At the first-annual Delta Waterfowl Hunters Expo this past weekend, Delta Waterfowl announced their Million Duck campaign. That’s right. Forever a duck hunters organization, Delta Waterfowl is boldly raising the bar in waterfowl conservation! How relevant is a million ducks to the fall harvest? How will their plan be put into action–and annually implemented? What conservation strategies can produce a million ducks? In today’s episode, Delta Waterfowl’s Scott Petrie (COO and Chief Scientist) and Joel Brice (Chief Conservation Officer) explain. Something to get excited about!


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R3: Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation of Hunters

Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere today, I’m in Little Rock, Arkansas, it is a blistering hot day outside, but I’m in the air conditioning sitting around the Delta Waterfowl booth. I am at the First Annual Duck Hunters Expo, what a huge event this is going to be, but I’m here to talk about something else. I want to talk about the Million Duck Campaign. Can you believe that a conservation group is coming out saying we’re going to generate a million ducks for American duck hunters like me and you. Joining me today are Scott Petrie and Joel Brice, how are you all doing?

Scott Petrie: Wonderful.

Joel Brice: Doing fantastic.

Ramsey Russell: This is a huge event I walked in last night and I know practically everybody I know – everywhere I look, there’s somebody I know in the duck hunting world, this is like the place to be today is right here if you’re a duck hunter. Who came up with this idea, how did you all come up with this idea?

Joel Brice: Scott, you’re going to answer that one.

Scott Petrie: Well, interesting it was probably 5 or 6 years ago, we thought that we would have a convention and when we tossed it around for a while and then we hired Brad Heidel and he’s been with us for a number of years and he’s put on a number of expos and he suggested that Delta should have an Expo. And wonderful for duck hunters, wonderful for our brand, wonderful for our market share, they’re estimating we might have 20,000 people come through these doors this weekend. So it’s going to be wonderful for duck hunting, it’s a great start, kick off to the season and Delta has grown immeasurably in the last few years and we’re really excited about that. And this is probably the biggest weekend in our – there’s a lot of things going on this weekend, it’s probably the biggest weekend in our 110 year history.

Ramsey Russell: Talk about some of the activities that are going on besides just the consumer event here.

Scott Petrie: Today we’ve got a board meeting, so almost all of our board members are here, which is fantastic, we’ve got a fantastic board of directors with Delta Waterfowl. We’ve got a ribbon cutting today, actually, our board members went to the Remington Plant for a visit there, we’ve got a Duck Hunter’s Banquet tonight with 500 people coming and then we’ve got a gala tomorrow night at which we will announce and launch the public phase of the Million Duck Campaign.

Ramsey Russell: Is that why you all chose Little Rock is because Remington?

Scott Petrie: I’m going to let Joel speak to that one.

Ramsey Russell: I didn’t realize they were nearby.

Scott Petrie: Yeah, 20 minutes away.

Joel Brice: Yeah. For me, I think the reason we chose Little Rock is because of Arkansas. I mean, if you want to go play to your strengths and where is duck hunting just part of the everyday culture, you’re going to pick Arkansas, Little Rock, it’s a great destination and I think for the public to come enjoy this and share this with us, I do think it’s going to be a lot of foot traffic there. I’m surprised Scott the number of people that have flown in specifically for this. But yeah, I think it’s just a lot of people walking in and checking it out, so we’re pretty excited.

Ramsey Russell: The parking lot is full of license plates from practically all 50 states, I mean, it’s unbelievable how many people have showed up, it’s really truly unbelievable and the show hadn’t gotten started yet, I’m just talking about the hotel lobby and some of the stuff going on since I’ve been here, it’s crazy. And I think you brought up a good point, Scott that, beyond the board members and the business and the meeting, Delta Waterfowl has always championed the hunter, so here you having this event and you’re inviting the hunters to come and join you, I think that is critical.

Scott Petrie: 100%. We are the duck hunter’s organization and interestingly, we can trace our roots back to 1911, but we really became a research based organization in 1938 and then it was about 20 years ago that we realized that the duck hunters are more threatened than ducks. And with that, we went to a 4 pillar approach and two of our very important pillars is one is duck production, that’s henhouses and predator management, which is a major part of the Million Duck Campaign. But the other is hunting advocacy R3. And that’s a critical and important part of what we do because –

Ramsey Russell: What are the R3?

Scott Petrie: Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation of hunters.

