagle.

To 12 dzień lęgów Daisy. Dziękuję za udział w tej magicznej podróży małej kaczuszki, która zamiast założyć gniazdo nad wodą, wybrała wielkie, duże gniazdo orła bielika.

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It has been a very quiet and rather hot day for Daisy, the Black Pacific Duck whose nest is in the old Ironbark Tree in the Sydney Olympic Park. Thus far, the only visitors of any note today were the chattering Rainbow Lorikeets who came around 8am.

A friendly Rainbow Lorkeet curious about the little duck in the big sea eagle nest.

Yesterday, I mentioned that Daisy is in a category of ducks known as ‘dabbling’ ducks. The information that I had, at that time, was that they foraged along the shores of the rivers and lakes. This did not support pictures I have seen of them in the water hunting for food. So I looked for more information. One small informative page for children said that they mainly dabble at night. Photographs show them foraging during the day. And we know from Daisy’s behaviour that she goes out normally mid afternoon to feed. But we also know from our observations of Daisy that she can see well enough in the dark to come and go from the nest. That same bulletin stressed that the duck plunges its head and neck under the water, raising its rear end vertical to the surface. That is why one of the people working as a moderator for the Sea Eagle cameras said that when she saw the Black Pacific Ducks in the canal, all she could see was their back end. Now it all makes more sense. They also feed in grassy areas.

This is a domestic duck dabbling. I am using it as an example to show you what Daisy would look like if she were in the water foraging for food. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Like Raptors, Pacific black ducks are monogamous. Males and females will stay together having only one partner until one of them dies. Their courtship consists of preening one another, flapping their wings, and bobbing their heads. While most Pacific black ducks build their nests near a source of water, we have learned from observing Daisy the Duck that she did not do that. So it is not always the case. Indeed, you might remember that a woman from Poland wrote to me about a duck making her nest also in an eagle’s nest. Those ducklings survived. The female lays from 8 to 123 eggs. If we look closely at Daisy’s eggs, they are white. Daisy will incubate the eggs from 26 to 30 days. That is two days shorter than the information I have previously posted. We know that they are precocial, able to feed themselves at birth. What I have not mentioned is that they will be fully independent of Daisy in 48-58 days after hatch. Daisy’s ducklings will be ready to find their own mate and breed when they are one year old.

One of the most beautiful parts of Daisy’s plumage is the speculum. It is a beautiful iridescent green. You can see it in the image above with Daisy and the Rainbow Lorikeet and in the image below. Depending on the light, the emerald green speculum sometimes appears blue or purple.

You can see Daisy’s green speculum clearly in this image.

And did you know that Daisy does not have any teeth? She has tiny serrations located along the inside of their bill that helps them filter out their food from the water. Daisy’s ability to sort out her dinner from the river water means that these serrations work kind of like a colander or a strainer!

It is 14:57 and Daisy has just left the nest to forage. I noticed two things about her departure just now. First, she covered her nest with the down folding it over like she has on other days but she did not spend as much time arranging leaves and plant material over the top of the nest. She also flew out a different direction to some days. Often she goes to the right but if she leaves from the left side of the nest, as she did today, she will be closer to the water. She must be very hot and hungry. She returned from her foraging last evening at 19:07 and has not left the nest since.

Daisy is preparing to fly off the nest on the left hand side today. She might be very hot. She has waited a long time for a break. Leaving from the left is the closest to the water.

I don’t quite understand why Daisy left and did not cover the down over the eggs with plant material, leaves, and twigs this afternoon. I wonder if it is because of the intense heat? She is always very meticulous about concealing the eggs well so predators cannot see them. And the wind is blowing. She was not scared from the nest. So, what do we think: was it the heat and the sun? she did not want the eggs cooked in the heat of the Australian summer?

Perhaps the nest is not covered so much and so packed down because of the intense heat in the forest today. 33 degrees C.

It has been a hot day and the forest has been relatively quiet. Daisy was incubating her eggs for twenty hours straight before taking her break. The weather report for tomorrow says that it will be even hotter, 36 degrees in Sydney.

