South Carolina waterfowlers used to shoot a lot more mallards. According to hunter harvest surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state’s hunters killed a record 48,000 in 1976. But by 1990, that number had plummeted to less than 16,000 mallards. Something had to be done.
A group of concerned duck hunters decided to take a proactive step, and turned to Delta Waterfowl for help.
The Flyway Foundation was formed in an effort to not only locate where South Carolina’s ducks were coming from, but also to discover how to increase their numbers. Band returns revealed a surprise: 70 percent of harvested mallards actually originated from the Great Lakes, not the duck factory of the Prairie Pothole Region.
This eureka moment spurred the Flyway Foundation, in conjunction with Delta Waterfowl, to research the possibilities of using hen houses around the Great Lakes as a means to bolster the fall flight to South Carolina.
Under the direction of Scott Petrie, an adjunct professor at the University of Western Ontario, Master’s student Jeremy Stempka conducted research in northwestern Pennsylvania beginning in 2006. Jim Cook assisted in southern Ontario, while wildlife biologist Kevin Jacobs, a former Delta student, and wildlife management supervisor Roger Coup helped supervise in Pennsylvania.
Stempka’s study showed that mallards would nest in hen houses in the Great Lakes region. Usage rates were upward of 65 percent, with nest success — a hatch — as high as 90 percent. During the study, several banded hens came back to nest in the same hen house they had hatched from.
“It was an interesting study that showed that hen houses could be utilized as a viable management tool,” said Petrie, who worked for Delta Waterfowl in the mid-80s. He is now executive director of Long Point Waterfowl, which is dedicated primarily to the study and conservation of waterfowl and wetlands throughout the Great Lakes region.
Through partnerships with several conservation organizations and state wildlife agencies in the breeding grounds, more than 5,000 hen houses built by the Flyway Foundation have been installed in Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and Maryland.
They’ve also sent hundreds more north this fall. About 800 hen houses were recently shipped to Walpole Island, Ontario. The Flyway Foundation, with help from Long Point Waterfowl, is offering them free of charge to waterfowl clubs, conservation organizations, or individuals for placement at wetlands on Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.
Alternative Land Use Services program participants in Ontario already have claimed 50 hen houses. ALUS is Delta Waterfowl’s community-based, and farmer- and rancher-delivered land conservation program, with sites in Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“Hen houses are a wonderful conservation tool that Delta Waterfowl created and that we are now able to utilize,” Petrie said. “I’ve already been contacted by dozens of folks for these hen houses, many who had no idea they even existed. The educational aspect is huge.”
If you live in the Great Lakes region and would like to install, monitor and maintain a free hen house, please contact Theresa Childs at 519-784-1433, or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ted Barney at 888-448-2473 ext. 151 or email@example.com.