Ramsey Russell: How important is that today? Because, oh boy, I tell you what, just the more I travel outside the United States and see what’s happening around the world where they don’t have as profound a duck hunting culture as here in America, let alone Arkansas. Oh, boy, it’s scary how this card house of ours is starting to fall in.

The Economic, Ecological, and Recreational Importance of Hunting

I’m just asking you to articulate how important hunters are to the movement to the North American waterfowl plan.

Scott Petrie: Yeah, it’s huge. We’ve lost half of our duck hunters in the last probably 30 years. We’ve gone from estimate of 2 million to 1 million collective in Canada and the US and so that’s problematic. There’s economic, ecological and recreational impacts of that, there’s political implications of that. But the big one that Joel could certainly speak to that I think is a critically important thing we do is our university hunt program. I taught university for a number of years and what we’ve seen is this incredibly, unfortunate trend in the university system in Canada and the US where now, 50 years ago, almost every student going into a wildlife program was a hunter and now almost none of them are hunters. And also in the past, you used to have lots of wildlife professors that hunted and taught the economic, ecological and recreational importance of hunting. Now, they’ve been replaced with non-hunters and or anti hunters and so these non-hunting students are coming into wildlife programs and they’re either not learning about hunting whatsoever or they’re being taught anti-hunting sentiment. And then they’re coming out and they’re getting jobs and they’re making wildlife decisions. So we see that as massively impactful unfortunately for the wildlife field. So our university hunt program has expanded substantially and we’re going to be at least 72 universities this fall in both countries and we want to get it to, I think it’s 400 or 500 universities and that’s a continuing ongoing thing that we need to do to protect the field of wildlife biology as well as our hunting background.

Ramsey Russell: It’s a topic close to my heart right now and it’s right on the surface because I just got back from a 10 week stint down in Argentina. Argentina, the greatest wild bird hunt on earth and it’s perilously close to ending. And it’s because they really don’t have the widespread duck hunting culture. So anti-hunters or non-hunters that have no connection to that, they got more connection to paper straws than to wild. They see ducks as a low hanging fruit, they’re beautiful, non-hunters relate to them all, that’s a beautiful little silver teal and they’re going after I’ve seen the same thing happen in Australia, I’m seeing the same thing emerge in New Zealand, the same thing has happened over in Holland and throughout the UK right now, is use ducks as a platform to sway the tide, the public opinion towards non hunting or no hunting at all. And you mentioned the financial contributions that we in America, we hunters, I mean, you’ve got NGOs state and federal governments poised by hunter dollars. We’re in neck deep in this situation and where you don’t have a duck hunting culture, you don’t have the Argentina, you don’t have that support. How important is that? I’m just asking you to articulate how important hunters are to the movement to the North American waterfowl plan.

Scott Petrie: Yeah, I would fully agree that they are critically important and I’ve seen it first hand, I’m a Canadian and I’m always fearful for closures in Canada and similar to, as you mentioned, Australia. In Australia, they started by taking away auto loaders and pump action shotguns and now all they have is brake action and bolt action, firearms for hunting. And every year they don’t know if they’re going to have a duck season or not because they give way too much voice to the anti-hunters. And one beautiful thing about the United States is there is a declining number of duck hunters, but we’ve got a great duck hunting culture, passionate and we are certainly stronger than I would say by far than the anti-hunters out there. And they know that and I don’t think we’re going to get it taken away from us in the US, it’s critically important, it’s very important to the economy, but still it’s death by 1000 cuts and that’s why we are the duck hunters organization and that’s why we protect and promote hunting, whether it be at the municipal local level, the provincial state level or the federal level everywhere it’s ever threatened, we’re on it and we love the fact that we can do that and it’s so important that we do. And that’s one of our niches within the wildlife field in the hunting field.

Ramsey Russell: Do you ever feel that it – you just said you didn’t think it could, but do you ever imagine that it could shut down here in North America?

A Conservation Success Story

Everybody, whether they hunt or not, should want it. 

