Outdoors

'Cultivating' ducks a bit like gardening

The Nature Call: Watching birds grow akin to seeds sprouting

A mallard nesting tube, with a muskrat lodge in the background, went through a season of exposure. (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
A mallard nesting tube, with a muskrat lodge in the background, went through a season of exposure. (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
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Gardeners seem to survive a long winter well.

They have hope and patience. Their virtues come from participation.

Gardeners don’t just want warmer days so they can walk the block in short sleeves or grill out — though those are dandy reasons. They anticipate the vernal season because they will get their hands dirty and observe the life that arises from their efforts.

Gardeners participate in the growing of life.

As oaks send out new branches, gardeners’ seeds swell from the earth. While bees tend nodding trillium or shooting star petals, they also visit the garden plots. Produce, whether carrots or cottontails, spring from vernal awakenings. Though in that instance gardeners may have divided opinions.

I garden, too. Most of my gardening is typical and obvious — onions, green beans and the like in a city plot.

But my favorite gardening is cryptic. I garden for ducks.

Gardening, cultivating, raising ... there’s no need to fuss over the perfect word.

I maintain a collection of nesting structures for wood ducks and one for mallards.

Wood ducks are literally one of a kind in America. They nest in tree cavities but are eager to lay eggs in a counterfeit. A century ago, wood ducks faced extinction due to relentless logging and development. The invention of homemade nesting boxes saved the species and have since served as an easy gateway into active environmentalism for many novice carpenters.

Last year, I added a grassed nesting tube to my efforts. These elevated platforms were designed for mallards, a ground nesting duck. Settlement, agriculture and habitat fragmentation increased the volume of nest-raiding critters on the landscape, especially raccoons. Elevated tubes, validated by scientific research, keep the nests out of reach from thieving mouths.

According to studies commissioned by Delta Waterfowl, farm country mallards suffer. Their ground nests average at least 70 percent predation. Fifteen percent nesting success is needed to just sustain a population. “Hen houses” raised the success rate to an average of 80 percent.

Last spring, my mallard tube had a successful hatch its very first year, Oh, the joy. The bounty of my nests fully stocked the larder of my mind.

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You still have time to enter your hands into the creative process of propagating wildlife, you have the power to make wild animals of the earth. And in that pursuit, I am confident winter won’t feel so harsh and spring will seem all the sweeter.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

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