A quick update: The White Bellied Sea Eagle called ‘Dad’ fly onto a branch of the nest tree at 16:59:24. He did a little preening. Never went down to the nest. Thank goodness as the wind had blown the down open and eggs could be seen. He departed at 17:03:43. I am so very glad that Daisy was not there or flying in. It does seem that this time of evening is the typical time he arrives. Well, he is gone now. Back to find some cool breezes off the water of the Parramatta River.

WBSE ‘Dad’ trying to catch the intruder in his nest. No luck today, Dad! Sorry.

Please join us again tomorrow as we follow the life of this little Black Pacific Duck.

Thank you to the Sea Eagle Cam, Birdlife Australia and the Discovery Center for their camera from which these scaps came.

And then a Currawong arrived!

If it wasn’t enough that the WBSE ‘Dad’ decided that he would keep vigil over his nest and Daisy’s eggs all morning, the Currawong that had been pestering Dad returned later when the eggs were exposed and no one was home!

The Pied Currawong is a nuisance to the WBSE. They dive at them especially when they have a nest in the area but, sadly, they also chase after the young eaglets and often send them out of the forest before they are really mature enough to leave.

At 14:55 a ‘Curra’ came on to the nest. It saw the egg that Dad had rolled out and attempted to eat it. It rolled it around in the nest but to no avail. The egg did not fit in its beak and, perhaps, because it was young, it did not know just to beat and break the ones in the nest.

But that Curra threw a hissy fit because of it! It took all of the down it could find and threw that over the rim of the big nest and then went and pulled the down that Daisy has so beautifully built her egg cup with and threw it over the rim. And then it left, in a big puff.

Daisy finally returns to the nest at 17:51. Within a few minutes she has rolled her egg back into the nest cup and has begun pulling leaves once again over to help insulate her eggs. At the time of this writing I do not know if she has enough down left on her breast to pull and add some more to the nest. The old pieces are too full of twigs and leaves to be of use to the duck.

It is nearly dawn in Australia and Daisy remains quietly incubating her eggs. The sun will rise around 6:05 and that is the time that the WBSE usually arrive to check their nest for its ‘illegal’ occupant.

As dawn breaks, Daisy awaits another day. The little duck who has faced such adversity continues to brood her eggs. No one knows whether or not the heat from the sun will have kept the eggs warm enough for them to hatch. Indeed, no one knows if the eggs are even fertile. But there is a single male down by the canal that Daisy joins when she is foraging. And that male came with her to make a hole in this big sea eagle nest around December 11, 2020. Hopefully they are fertile and Daisy will endure. But the life of any bird is full of adversity.

Will the White Bellied Sea Eagles return to the nest? will they come and leave? Will Dad decide to stay all day? It certainly seems that he can sit for hours and that is what I am told eagles do – sit and sit for long periods of time. If no one is on the nest again, will the Curra return to destroy Daisy’s nest? We wait.

Gusts and a creaking Ironbark Tree kept the curious away

Daisy might have been awake all night with the loud creaks and swaying of the Ironbark Tree in the frequent gusts of high winds last night but not a single intruder was spotted. BooBook Owl stayed home. WBSE Dad didn’t venture out to check on the nest in the evening or this morning. It has been more than twenty-four hours since he has been about. Spotters on the ground say that he is off at Goat Island, some 12.2 km away, with Lady. And, so far, Raven has not made an appearance. It is nearly 7am, the tree is creaking gently and Daisy is quietly doing nest maintenance. If you squint your eye, the white in the down lining of the nest looks like little twinkle lights.

Notice how Daisy turns clockwise in the nest as she continues maintenance and rolling the eggs.
Daisy continues to take down from her breast adding it to the nest and turning clockwise.

Sometimes Daisy will quickly get off the eggs to go and fetch more plant material somewhere else on the big WBSE nest that she can’t reach by extending her neck as far as it can.

Daisy quickly leaves nest to gather up more plant material from the WBSE nest.

