By Peter Pierson
Take a walk through Watson Woods Riparian Preserve past a small pond just off the trail and watch and listen. You may hear the distinct song of a yellowthroat or a yellow warbler at home in the cover of willow and cottonwood along the wetlands of this restored riparian preserve. A pair of ducks emerge from the partially submerged trees and glide into the sunlight. The brilliant foliage along the head and back of one, the male, distinguishes it as a wood duck.
Once threatened because of habitat loss and over-hunting, the wood duck has made a comeback, even in its marginal range in preserved and restored riparian wetlands here in the arid Southwest. With recovering beaver populations in the West, there are more quiet ponds from their dam construction activity offering habitat for wood ducks. In the Watson Woods Riparian Preserve, the wood duck, yellowthroat, yellow warbler, and other habitat-dependent species are establishing themselves in and along wetlands. Those wetlands were restored through the efforts of Prescott Creeks and scores of volunteers who’ve helped reestablish functioning streambeds and floodplains and planted thousands of trees in the preserve.
Prescott Creeks and Prescott Audubon Society have partnered to set up nest boxes in Watson Woods and suitable habitat along Willow Lake to aid in nesting success of wood ducks. Wood ducks are cavity nesters, preferring holes in mature trees close to wooded, still ponds and backwaters. From these protected nest sites, the young, at just a day old, will jump from the nest cavity and scramble to the nearby water. While many trees in these more recently restored riparian areas are not yet mature enough to support a nest cavity accommodating a wood duck, nest boxes offer a critical step in establishing the wood duck as a more regular resident in central Arizona.
Wood ducks are an uncommon resident in secluded wooded pools and backwaters in central Arizona. Their presence is often a measure of riparian and wetland health, affirming the success of ongoing restoration work in places like Watson Woods. Nest boxes placed along more permanent wooded creeks and ponds may attract a nesting pair, and contribute to the increasing number of wood duck sightings in the region.
Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.
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Peter Pierson is Prescott Creeks’ development and communications manager. Wrapping up his master’s degree with Prescott College, he continues to be active with local and regional environmental and community well-being campaigns. His freelance writing has been produced for broadcast for Northern (MN) Community Radio and CBC Radio One in Canada= and featured in 5enses, “Voices for the Land” (Minnesota Historical Society Press), Fourth River, NorthWoods Press, and others.