I had been photographing waterfowl for 45 years and had images of every species in North America, including one of the most beautiful: the wood duck. While I had photos of adults on the water, standing on logs and on the wing, I lacked the quintessential image of a baby wood duck jumping out of a nest cavity. So a couple of years ago I set my mind to getting that image.
I called longtime friend and fellow biologist Mike Peters, who was the manager of the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, in California’s Sacramento Valley. Mike lived on the refuge and had a couple decades’ experience working with wood ducks—banding birds, putting up nest boxes and so on. Mike said he knew of several nest cavities that were being used and that he had a good idea about when the ducklings would be making the “leap of faith” to the ground.
One evening in early May Mike called and said he was pretty sure the ducklings were ready to exit one of the nest cavities he was monitoring. The next morning I was at the nest site before sunrise and set up a blind. At first all was quiet, but at about 7 am the hen appeared at the cavity opening and immediately flew to the ground and began calling. Then, one by one, 10 baby wood ducks jumped from the nest to the ground, some 20 feet below. As the exodus unfolded, I began taking photos like crazy. The process lasted only minutes, but I took about 100 images and ended up capturing the moment I’d been hoping to. —Gary Kramer