A grant from a prairie chicken group will help create nesting boxes for wood ducks
You have no doubt heard the saying “it takes a whole village to raise a child”.
I know from personal experience how powerful a supportive community can be for human development.
The concept also applies to other forms of life, even organizations and projects.
Take the Wood Duck, the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, the Society for Typmanuchus Cupido Pinnatus, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, and a host of volunteers.
You may know that the population of wood ducks, a bird native to Wisconsin and arguably the most beautiful waterfowl on the planet, was extremely low in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
In fact, some early 20th century wildlife experts predicted that the species would become extinct. The main culprits for the decline of the wood duck are unregulated hunting and habitat loss.
But from this low point, the “village” – including enlightened hunters – began to exert its positive power.
Significantly, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 banned the hunting of wood ducks nationwide.
In the 1930s, artificial nesting boxes proved to be a boost for the recovery of the species.
In 1934, the Federal Migratory Bird Stamp Act (commonly known as the Federal Duck Stamp) was passed requiring hunters to purchase the annual stamp and help pay for wetland protection. In 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration (or Pittman-Robertson) Act established an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and certain hunting supplies, further subsidizing wildlife recovery across the country.
By 1941 the timber population was considered robust enough and a hunting season was reopened.
The species’ recovery has been robust and sustained in many eastern and midwestern states, including Wisconsin. In 2022, Wisconsin’s breeding wood duck population was estimated at 174,526, nearly double the 89,775 estimated in 2016 and 102% higher than the long-term average (49 years), according to the Department of Natural Resources.
But the duck-lover community is not resting on its laurels.
For the past 37 years, the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association has participated in state efforts to aid wood duck production by building, erecting, and maintaining nest boxes.
Wood ducks are one of the few North American waterfowl species that use hollow areas to lay and hatch eggs. Artificial nesting boxes are placed on poles and located in or alongside water. They have been proven to significantly improve nesting success compared to natural tree cavities.
Led by WWA volunteer Erich Pitz of Manitowoc, the WWA manufactured and distributed dozens to hundreds of wood duck nest boxes each year. Sadly, Pitz passed away in 2020 and, as often happens with volunteer groups, the conservation organization has scrambled to fill a void.
In the short term, they were lucky: Pitz had built up a surplus of several hundred boxes. But with strong demand from chapters and the public last year, supply ran out in March 2022.
“We knew we had to find a solution to keep this popular program going,” said WWA Executive Director Bruce Ross.
Among the challenges: buying wood at a reasonable price during the pandemic, having it cut to size, having crates assembled and distributed.
Several options were considered by the WWA.
“So, step into the Chicken of the Prairies,” Ross said.
Ross heard about the Wisconsin Bird Fund, an inherited fund from the Society of Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus operated by the Wisconsin Natural Resources Foundation.
Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus is the Latin name for the prairie chicken. The society existed to support grassland chicken recovery efforts in Wisconsin for several decades, but then disbanded. Its presence is however still felt through its collection of birds.
The TCP Bird Fund supports projects that protect and conserve birds that breed, migrate, or winter in Wisconsin, including game birds like wood ducks.
The administrators of the TCP Bird Fund have decided to grant $5,000 to the WWA.
“We are thrilled to continue the success of WWA’s wood duck program by funding the cost of raw materials for hundreds of wood ducks,” the fund said in a statement. and waterfowl activities.
The grant helped buy wood for 500 wood duck nest boxes, Ross said.
The community of supporters did not stop there.
WWA volunteers, including Bruce Urben, Dave Elwing, and Bart Tegen, located sawyers who could provide lumber, obtain needed materials, and coordinate logistics.
And to complement the village effort, young people from Blackwell School in Laona will build most of the boxes.
Ross said the group’s effort will begin replenishing the stock of finished boxes and kits by the end of the month and the WWA will begin filling orders in December.
I know that this “village” tale took us through about 125 years of history. But here we are in 2022, with the Federal Duck Stamp having raised $1.1 billion for wetlands since 1934 and Pittman-Robertson adding another $15 billion to wildlife restoration since 1937, and many state groups and locals like WWA adding thousands of wooden duck nest boxes to the landscape to help one of our native species.
The happy result is that the wood duck is a shining star in the pantheon of North American wildlife success stories.
The work is never done. But the story of the wood duck, including the efforts of WWA and the generosity of TCP, shows that if we work together, great things are possible.