When Daisy prepares to leave to forage for food, which she did last evening for about an hour, she tucks the down into the nest cup folding it over on the inside. She also uses her beak and stretching her neck she pulls leaves up close. This way she can cover the eggs while she is away. Of course, we have now seen times when Daisy is frightened off the nest by both the WBSE Dad and BooBook Owl but, normally, she takes the time to gently and quickly conceal those precious eggs.

Daisy Stretches her Neck to bring in plant material near to the nest cup
Daisy continues to use her bill to bring in leaves and plant material close to the neck cup. She might be preparing to cover the eggs and leave for a quick morning foraging.

I wonder if you have ever thought about the amount of energy it takes a duck to lay an egg? I certainly hadn’t until this year when I watched Bald Eagles have hard labours when laying an egg and then Daisy. Those eggs don’t just pop out easy!

Sibley says that a single egg can weigh as much as 12% of the bird’s body weight. For Daisy, remember that she layed an egg every day for nine days. That has to be exhausting! Specials with precocial young often lay more eggs because the mother does not have to feed them. Precocial young are more fully developed when they hatch. Their eyes are open and they are fully feathered. In the case of the Black Pacific Ducks they can walk and find their own food. Remember that the ducklings will jump off the nest and follow the parent to the water to forage for food. They will actually jump off the nest before they are fully capable of flying like their mother. Daisy will keep them warm at night for approximately two to three weeks. Altricial young require much more care. They are born without feathers and require their parents to feed them until they are capable of self-feeding. A good example of an Altricial young is a Tree Swallow.

It is now after 10 am and Daisy has had only one intruder. The Raven showed up about 8am. Daisy quickly reached over and clacked, like she did yesterday, and off it went! Hopefully Daisy will have a non-eventful day on the nest. Fingers crossed!

Daisy lays another egg!

Daisy, the very brave Black Pacific Duck, returned to the nest of the White Bellied Sea Eagles (WBSE) at 5:19 am. Everyone believed that she had laid the last of her eggs yesterday and had returned today to incubate them. Not so! Despite being concerned and ever watchful for Dad to return, Daisy did, at 10:33:34 Australian time, lay egg number nine. This means that she has a nest of seven eggs. Remember, Dad ate one and it is presumed, but no one knows for positive, that Daisy laid an egg elsewhere in the forest the day she was frightened from the nest before she could lay her egg.

Daisy pushing out her breast and pushing.

One of the things that I noticed today was that, in addition to turning in the nest often and breathing deeper, Daisy also stood up, lowered her neck, stuck out her breast and pushed down diagonally during her labour. You can see a still image of this action above. You can, if you look carefully, see the growing number of eggs in the nest cup, too. Once the egg was out, Daisy relaxed.

Daisy bearing down to get the egg out
Once the egg is out, Daisy begins placing more down and enlarging and lowering the nest.

Notice the small amount of down that Daisy has pulled from her breast to line the nest cup. Over the course of the morning, she has increased the size of and deepened the nest cup by moving around and pushing with her paddle feet.

The amount of down and the depth of the nest have increased gradually during the day.

What has afforded Daisy all this time today? Remember that Dad WBSE ate one of Daisy’s eggs yesterday and then covered the eggs. I have been actually hoping that the egg gave him indigestion (do eagles get indigestion even?) and is off duck eggs! Observers on the ground say that he has joined Lady, his mate, at Goat Island. Goat Island is 12.2 km from the nest. Hopefully the sea eagles will stay there until mid-February away from the heat of the City. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Normally, Dad will come and check on the nest and the rest of his territory during off-season. It is like he is on vacation! It is currently over 26 degrees C on the ground and, presumably, a little hotter in the nest.

However, Daisy has very good camouflage and if she continues to lower her nest, just imagine. She could cover herself with fluffy down and leaves and just maybe the WBSE wouldn’t see her at all.

Stay tuned for further developments tomorrow in the adventures of Dad and Daisy.

Isn’t she gorgeous?

