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FortWhyte wants wood duck watchers

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Organizers at FortWhyte Alive are hoping nature lovers won’t duck the chance to make homes for a beloved North American bird.


The Winnipeg Wood Duck Project is seeking city residents with riverfront properties to sign-up as wood duck watchers and use nest boxes.


Each spring, armed with tools and ladders, FortWhyte volunteers clean existing boxes and install new ones for interested homeowners.


The centre will hold an information session about wood ducks on Sun., March 18 at 2 p.m. The session is free with regular admission.


One key organizer said concerned conservationists launched the project in the early 1970s when wood duck populations were critically low due to excessive hunting and clearing of mature forest — a problem compounded by the selective removal of potential nesting cavities.


"Wood ducks nested in dead or dying trees and when people got into landscaping their yards, these were the type of trees people would cut down," said Ken Cudmore, FortWhyte’s site manager.


The Fort Garry resident said, unlike mallards for example, wood ducks are secretive birds that like to sit up in trees. Female wood ducks also return faithfully to nests in the area they were raised, making it easier to mark an increase in their numbers, Cudmore said.


They are also the proverbial early birds, as they generally return to Manitoba for the "first open water" as the spring thaw begins.


Cudmore said he’s "probably seen 500 boxes in the past 28 years," but would like to see more duck watchers as boxes can get neglected when homes change hands.


One long-time duck watcher is Betty Zwanzig, who said the ducks have become more competitive when searching for spring shelter in recent years.


"There’s incredible competition for the nest boxes. Now we seeing them fighting for them," said Zwanzig, who lives along the Assiniboine River in St. James.


Zwanzig saw ducklings "pop out of the nest" during two consecutive springs — and not before or since. The first time she saw 22, then 19. "They sort of bounced down and their mother took them into the river."


In the last nine years, the earliest duck sighting by Zwanzig has been March 26 and the latest has been April 10.  


For more information, call 989-8355. To download a membership brochure, visit www.fortwhyte.org/membership.


Organizers say new members will save 20% off a one-year Wood Duck Naturescape membership if they register by March 21, to maximize the chances of attracting the ducks.

simon.fuller@canstarnews.com

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