Joel Brice: I’m going to take that one, it keeps me up at night. The last estimate that I saw is that if you take the entire United States population only, it’s about 4.5% of Americans hunts, that’s it, 4.5% of this population hunts, so that means obviously about 96% don’t. And I think one of the things that, hunters should be proud about their financial contribution to hunting or financial contribution to conservation and the advocacy role that we play. But honestly, a huge percentage of conservation dollars come from non-hunters. And so I think in this day and age, it’s really important for hunters to reach across the aisle and I call this, we talked about the Animal Planet generation on a prior discussion. But I look at this community and I call them the crossover community and they have – take your mountain bikers, your campers, all the people who love the outdoors, they have a lot of the same skills that we as hunters do, we just need them to cross over and come into hunting or at least be neutral to hunting, I think is one of the best things that we can hope for individuals. So I think one of the things that we talk about at Delta is we’re trying to attract – Yes, we defend the hunter, we promote hunting, but we do want to attract a new audience to hunting because I think the future of hunting lies with those who don’t have a hunting background, but there’s a whole generation coming aboard that didn’t grow up hunting, but they like what it stands for, they’re learning about conservation and they’re looking for someone to teach them. And so we’re trying to fill that role as well through, our first hunt programming or we have an online curriculum that people can learn about duck hunting, jump on YouTube and find a way. So, yeah, as hunters, we need to be good ambassadors, not just defenders. So that’s what I like about Delta is we try to live in both of those worlds.

Ramsey Russell: No doubt. I grew up believing that America was truly exceptional and I used the North American wildlife model. I mean, it’s the shining example of the world. Nobody else is even a close second to that. Canada, our neighbors, but nobody else is even close to that. And yet as we speak, there’s Republicans, they’re trying to repeal the Pittman Robertson Act, which is the backbone of that plan. That’s how you drag non-hunters into the equation is with an excise tax. Can you speak a little bit, what your thoughts are on the Pit Robertson Act, it’s importance to that and how it would jeopardize what we have here in this country?

Joel Brice: Well, certainly it’s a revenue stream, as you know so the Pittman Act, it’s a tax on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment. And I believe the model that caught me was – yeah, off shore boat fuel, I think is one of the big contributions. But one of the things that I think people don’t realize, hunters realize that there’s that tax, but non hunters don’t really realize that they don’t realize the benefit of it, but the overwhelming majority of that fund, as I understand it comes from shooters, not necessarily hunters. And so, yeah, it is so amazing and so I think, we do need to engage, the general population and say this Pittman Robertson act is amazing. It’s an amazing conservation success story. Everybody, whether they hunt or not, should want it. And again, just espouse the benefits and get people to champion that cause.

Ramsey Russell: We think about, we sit here and talk about hunters versus non-hunters versus anti-hunters and we kind of put everybody at odds on our own peg, but we’re really on the same team. Whether we’re conserving wildlife, which is wise use in my opinion for hunting or all of society benefits from an abundance of waterfowl and abundance of wetlands and abundance of game and non-game species.

Joel Brice: Yeah, I think so.

Duck Metrics for Determining Populations

So it’s a duck production endowment. 

Ramsey Russell: And that’s why I find, I think something like a Pittman Robert Act is common ground. But and the reason I kind of brought up this down or Debbie Downer type subject about the hunting is because in light of all this here comes Delta Waterfowl galloping up like the cavalry again, tonight, you all are going to announce a million duck campaign, that’s what I want to talk about. A million duck campaign, that’s incredible. Is that this year or every year? Is there a timeline?

Scott Petrie: It will be every year and it’s very exciting. So, what it is is, again, we started as a research based organization and again, 20 years ago, we realized that we really needed to – one defend and promote duck hunting and duck hunters, but we also realized that we wanted to put our research into motion. And what we had realized was henhouses and predator management was the most efficient and cost effective way to produce ducks. And it works fantastically well, we’ve done lots of studies in that regard and the other thing is, 90% of the uplands that the ducks breed upon and the wetlands they breed within are publicly owned and we’re losing more and more grasslands, we’re losing more and more wetlands and we need to make what we have more productive. And that’s one way, it’s a very complimentary tool to all the other conservation tools out there that we can actually make these lands more productive by keeping predator numbers in check, we’re not trying to eradicate predators and providing henhouses. And henhouses are really no different than a wood duck box and that they’re providing a secure nesting place for these things. And we know that the three most important metrics for duck populations is nesting success, duckling survival and hen survival and both predator management and henhouses increase all three of those very important duck metrics for determining populations.

Ramsey Russell: When will this be instituted? When will this kick off?

