• Wood Ducks

    There are few things in the outdoor world that are more stunning to the eye than the wood duck. Those who are avid birders, waterfowl conservationists, or hardcore duck hunters all agree that the crown for the prettiest of migratory waterfowl should be placed on the wood duck‘s glorious crest. Nearly hunted to extinction across most of its range by 1900, the wood duck has been a common focus point for conservation efforts across Southern Ontario for a long time. Though numbers have stabilized, the wood duck has yet to make a true comeback making them a worthy focal point for careful waterfowl conservation.

    This past week, I was invited to spend some time with the president of the Sydenham Sportsman Association Mike Prevost and a group of junior club members as they put forth some hard work for the greater good of the woody.

    Unlike many of the common puddle ducks and primary waterfowl hunted by local outdoorsman, the wood duck is a" perching" duck; meaning they have sharp claws that allow them to adapt to life in the trees as well as the water. These striking birds nest in the cavities of trees throughout our region of Ontario beginning in early April. Hens lay anywhere from 7-15 eggs per nest at a rate of one per day. A hen then incubates the clutch until the eggs hatch around 30 days later. The woody is very unique in that hens can lay and hatch 2 separate broods in southern areas of the breeding range in comparison to other waterfowl who only tend to hatch one clutch per season.

    The primary trait of nesting in trees is a major reason why the woody needs a helping hand from conservation minded individuals and clubs. Many of our wetlands and forests have been degraded over time. Forestry, agriculture, irrigation, and urban sprawl have all contributed to the loss of old growth forests and wetlands; the availability of these two habitats are crucial to wood duck survival. Specific wood duck nesting requirements depend on habitats that are not as plentiful as they once were. Large older trees provide nesting cavities created by tree disease, lightning strikes, wood peckers and other variables that are not as prevalent in new growth forests. Wetlands provide feeding grounds, in addition to satisfying a waterfowl’s need to splash about. Without being able to undo the destruction of habitat, conservationists have attempted to assist the wood duck by providing some of the missing components of their habitat. Their efforts have led to the implementation of wood duck nesting box projects across North America by many clubs and organizations.

    When I met Provost the other evening, he had rounded up some junior club members and they were busy installing a pair of wood duck boxes along the banks of the Sydenham river on the S.S.A. club property south of Owen Sound. Mike was taking the time to not only hang the boxes, but to educate the junior members in the life history and biology of the wood duck. The information he conveyed while the group installed the boxes was first hand for these youth, a hands on approach that is the goal of the S.S.A junior program. A strong focus on involvement and education of youth members has been an initiative for this club for a very long time. On top of wood duck boxes, junior members participate in tree plantings, clean up days, basic firearm training, archery and a variety of outdoor skill building activities.

    These same junior members are the major force in building the boxes in the club wood shop. The boxes are constructed from white pine with a protruding "snout" around the entrance to deter the wood ducks primary nest predator, the raccoon. Prevost and the junior members filled the two boxes with pine shavings and installed a sheet metal belt to the tree. This sheet prevents racoons and other animals who prey on nests from climbing the tree. Mike explained to the young members that the masked bandit, snakes, squirrels and woodpeckers are all natural predators and will feed on wood duck eggs. In terms of nesting, the woody competes with a variety of owls, woodpeckers, squirrels and other cavity nesting birds for prime brooding trees.

    This wood duck nesting box project keeps the S.S.A., Prevost, and the junior members busy; they tend to 100 boxes locally each year. Statistics on hatches, nesting rates and the likes are recorded for submission to Ducks Unlimited Canada who are the leading organization in North America for waterfowl conservation.

    Prevost is well versed in his waterfowl knowledge, and we discussed local wood duck populations. Overall, Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl claim that wood duck numbers are stable across its broad range in North America. However, local populations in certain areas of the range may not be as plentiful. Greater numbers of Canada geese are calling our region home during nesting season. This undoubtedly takes up space in the carrying capacity of local wetlands. Woodies are fairly reclusive and surely do not benefit from this added population. That being said, its clear that the wood duck needs whatever help it can get.

    Involving youth in such a valiant conservation effort is a job well done, not just by the S.S.A, but numerous conservation organizations across North America. Here is a tip of the hat to Prevost, the S.S.A and their great effort at involving youth in current conservation efforts in our local outdoors. Educating kids on how to preserve and nurture the environment now just might create a new generation of conservationists.
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