Skunks, raccoons, foxes, opossums and other toothy critters looking for an easy meal threaten to destroy the nests. Ultimately, the drama boils down to a hen — literally a sitting duck — trying to hide her eggs and herself in the grass for more than three weeks to hatch a brood of fluffy ducklings.
Now, you can watch! The Delta Duck Cam, a streaming webcam placed near an incubating wild duck, is your live, real-time window into the life of a hen on a nest in North Dakota.
“What takes place on the breeding grounds of the Prairie Pothole Region — exactly what it takes to make a nest, raise ducklings and avoid predators — is a complete mystery to most people,” said Joel Brice, Delta’s vice president of conservation. “The thought has always been that, if we could just bring people here to see it for themselves, they’d be more passionate about the support they give to wildlife. Through this unique project, we can do that.”
The lead role falls to Pintail 004, a hen northern pintail that might have spent last winter in the rice fields of Arkansas or on the Texas Gulf Coast, but now is at her spring and summer home near Egeland, N.D. She is in the heart of the storied Prairie Pothole Region, an area encompassing the Dakotas and southern Canada where 70 percent of North America’s ducks are born.
Delta Waterfowl’s wildlife technicians set up the camera on May 16. Pintail 004 has eight eggs, and provided no marauding predator finds the nest, the ducklings should hatch around June 10. But the odds are against Pintail 004. Previous Delta research in the area has shown nest success to be about 5 percent.
Anything can happen.
Thanks to a sponsorship with outdoor apparel maker Sitka Gear, the Delta Duck Cam will broadcast her every moment, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Whether Pintail 004’s nest is destroyed, abandoned or hatches, Delta researcher Mike Buxton, who received a Masters Degree from Louisiana State University, will be first to the scene to relocate the camera to another viable nest. Because of the different timing of nesting for various duck species throughout spring and into summer, the Delta Duck Cam could potentially last through July. Although the camera currently is pointed at a pintail, viewers could see the nests of northern shovelers, mallards, gadwalls, lesser scaup and blue-winged teal.
From different ducks to plentiful dangers to the changing of the seasons, the Delta Duck Cam promises to shed light on a fascinating aspect of the duck world many people have heard about, but few have ever seen.