On a hot, sunny June day, The Nature Trust of British Columbia’s South Coast Conservation Field Crew joined Dan Otway and Chris Bradford from the Pitt Waterfowlers for a day out on the water. Together, the Waterfowlers and the Crew hopped in skiffs and weaved between the meandering banks of the Alouette River, coasting along the slow-moving water.
The Alouette River is an ideal environment for Wood Ducks, with its calm waters and plentiful vegetation offering plenty of space for nesting and delicious seeds, insects and aquatic plants. Motorized watercraft are banned – the Pitt Waterfowlers are allowed to use outboard motors thanks to special permitting for their conservation work.
Chris and Dan have done their best to help duck populations by erecting nesting boxes at various points along the river. The Pitt Waterfowlers have erected and maintained over 130 nesting boxes across Pitt Meadows, a massive undertaking for them and their 30 volunteers. Our mission for the day was to travel from box-to-box and check whether or not there were eggs inside by inserting a camera through an entry hole. Wood Duck ducklings typically hatch in spring, meaning that all eggs would hopefully be hatched by our late June visit.
The day was a great success. We checked 26 nesting boxes, 11 of which showed evidence that ducklings had hatched out or that a hen was sitting on live, incubating eggs. Chris and Dan reported that the 42 per cent usage rate observed is considered successful by this point in the year. Of the other 15 boxes, most showed no signs of nesting and some demonstrated the natural threats faced by nesting Wood Ducks each spring. A number of boxes had been flooded by recent high water levels, with two containing drowned eggs that had been unable to hatch. Ducks also have a host of natural predators – one box had been torn open by a large animal, likely a bear, and its contents were lost. Another two boxes were guarded by wasps, making them inaccessible to crew members.
The Pitt Waterfowlers have been operating in Pitt Meadows since 2012, using plywood scraps from Chris’s worksites to erect bird boxes assembled by the Pitt Meadows High School woodworking shop. Chris and Dan are passionate for Wood Duck conservation, and the organization grew gradually, eventually receiving support from Ducks Unlimited, Kent Cartridge Canada and Cabelas Canada as well as The Nature Trust of BC. In 2018, Ducks Unlimited donated pine lumber to the group, allowing them to build even more nesting boxes.
While Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser populations are healthy in the Lower Mainland, an important part of conservation is maintaining that resilience. It takes the efforts of small, local organizations like Pitt Waterfowlers to ensure that this important work is not overlooked. Thank you very much to Chris and Dan for welcoming us out on the water – our continued work with them and other local organizations is a very valuable part of conservation in BC!