The Continuing Saga of Dad and the Duck or ‘As the Nest Turns’

Just to bring those of you up to speed in case you haven’t read my earlier blog. In early December, a pair of Pacific Black Ducks investigated the nest of a pair of White-Bellied Sea Eagles (WBSE) in an old Ironwood Tree in the forest of the Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia. On 14 December, a nest cup was excavated in the centre of the sea eagle nest by the ducks. (Note: This is off-season for the sea eagles.). Six days later, ‘Dad’, the male partner of ‘Lady’, to whom the nest belongs, came to the nest for one of his periodic territory checks. The female aptly named ‘Daisy’ by Phyllis Robbins of the WBSE chat group laid her first egg in the nest cup on 5 January 2021.

Female Black Pacific Duck

On the morning of 11 January, Daisy arrives at the nest just after dawn. Before she could lay her egg, vocalizations from other birds in the forest alert her that the sea eagle is about. Indeed, Daisy might have been listening for the male sea eagle because he had come to the nest the previous day. That day she quickly covered the eggs and flew off the nest but stayed in proximity. Dad stayed for about half an hour before leaving and within a few minutes, Daisy returned to lay her sixth egg without interruption. This morning, however, Daisy had not laid her egg when the large sea bird appeared. She stood on the rim of the nest and quacked as Dad flew to the camera tree. She left so abruptly that she did not have time to cover her eggs but, it seems that Dad did not notice her physical presence on the nest or her quacking.

Dad surveyed his territory remaining on the tree that supports the camera for the live stream for about an hour. He might have thought that the bird laying the eggs would return without noticing him and he would find out who this mysterious bird is.

White-Bellied Sea Eagle Male known as ‘Dad’ scanning his territory for intruders.

After about an hour and a half, Dad flew to the nest tree to see first hand what was happening. He had noticed the eggs the previous day by rummaging around in the leaves. He even tried to pick one up with his bill but to no avail.

Three of the six Black Pacific Duck Eggs

Today the eggs were clearly visible. Look carefully. Daisy has started removing down from her breast to line the nest. This physiological process is called zugunruhe.

Under normal circumstances, Daisy would arrive at dawn to lay her egg. She would do this every day until she finished laying all of the eggs for her clutch. This can vary between 8-13 eggs. After laying her egg, Daisy often remains on the nest for a period of about an hour before departing for the river to forage for the rest of the day. Once all of the eggs are laid, Daisy will begin full incubation, being relieved periodically by her mate. After twenty-eight days, the ducklings will hatch. Then, the following day (after 24 hours), they will take a giant leap of faith and jump off the rim of the nest, a distance of approximately fourteen metres, to the forest floor. Here they will follow their mother to the Parramatta River where they will immediately begin foraging for themselves.

Dad inspecting the Black Pacific Duck’s eggs

Today, Dad began to curiously inspect the nest with the eggs. For what seemed like an eternity, he would look at the eggs and then look around the immediate environment of the tree. It was actually like he was confused. At one point he tried to pick up one of the eggs but he couldn’t do it. It isn’t that they are heavy; the shape is just awkward for him to handle with his beak. He did not try to move the eggs with his giant talons nor did he attempt to break them. He did toss some of the down around. At one point, it even looked like he might start brooding the eggs. It was a very strange exchange because Dad’s hormones are not thinking about breeding or brooding. He is in the midst of moulting.

Dad trying to move one of the eggs

The entire morning was very suspenseful. Currawongs and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos were screeching in the background and at one point, it was thought that Daisy even did a fly by.

And then the oddest thing happened. Very delicately, Dad covered up the eggs at 9:01 am.

Dad covered up the duck eggs so that no one could see them

If that wasn’t peculiar enough, Dad went up to one of the ‘parent branches’ on the nest tree and stood vigil. More than once, Dad flapped his wings to keep the Currawongs away! Take altogether, these three actions scream out that his intuition is to protect the eggs.

Dad standing guard over the nest

Dad stayed for more than an hour before departing. At the time of this writing, he has returned once again to the nest tree where he is keeping watch over his territory.

Stay tuned!