On a sunny morning last weekend, members of the Lake Champlain chapter of Delta Waterfowl met at the Malletts Creek Wildlife Management Area to install nesting boxes to support the local duck population.
An organization for duck hunters, Delta Waterfowl and its individual chapters work to increase duck populations, conserve habitat, advocate for hunters as well as conduct research on waterfowl, wetlands and management techniques.
The local chapter installed 18 boxes at the WMA last Saturday, which will attract wood ducks during the spring nesting season, said vice chairman Matt Bombardier. With an average of 10 offspring resulting from each nesting pair of birds, he estimates the project will support about 180 new ducks in the area.
The group placed about three or four boxes per acre, so as not to crowd the ducks.
“If there are too many boxes, it’ll actually do more harm than good,” said Lance Champney, chairman of the Lake Champlain chapter. “[The ducks] will drop eggs in each other’s boxes and they won’t nest, or there will be like 30 eggs in one box, and the hens can only incubate 10 to 15 at a time.”
Bombardier added the group will soon install hen rolls, or rolled up wire mesh filled with straw, to provide safe nesting spots for mallard ducks as well.
“We’re seeing a decline in the Atlantic Flyway of mallard ducks right now,” he explained. “[We’re interested in] anything we can do to help, instead of just shoot them.”
In response to the recent declines in eastern mallard populations, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service and the Atlantic Flyway Council decided to limit waterfowl hunters for the 2019-2020 hunting season to two mallards, only one of which can be a hen, or a female duck. This number is down from the limit of four in previous seasons.
Champney said the installation of nest boxes and hen rolls at the Malletts Creek WMA will help increase duck populations for not only the benefit of the ducks, but hunters as well.
“[The hen roll] increased nesting success by 400 percent,” he said. “It takes them a little while to get used to them and actually nest in them, but once they do, the same hen will go back every year and her offspring will also go back to the same area.”
Families and children helped to build the boxes at a community event last year, and many of the materials were donated or purchased using money the chapter raised, Bombardier said.
The group filled the wood boxes with sawdust to make a soft base for the ducks to nest on, and then attached two of them back to back to 12 foot poles in the middle of the frozen ponds at the WMA. Underneath the boxes, the group attached metal flashing to the pole to prevent predators from climbing up and reaching the ducks.
The group installed the boxes in many of the pools at the WMA, which were created as part of a restoration project several years ago, Bombardier explained. Champney said the ducks will start nesting in them as soon as the ice melts in the spring.
The Lake Champlain chapter is Delta Waterfowl’s first chapter in the state, and they’re eager to continue working on conservation projects and community outreach they started last year, Bombardier said. They put up some nesting structures last year in Keeler’s Bay and at Delta Island in the Sandbar WMA, but this is their first year working at Mallett’s Creek WMA.
He said the group will do maintenance on last year’s boxes and start compiling data for the area.
“We’ll be able to start charting geographically by where stuff is, where we’re having success, where we’re not, if we have to move boxes, add more, take them away,” Bombardier explained.
He said they’re excited to continue working with youth hunters as well, and hopes to do more programs this year.
WMAs are state-conserved lands that are open to the public for activities like hunting, camping and other forms of recreation, but also focus on conservation of habitat and associated wildlife. Bombardier explained that money from the federal and state duck stamp program, hunting licenses, gun and ammunition purchases, boat registrations and the like go towards federal accounts that in turn support state initiatives like restoration and other projects at the Malletts Creek WMA.
Bombardier said the partnerships with organizations like the Fish & Wildlife service, the ECHO center and surrounding refuges are important in maintaining these habitats and wildlife populations so that people can continue enjoying them for years to come.
“It’s all about coming together,” he said.