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Kids help build waterfowl population at the fair

Harlen Hendrickson, right, president of the West Central Waterfowlers, helps Breah Branden, 10, of Detroit Lakes construct a wood duck house at the Becker County Fairgrounds Wednesday evening. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)1 / 2
Breah Branden, 10, of Detroit Lakes, shows off her completed duck house. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)2 / 2

When the area duck population wasn't doing too well a few years ago, officials at the West Central Waterfowlers, the local chapter of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, knew they had to do something different to raise awareness for conservation.

The answer came in the form of kids, and the chance to build wood duck houses at the Becker County Fair.

Harlen Hendrickson, president of the West Central Waterfowlers, said they tried the program at the fair for the first time last year, and it went so well that they decided to bring it to the fair again.

Armed with three pallets full of wood, enough for 150 wood duck houses at a total cost of $4,500, Hendrickson and other waterfowl enthusiasts set up tables near the Department of Natural Resources building at the fairgrounds.

The wood was then separated into kits, each kit with all the supplies and pieces for one house, and children were welcomed to come build their own, with the help of the workers to drill and nail all the pieces in the right places to form a habitat for a duck.

"The boys like to come and use the drill," Hendrickson said, "And a lot of the girls like to ask all sorts of questions."

He said they planned to go through 37 houses each day, operating at the fair from roughly 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and then from noon until whenever they ran out of supplies on Saturday.

On Wednesday, he said, they had to pack up at 7:45 p.m. because they had exhausted their 37 houses for the day.

Each house takes between 15 and 20 minutes to build - and then it's up to the parents to help kids figure out where to put the houses.

"You can put them up anywhere," he said. "You really just have to clean them out every year."

Mother ducks prefer new, clean houses to old ones, he said. They'll stay in used houses as temporary shelter, he said, but they won't stick around long.

While building the houses, workers teach the kids about how the houses will be used. For example, on the inside of the front panel of the house, just below the entrance hole, is a piece of wire mesh, meant to help baby ducks climb out of the house.

"We ask all the kids while they're building, if they know what that piece of mesh is for," Hendrickson said. "Some do, and some don't."

He said the program has gone so well, that it's definitely something they'll try to continue in the future.

"We cater to the young," he said. "It's our future, these young guys, and anything we can teach them is just great."

Hendrickson said the duck population was actually up this year after a "good hatch."

The duck house workshop at the fair is also something of a feeder program for the "Woodie Camp," an outdoor conservation camp for 13 through 15-year-olds through the Minnesota Waterfowl Association that takes place in Fergus Falls in mid-August.

Kids interested in the camp only have to apply by writing a short essay and making a deposit, and then wait for acceptance (the deposit is returned to kids that are selected). The camp comes at no cost to parents.

In addition to learning about waterfowl, kids also learn about wetlands and grasslands, decoys and dog training for hunting, hunter safety and first aid, in addition to cleaning, prepping, and cooking any game that they kill during the week.