Pickerington Times-Sun

Landowner's efforts provide safe haven for wood ducks

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David Hague prepares a wood duck box for the spring nesting season. The box is in a re-created wetlands just south of Pickerington High School Central. The Fairfield County Soil and Water Conservation district assisted with restoring the wetland a few years ago and it was home for many new ducklings last spring.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, there perhaps is no more colorful bird than the male wood duck, with its distinctive shimmering green head, white facial markings, bright red eyes and bill and metallic blue back.

A conservation manager and a Pickerington land owner have teamed up to promote the local wood duck habitat by installing wood duck nesting boxes in two wetlands located inside Pickerington's city limits.

One wetland, established in 2012, is on 14.3 acres just south of Pickerington High School Central off Hill Road South that Conservation Reserve Practices manager Tammy Miller oversees with David Hague of Coyote Run LLC.

The other parcel is 15.3 acres restored as wetlands in 2007. It is part of Hague's property located adjacent to the Sycamore Creek subdivision.

Miller said Hague chose to preserve both parcels as wetlands by participating in a federal program administered by the Fairfield County Soil and Water District.

They have planted native grasses and wildflowers which prevent further erosion on land previously leveled for farming activity, Miller said.

Those practices are also essential to set the stage for the active restoration of bird habitats.

"The key is to get rid of invasive (vegetation)," Hague said. "We pick trees that are natural so they can support the critters that like those types of trees."

Hague and Miller recently installed a wood duck box in both wetland parcels to encourage the birds to establish a safe haven in which to nest.

"Wood ducks like to nest in tree cavities near streams, wetlands or ponds," Miller said.

"If there are no dead trees nearby, a wood duck box can provide a substitute nesting site for wood ducks," she said.

Recently Hague placed four to five inches of cedar shavings in the wood duck nest box to ready it for the hens, who will lay their eggs by the end of March or early April, Miller said.

"David will also check the box periodically to make sure there are no wasps or that starlings have not laid their eggs inside," she said.

The box is then placed on a metal post and set in the water so as to avoid wily predators such as raccoons or opossum from raiding the nest and absconding with the eggs.

"It gives the eggs a good opportunity to hatch, because the (predators) can't get across the water," Miller said.

She said the newer wetland was home to many new ducklings last spring. Several broods of baby wood ducks took refuge there.

"The ducks would hide in the grasses growing in the water when people approached or a hawk would fly overhead," Miller said.

"We would also see broods of ducks as we crossed the bridges over Sycamore Creek," she said.

Amy Boyer, district engineer for the soil and water conservation district, commended Hague and Miller for their work in "intensely managing the property beyond expectations."

"The landowners worked with our office in developing the engineers' plans on both wetlands," Boyer said.

"Their efforts have provided an excellent habitat and water quality benefit in the middle of a rapidly urbanizing area," Boyer said.

"They have created a real wildlife oasis where you would not expect one," she said.

Both Hague and Miller said one can see not only ducks, but kingfishers, herons and even ospreys at both wetlands locations.

Through their efforts, they hope to promote awareness to area residents of the need to preserve the wetlands areas.

"It's a start," Miller said.

"Hopefully they'll think about it when they drive over the (Sycamore Creek) bridge."

She said people can obtain more information about wood duck nest boxes, including instructions on how to build their own, by visiting the ODNR web page at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov.

Miller said the boxes can also be purchased from retailers for about $60.