Waterfowl in Utah Lake are getting new housing

The program's 30 “chicken houses” for ducks are designed to help the birds adapt to changing environmental conditions.

(Utah Lake Authority) Ducklings nest in an artificial chicken coop at Utah Lake.

It's no secret that Utah's population is growing – and some of the state's smallest residents are getting their own new home on Utah Lake.

The Utah Lake Authority has partnered with the Utah Division of Wildlife and the Delta Waterfowl Provo Bay Chapter to build “chicken houses” for ducks that want to make the lake their home. So far, 27 of the program's 30 chicken coops are occupied – 26 by different species of waterfowl and one by a family of muskrats, the agency's executive director, Luke Peterson, said in an email.

“These houses – it seems to be something quite small; I mean, they look like a tube of hay floating above the water,” said Addy Valdez, conservation biologist with the Utah Lake Authority. “But just seeing how quickly and how much these ducks are taking advantage of this new habitat, they're saying, 'There's finally a house here, I'm going to live there,' which is great. because that tells us that there is of course no habitat there at the moment.”

The artificial nests sit on an adjustable pole that extends several feet out of the lake, and wire mesh filled with hay forms a kind of cylindrical tube for the birds to perch in. However, the nests are quite cheap and easy to build, Valdez said, giving the waterfowl species a big head start as they cope with changing water levels, habitat loss and even weather.

“These ducks can be more successful by raising their ducklings [in the nests,] So it's likely that more of them will survive and that there will probably be fewer of them [preyed upon]Valdez added. “This is a really good sign that the population will either hold up better or even grow.”

And the birds offer great benefits to visitors to Utah Lake, whether bird watching or duck hunting.

“For many of our athletes it is really great that we are here. “This is a very popular area for people to hunt,” Valdez said. “These people at the Delta Waterfowl Project love it – so being able to give back to the population that they sometimes take from is really meaningful to them. … They can still enjoy their sport but know it’s not harming them.”

In addition to the duck homes, the Utah Lake Authority also revives native plant species such as rushes and sedges. So far this year, volunteers have planted over 4,000 individual plants throughout the lake — including along the Vineyard shoreline and near the South Saratoga Marina, Valdez said.

“One of our main goals is to continue to help reintroduce these wetland plants because they do so much for the ecosystem and are actually meant to be here,” Valdez said, noting that the agency has had success removing invasives I got weeds from the area.

The plantings are entirely voluntary and the authority has around 11,000 additional individual plants that it would like to plant in the ground this spring. Next year, the agency hopes to plant about 40,000 of the native species – 30,000 of which will be planted by hired help.

But the Utah Lake Authority is always looking for volunteers, and individuals can contact the authority to put together their own “planting parties,” Valdez said.

Volunteers interested in the chicken coop program should contact the Delta Waterfowl Provo Bay Chapter.

Anna Harden

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