Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wonderful Wood Ducks

It's not difficult to find baby waterfowl at this time of year: Check out any pond, river, nature preserve or city pond, and you're likely to see large numbers of Canada geese and their young, or mallard ducklings eagerly following their mama.

Look a little more closely along wetland areas, and you are likely to find other species as well. If you're along a wooded stream, you may be rewarded with a sight of a hen wood duck and her young. If the ducklings seem a bit disoriented, consider that, just yesterday, they may have been eggs high up in a tree. Soon after they are born in tree cavities (or nest boxes), baby wood ducks climb out and "parachute" to the ground, then follow the hen to water.

Wood ducks can be found anywhere where trees grow near streams, rivers or wetlands. They are quite common even in downtown Boise during the summer. But when you see a wood duck, consider yourself lucky. After all, in the late 19th century, many prominent ornithologists believed the wood duck would soon go extinct.

Over-hunting and loss of habitat--particularly old, dead trees in which to nest--seemed insurmountable problems at the time. Visionary conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt helped pass tougher wildlife laws, which nearly eliminated the commercial trade in waterfowl and other game. Wildlife can nearly always recover from overharvesting, given adequate enforcement of existing laws.

Habitat is more difficult to restore. Fortunately, everyday citizens across the country came to the wood duck's aid by building nest boxes in likely areas. Duck hunters, birders, youth groups and others built thousands of nest boxes. My brother Mike and I built waterfowl boxes for our Eagle Scout projects, and many other kids will get their first taste of hands-on conservation by building these boxes.

Of course, many wildlife species need more than nesting boxes to survive. That's why The Nature Conservancy's work to protect the most important habitat around the world plays such a vital role in preserving the nesting, feeding, breeding, young-rearing and migration areas that wildlife need to survive.--Matt Miller

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