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Conservation Corner

Making Boxes for Wood Ducks

Fri, January 13, 2012

Attract one of the state’s waterfowl treasures to your property by building a wood duck box, a man-made habitat for the continent’s most colorful waterfowl.  Wood ducks thrive in forested wetlands, and they naturally nest in tree cavities. They are common to Southern Illinois but can be spotted—and enjoyed—all across the State of Illinois. However, as human development alters wood duck habitat, these boxes you build provide a nesting sanctuary for the wood duck.

This is a good time to be making wood duck boxes since we cannot do much else outdoors,  With the exception of this final weekend of deer season.  Make sure you install yours by fall or early winter of this year to ensure you see results as wood ducks start their return in late winter or early spring. Wood ducks begin their search for nesting sites soon after their return to breeding grounds.

Nesting boxes should be built out of rough cypress, cedar or plywood. A good size is two feet tall, one foot deep and one foot wide. The front should have a hole about four inches in diameter located at the top of the front of the box.  Boxes need to be made of rough wood. The young wood ducks are able to use their sharp-clawed feet to scurry up the side of the box to jump out of the hole when the time comes.

Be sure to place wood shavings inside the box. Wood ducks do not carry materials to build a nest, and they will not lay eggs in an empty nest. Fill the box with three to four inches of sawdust or wood shavings.

It’s also a good idea to drill a couple small holes at the bottom of the box to allow for water and moisture to drain out of the boxes. Be sure to use galvanized nails for the construction of the box.  The boxes can be placed along woodland streams and in flooded bottomlands, sloughs, lakes and beaver ponds. Also, marshes adjacent to swamps make good locations for the boxes. Make sure the box’s entrance hole faces the water.

It’s also important to deter predators from your wood duck box. Rat or Corn snakes and raccoons are among the biggest predators to wood duck eggs.  If a wood duck box is mounted on a galvanized, metal pole, it deters most snakes and raccoons. Cone shields can be place on poles under a wood duck box.

For boxes mounted on trees, a metal sleeve can be wrapped around the tree, which prevents raccoons or snakes from climbing the tree. Each year, after the nesting period, remove old eggshells and any unhatched eggs from the nest. Wood ducks lay an average of 12 eggs, which take 28-30 days to hatch. If the first or even second nesting is unsuccessful, female wood ducks will continue to lay eggs in hopes of a successful litter.

Young wood ducks are able to fly when they are eight- to 10-weeks-old. For more information on building wood duck boxes, go online to



Got Pollinators?

Fri, January 13, 2012

Why should private landowners across Illinois should support pollinators.

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants rely on the help of pollinators to reproduce. Some scientists say one out of three bites of food can be attributed to animal pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, beetles and other insects.

Pollinators provide crucial assistance to fruit, vegetable and seed crops as well as other plants that produce fiber, medicine and fuel.

But as you may know, our pollinators are in trouble worldwide. Habitat loss, disease, parasites and environmental contaminants have posed many challenges for pollinators.

But you can help – by providing pollinators with habitat. Here are a few ideas to accomplish that:

• Incorporate pollinator-friendly plants in your yard. Trees and shrubs like the dogwood, blueberry, cherry, plum, willow and poplar produce ample pollen or nectar in early spring when food is scarce.

• When the weather warms up, use a variety of flowers, mixing colors, shapes and scents. These different plans will attract a variety of pollinators.

• Reduce or stop spraying pesticide in your landscape. Rather, you can use plants that attract insects to control pests.

• Butterfly and moth larvae do damage plants. Do not poison these hungry caterpillars because one day they will be beautiful butterflies and moths.

• Provide a shallow water source for pollinators. This can be done by tossing a few rocks in a bird bath.

• Leave dead tree trunks in your landscape. Bees and beetles prefer wood nesting and these aging trunks make a perfect home.

Insects often get a bad reputation as being pests, but they play an integral role in sustaining our Earth. The honey bee is single handedly responsible for billions of dollars worth of American crops each year. Pollinators, like the honey bee, visit flowers in search for food (nectar or pollen). During the visit, a pollinator may accidentally brush against a flower’s reproductive parts, depositing pollen from a different flower. The plant uses the pollen to produce a fruit or seed.

For many plants, without the help of pollinators, they would be unable to reproduce.  Bees are the main pollinators, and North America is home to more than 4,000 species of bees. They nest underground, in twigs, in debris or in dead trees.

Butterflies seek nectar during the day time, and their nocturnal counterparts, moths, seek it at night.

Birds and bats also play an integral role in the pollination process. The most common avian pollinator is the hummingbird, which prefers brightly colored tubular flowers.

Thousands of beetles play an important role in the pollination process, and in fact, beetles compose 40 percent of the world’s insect population.

Other insects, like flies, also help pollinate plants. Actually, midges are the only known pollinators of cacao trees, which is what we use to produce chocolate.

Not all pollinators are birds—to learn more about other animals and crittrers who play a part in the Pollinator Puzzle in your community, visit .

For more information on mulching and other Backyard Conservation practices, visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service online at  or call 1-.888.526.3227 (toll free) and press 2 for a free colorful Backyard Conservation booklet and tip sheets.



USDA conservation program extended

Thu, January 12, 2012

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White today announced USDA/NRCS has extended the cut-off date for the current Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) ranking period to January 27, 2012. Previous deadline was January 13th. Producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship are eligible for CSP payments. 

“This extension will help ensure that producers who want to be considered for CSP during this first ranking period have the time they need to complete their applications,” White said. “CSP is a very popular program and I encourage interested producers to apply at their local NRCS office as soon as they can.” White acknowledges that agency program sign-up periods are always open—farmers can apply any time—but he hopes to see Illinois producers start the new year off with their application in the front lines for 2012.

Funding for this program and frankly, current funding for most conservation programs in Illinois looks pretty good. As always, we accept applications continuously. But some folks wait until all the ranking dates are announced and then they rush to get their paperwork in when its spring and they’ve got a million other things to do.  The simple message: Sign up sooner, not later, for conservation programs this year.


The Conservation Stewardship Program is offered in all 50 states. CSP is a statewide program—available in every county and every watershed.  Administered by NRCS, CSP provides many conservation benefits including improved water and soil quality, enhanced wildlife habitat and conservation activities that address important farm and non-farm resource concerns. Signing up for the program does not obligate participants in any way; it simply gets the process started and positions applicants for quicker action.


Producers are encouraged to apply for CSP throughout the year to be considered for current and future application ranking periods. Those who apply by January 27, 2012, may be eligible for current available funding. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland and nonindustrial forestland.


A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if CSP is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, contracts, obligations and potential payments. It is available from local NRCS offices and at  To l.earn more about CSP and other NRCS programs, visit or call your local USDA Service Center