There’s nothing quite as startling as a ground-nesting bird gone undetected until erupting in flight.  This happened more times than I care to admit while birding and clearing preserve trails.  An undaunted female mallard, wild turkey, and American woodcock all exhibited incredible perseverance and bravery while incubating eggs, only exposing a nest once being nearly stepped on.

These birds prefer well-concealed areas for nesting to avoid predation.  Generally, ground-nesting birds have a low reproductive success rate due to increased vulnerability.  Thick brush adjacent to a wetland was the mallard’s selected site.  Once spooked, it may be difficult to identify the billed bomb by sight; however, when flapping, this duck’s wings make a characteristic whistling noise, allowing for identification even when in a stunned state.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) eggs in a 2-inch deep bowl of down feathers      Note: A clutch of 12 is above average for this dabbling duck.

A rocky hillside with an abundance of mountain laurel fit the bill for a wild turkey.  She scratched a shallow depression in spent leaves below a bushy laurel on a small outcropping, which was only accessible from one direction.

Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) nest with speckled, buff-colored eggs

Woodcock also make a shallow, rudimentary nest although not necessarily adjacent to woody debris or shrubs like turkey.  Their smaller size and cryptic coloration allow them to seamlessly blend in with a moist forest floor littered with leaves and twigs.  A clutch of 4 pinkish-buff eggs blotched with brown and gray is typical for this sandpiper.

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