Sunday, December 18, 2011

Are there Wood Ducks at Smith Mountain Lake?

Blue Ridge Foothills and Lakes Virginia Master Naturalists rebuild/replace wood duck boxes at Smith Mountain Lake State Park

Female Wood Duck 
Male Wood Duck

Old Wood Duck Box in Disrepair
First of all a little background about wood ducks 
They are a medium sized (~20” in length, 28” wing span) or about 2/3’s the size of a Mallard. They are perching ducks with sharp claws and generally nest in tree cavities but will also nest in nesting boxes (more about that later). They breed in marshes, swamps, shallow lake areas, ponds and creeks in the US and Mexico. Females usually lay between 7 and 15 white-tan eggs that incubate for an average of 30 days. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her, but does not help them. The birds are year-round residents in the south, but the northern wood ducks migrate south for the winter.

Lauri & Dick at Work
OK, now to the question in the title. Well it is a definite maybe. A number of years ago about a dozen wood duck boxes were placed strategically around the park. Wood ducks were known to occupy some of these boxes. Unfortunately over the years, the boxes have fallen in to disrepair. If the boxes could be repaired, wood duck sightings at the lake could become more common.

In order to rectify this situation, the Smith Mountain Lake State Park folks approached the Blue Ridge, Foothills and Lakes (BRFAL) chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists to see if we would step up to the challenge of repairing/replacing the old boxes. The Friends of Smith Mountain Lake State Park would provide funding if BRFAL would provide the grunt. Well of course we would. We would coordinate this effort with SML State Park Nature Interpreter Lauri Shular. And a better coordinator couldn’t be found. Her knowledge is great and her enthusiasm is infectious.

Rich & Dick Finished with Box 1
To get started, Lauri provided some possible wood duck box plans to VMN BRFAL member Dick LeRoy. Dick reviewed and selected the best design. Dick procured the materials. With a modicum of assistance from Rich Brager, the first 5 wood duck boxes were cut out and assembled in Dick’s very well equipped wood shop.

After two false starts due to rain outs, Lauri, Dick and Rich finally met at the State Park on December 15th in attempt to install at least 2 or 3 of the boxes. Lauri ferried us around in the park’s Polaris utility vehicle. We were equipped with step ladders, battery and hand tools. In the course of the day, we found a total of 6 duck box locations. Of those, we managed to install 3 of the new boxes and recovered one repairable old box. All in all a successful day, but to quote Arnold: “We’ll be baaaack.”

Learn more about the Virginia Master Naturalist Program here. Visit Smith Mountain Lake State Park website here. Please do not disturb the wood duck boxes, we need to give them privacy...

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