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He built it, and the wildlife came
Bill Marchel, Special to the Star Tribune
July 25, 2004 DUCK0725

Even a casual outdoors person recognizes the four basic needs of wildlife; food, water, shelter and a place to raise young.

I began to learn the requirements of wildlife when as a youngster I stalked the woods and fields near my boyhood home in Brainerd, Minn. Now, 30 years later, even though the world has changed in so many ways, wildlife, if provided with those four basic elements, will thrive.

I know this, and I knew it 10 years ago when I purchased 70 acres near Brainerd. The land was marginal -- mostly sedge meadow and willow swamp -- but it was all I could afford. I had dreamed of having acreage with ponds for attracting waterfowl and other wildlife, and even though the land was swampy, it contained no open water.

I'll dig, I figured at the time, and dig I did. I obtained the necessary permits and hired an excavator who used a 23-ton bulldozer to excavate five ponds, two of which are more than an acre in size. The dirt removed from the ponds, or spoil, was leveled, smoothed, tapered and contoured to look natural.

Water alone may attract ducks and geese, but unless their other three basic needs are met, the birds will not flourish, a fact that some people don't seem to understand. So, my goal going into my wetlands project was to provide all four of the basic requirements of waterfowl.

Once my ponds were excavated, in order to prevent erosion and to provide for ground-nesting ducks, such as mallards and blue-winged teal, I planted the shorelines with grassy cover. Along the shores of one pond I planted trees. Someday, when the trees are grown, that pond will provide a nice hideaway for wood ducks, a bird that prefers secretive ponds instead of open marshes.

In the ponds I planted a variety of aquatic vegetation, including wild rice, smartweed, wild celery, sago pondweed, bulrush and burreed. Those plants have provided food and cover for waterfowl and other wildlife.

I wanted my ponds to look as natural as possible, so I had them excavated with irregular shorelines containing many points and bays. The bottom of each pond tapers gradually from the shoreline to the pond's center. If one wades into the ponds, the depth gradually increases, rather than suddenly dropping into deep water. This assures that diverse plants will grow in the ponds. For example plants like smartweed thrive in muddy soil or in water less than 1 foot deep, and plants such as wild celery grow in water 2 to 6 feet deep.

During winter, I hauled downed trees and logs onto the ice of my ponds, and when spring came, they provided resting perches for ducks, herons and other birds. Water birds feel more secure when they can loaf away from the shoreline, which might hide predators such as mink, foxes and raccoons.

Also during winter, two nesting structures were placed while ice still covered the ponds. A floating structure containing two mallard nesting cylinders with a goose ring on top was dragged onto the ice of the largest pond. On the same day a similar structure mounted on a predator-proof post was placed through the ice of another pond.

Because very few mature trees containing cavities grow on my property I have provided wood ducks and hooded mergansers, both cavity nesting birds, with a place to raise their young by erecting a dozen or so nesting boxes. Each spring about two-thirds of the boxes produce broods of ducklings. It's a real treat to see one-day-old ducklings leap from the boxes and swim away with their mother on a pond I have managed for them and other wildlife.

This spring, six broods of wood ducks and two broods of hooded mergansers hatched from my nesting boxes. In addition, I saw at least three broods of mallards and one brood of blue-winged teal on my ponds. That's 12 broods of waterfowl produced on one 70-acre plot.

Other water birds using the ponds in addition to ducks and geese are herons, bitterns, rails, snipe, sandpipers and kingfishers and a wide variety of songbirds. And at sunset, muskrats leave long, lazy V's in water reflecting the orange sky as they travel back and forth. The shorelines of my ponds are peppered with tracks of raccoons, mink and deer.

Implementing my wetlands project was not cheap, but I've never looked back. For me the rewards far outweigh the time and money spent.

It should be noted here that government agencies and private conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited prefer wetlands be created by methods other than excavation -- as I did on my property -- if other options are available. Dike construction, ditch plugs or tile breaks are preferable to excavation, which was the only alternative for implementing ponds on my property.

Landowners who wish to do wetlands work on their property may find there is funding available to defer some of the expenses. Your local DNR wildlife manager can provide you with advice and assistance.

1,707 Posts
WOW !! :eek: That is what I have been dreaming of for a few years
now. Unfortunately I would have to be Bill Gates to by that much land
here in Mass. Great article. Thanks

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