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Waterfowl

Seasonal ponds are life support for wildlife

Wetland habitats are the “neighbourhood” where ducks raise the next generation

October 19, 2018
A brood of mallards on a seasonal pond.
A brood of mallards on a seasonal pond. © DUC

She returned in the spring, tired and hungry from days of long flights. She was easy to miss as she settled on a small pond, her brown-and-tan markings blending with the surroundings.

Paddling in the warming water, she foraged along the shoreline for larvae, tadpoles, seeds, snails and worms — anything fatty and protein-laden that she could scoop up to rebuild her strength.

Beside her, another forager glided on the surface of the pond. The female mallard swam with her mate, paired since autumn, as she fed and prepared for the coming weeks of laying and tending her eggs.

In the evenings, they flew together over the shallow pond and surrounding grassy locale — their breeding territory for the next few weeks.

A landscape with ample small wetlands can sustain generations of wildlife.
A landscape with ample small wetlands can sustain generations of wildlife. © DUC

Spring ponds are a temporary home for wildlife

It’s easy for people to overlook small, shallow ponds like theirs, which may seem like murky puddles that aren’t much good for anything. Yet, they can be life support for wildlife. Ponds with wetland habitat and a buffer of grassland are like a neighbourhood where ducks can raise the next generation.

The mallard pair’s natural inclinations told them when it was time to find a quiet spot for a nest on the soft earth near the pond, surrounded by lush grasses that she could use as cushion and cover for herself and her eggs.

Soon, she was settled in, warming her eggs with downy feathers plucked from her own body. Nearly a month passed while she shielded her nest and her mate moved on to join other drakes in a nearby permanent wetland.

These were high-risk days for the hen, with her eggs under a constant threat of discovery and disturbance.

At last, the fluffy ducklings emerged and she guided them overland to water, where she watched for danger as they dabbled for food among the plants emerging from the water and crowding the shoreline. They shared the seasonal wetland habitat with hundreds of other common wildlife and species at risk, including plants, insects, fish, turtles, snakes, birds and animals of all sizes.

Small wetlands provide habitat and clean water

A landscape with ample small wetlands can sustain generations of wildlife with clean water, rich nourishment and protection from weather and predators. But wetlands also support generations of people. Each wetland is part of a watershed-wide filtering system that affects the quality of the water that we need every day of our lives.

Small or large, wetlands are part of a natural system that stores carbon, recharges groundwater during drought, captures and slowly releases floodwaters, eases soil erosion, and absorbs excess nutrients found in run-off from spring thaws, farm fields and tile outlets.

Yet, the high rate of wetland loss in Canada has not changed much in the last three decades. And some of the most imperilled wetlands are in the Great Lakes watershed, a top conservation priority due to the region’s importance to people and wildlife.

Preserving habitats for future generations

As the days passed, the hen’s brood grew strong from swimming, diving and chasing each other across the water. Their healthy wetland neighbourhood provided the food and shelter the ducklings needed to survive their first, precarious months.

When autumn came, they were ready to join the circle of life that propelled them down the migration flyway to overwinter in faraway coastal habitats — and return the following spring to do it all over again.

Working with Landowners

DUC partners with landowners to restore wetlands and secure unprotected wetlands across the country.

Learn about our landowner programs