SPRING GROVE – Boy Scouts of America Troop 92 of Antioch and Troop 609 of Waukegan bundled up for 20-degree temperatures Jan. 14 and performed annual maintenance of wood duck nests at Chain O’ Lakes State Park.
The Scouts and leaders were there because over the decades the natural habitat of wood ducks steadily has declined because of development and hunting and special nests are needed to attract the woodies.
Beginning in 1980, Troop 92 constructed 50 cypress boxes measuring 12 inches wide, 12 inches deep and 24 inches high, with 3-by-4-inch oval openings cut near the top that are large enough for ducks to enter but small enough to discourage raccoons.
Wood duck nests at Chain O’ Lakes are serviced during winter while marshes and ponds are frozen and before the ducks return in early spring from the south. The nests were attached to trees about 12 feet above ground facing water or to posts near ponds.
Using GPS with maps showing nest locations, Scouts and leaders split into two groups and hiked down paths and often through thick brush to reach the nests. The Scouts took turns carrying a ladder, a tool bucket for possible repairs, fresh wood shavings for bedding and a clipboard to record nest use and contents. After working for two hours, they returned to the park’s maintenance facilities for lunch and then spent another three hours in the field.
The Scouts audited, cleaned and restored 15 nests, far fewer than most years because the warm weather and soft ground created unsafe conditions for reaching several nests. In addition, one nest required repair and another replacement after having been broken by a falling limb.
The occupation rate of 33% was similar to past years when records were retained. One nest was home to two squirrels and another to a mouse.
If nests are disturbed by animals or built too close to each other, hen wood ducks will move their eggs to a common nest known as a dump site. One such nest contained eight unhatched eggs.
Although a wood duck may lay between seven and 12 eggs, only a few ducklings survive after a year. They have the highest mortality rate of any waterfowl. Chicks may die in the nest, be killed by predators while moving to water or killed in the water during their first year.
In recognition of their conservation efforts, Troop 92 has been honored over the years by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources with two plaques and a slide presentation of their work, the Tom C. Clark Award from the National Park Foundation and the William T. Hornaday Award from the National Scouting Council.