Scott Petrie: That’s interesting. Well, people talk about launching and such a huge effort, you can’t launch this massive effort in one year, we actually probably didn’t even know we were starting the Million Duck campaign 3 or 4 years ago when we bought a head office in Bismarck and when we hired another full time scientist and we started, it takes building over time and getting ready to – we need hundreds of contract trappers and henhouse technicians and things like that and it takes a lot of money. So, I see it more as growing over time. We’ve already secretively, I guess, started the million-dollar campaign and we’re delivering on all 4 of our pillars that being predator management, research and education, habitat slash policy and our hunter advocacy R3 efforts, so those are already increasing. I think, Joel, he knows more about getting this thing to fruition, but it’ll probably be at least another 3 or 4 or 5 years before we’re at that million ducks, but we’re already producing lots of ducks on an annual basis and we’re contributing to all of those pillars. So, we’re going to go exponential here in a couple of years and we’re really excited about it.

Ramsey Russell: When you say exponential that means say in a couple of years, we might have a 5 million duck campaign?

Scott Petrie: To get to that million. But it might become a 5 million duck campaign that we’re at a million right now. But also we think that we’re going to influence other conservation based groups and individuals that these are very important ways to increase duck production and individuals can do it, organizations can do it, volunteers can do it. So we really think that it’s going to change the mindset of the conservation community going forward.

Joel Brice: Yeah, I’d say Ramsey, one of the big aspects of the campaign is it’s endowed programming. So it’s a duck production endowment. So, the best tools that we have today, I don’t see them changing Scott, but it’s predator management and henhouses sharing that load, 3/4 of that load coming from predator management, 1/4 coming from henhouses. So a quarter million mallards a year coming from henhouses, 3 quarters of a million ducks coming from predator management. But the key there as a program guy is stable funding, count on it year after year because like Scott said, we’re going to have hundreds of trappers, hundreds of delivery contractors with henhouses and stable funding means stable programming and we’ll chip out those million ducks year after year in perpetuity.

Ramsey Russell: Who all is involved in the endowment, that’s what I’m trying – who are the partners on this, who is Delta recruited into the fold to help finance or to endow this program?

Scott Petrie: Well, we’ve got a development staff of fundraisers and we’ve also got a Board of Directors that’s now 25 individuals. And I would say we’ve got the best, we’ve got the biggest staff component that we’ve ever had and the best staff we can attract wonderful staff and help because of who we are and we have wonderful people working for us. And we also have an absolutely fantastic Board of Directors. So our development staff and our board are working together to raise funds and our board has been incredibly philanthropic towards this campaign, they always have been philanthropic and I can say the announcement is coming out tomorrow, but I can say, we’ve raised and raised slash pledged over $170 million towards the $250 million which is absolutely incredible. So, with that, as Joel said, this thing is going to be in doubt and it will continue in perpetuity and we’re not going to just stop at $250 million and I’m sure we won’t stop at a million a million ducks, we won’t rest on our laurels, we keep growing, that’s our metric right now. And in the next couple of years, we will be at $250 million because I’m told by our development people that your campaign doesn’t really start until you go public. Well, we’re going public tomorrow and we’ve already got over $170 million raised. So, it’s been wildly successful and we’re very excited for Delta and we’re very excited for duck hunter and we’re very excited for the conservation community. It’s going to be an absolutely wonderful thing.

How Important Are A Million Ducks?

So I think the core of this is that it’s not a replacement for habitat whatsoever, it’s complementary, but we want to maximize production on conservation lands, on waterfowl lands. 

Ramsey Russell: How important is a million ducks relative to the present population?

Scott Petrie: Well, I’ll start and then I’ll pass it over to Joel. Like it’s 1/10 of the fall harvest and you put a million ducks into the fall flight, arguably half to two thirds of those come back the next year and they reproduce and so it compounds over time and that’s just added ducks to – that’s really based on increased nest success. We’re not factoring in increased hen survival, which is something that’s going to increase substantially as well. So, we’re very conservative in that million duck estimate, I think it’ll be even higher and I think there’ll be other benefits for other ground nesting game birds and ground nesting songbirds as well with the work that we’re going to do. But I think, it’s quite substantial and you want to speak to that, Joel?

Joel Brice: I think, I mean, well said Scott, I just think Ramsey, you’ve hunted ducks more than I have, in more parts of the world than I have. But some of my best hunts that I can think of, maybe I had 5,000, I don’t want to say, maybe it was a lot of ducks maybe I had 5000 mallards work in a field and it was just that’s more than I could ever have imagined up until that moment. Now, picture a million. But on top of that, I think the value proposition is equally important. For hunters, we’ve invested millions and millions of dollars into habitat and you have to do that. But a lot of the habitat out there, Ramsey because of maybe its location or maybe it’s in a highly fragmented landscape, it’s not producing ducks the way that we would want it to. So I think the core of this is that it’s not a replacement for habitat whatsoever, it’s complementary, but we want to maximize production on conservation lands, on waterfowl lands. So waterfowl production areas, conservation reserve program acres. And so it’s as much about the million ducks as it is the value proposition of, hey, we want to maximize production on behalf of duck hunters.

Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. How do you measure a million ducks? How do you quantify that?

Joel Brice: Good question. So we have researched extensively, both of those tools, predator management and henhouses since the early 1990s. And so I’m trying to think, I think it’s been nine graduate level hand house studies and it’s probably more than that for predator management. But we have studied that tool across the Canadian Prairies, across the US Prairies and that’s what you do with research is you test the concept and you refine, I guess your management approach based on research results. But at some point when the results are consistent time after time, you say it works and then you start delivering. And that’s really at the core of the Million Duck Campaign is we have scientifically defendable tools. I don’t know if defendable is the right word. But we have science in our back pocket at all times and it’s time to deliver. So we know based on our models and our maps and our accounts and we do have different feedback mechanisms, we know how many ducks a trap site raises, how many ducks a henhouse raises and the rest is math. Now, of course, we have to have that field component where we feed back to our program staff, is it working, the way it did with that last research project? If it doesn’t, of course, then we have to refine some of our methods. But if it does, it’s stay the course. So yeah, a lot of it is a modeling exercise based on decades of research.

A Duck Species for Everyone

No matter where you live, no matter what duck you like the million duck campaign has something for you.

Ramsey Russell: It sounds like – because mallard are the penultimate duck of North America, I mean, that’s the duck we all dream of and right. I mean, there’s canvasbacks and black ducks and pintail and everything else, but mallards.

Scott Petrie: I don’t know, I’m a Canadian, we love all ducks, we shoot them all.

Ramsey Russell: I like the next one in the decoy, that’s what I’m after, I’ll be honest with you, Scott. But is this particular program the approach to it, is it going to favor some species over others or do you have objectives for different species? Will mallard represent a percent of a million or a million?

Joel Brice: No, they’ll represent a percent of a million. So, that predator management will impact all species that are nesting in our delivery area. Henhouses are just a mallard tool. I mean, we’ve documented use by other species, but it’s far less than 1% of what uses a henhouse, it’s a mallard tool. And so again, like I said before, a quarter of a million ducks a year coming out of henhouses, so those are all mallards. And then honestly, it’s interesting, reflecting back on all these different studies we’ve done, it depends on – I guess the species composition that you’re impacting depends on where you are. So if you’re in southeastern North Dakota versus North Central North Dakota versus Alberta, just the percentage of what duck species you’re impacting changes. But I would say on average, if I had to pick one, I would say 25% to 30% of all trap site ducks are mallards, but blue winged teal are a dominant component of a lot of these gadwalls, shovelers, pintail, you name it, it’s a dog’s breakfast, which is great because if you get into a state like Louisiana mallards don’t make up a huge percentage of the harvest. The dominant bird in the bag is something else. And so no matter where you live, no matter what duck you like the million duck campaign has something for you.

Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. Can you all articulate a little bit – some of the signs and the value of predator management, because in a highly fragmented landscape which the world is becoming, it makes it easier for predators to get in and find those nests. But what is the science? What is the number, what is the positive output of predator management throughout the landscape?

Scott Petrie: Well, I amalgamated all the studies –

Ramsey Russell: Henhouse boxes, more duck eggs. But –

Scott Petrie: Well, if you look at all the studies that we’ve done and you do the kind of the running average with predator management, all of those together gave us a nest success of about 39%. Whereas without predator management, if I remember correctly, it’s about 12 or 13%, but in some areas, it’s 3%. So on average, we can triple nest success with predator management and you’re exactly right. Well, one way that we fragmented and affected the landscape is we’ve given them lots more places through old farmsteads and vehicles that are left on the landscape and things like that and sheds for them to spend the winter. So, we’ve expanded. Well, first of all, what we did is we got rid of what we call the apex predators, it’s the large predators that don’t really care about ducks and duck nests. And then over time, over the last 100 years, these measles small predators, foxes, skunks and raccoons move in and they occur at much higher densities and more species. And they love to search out duck nests during the time of year that ducks are nesting and some like foxes actually take hens as well. So one, we’ve provided a much better landscape for those species. But also, as you said, by fragmenting it makes for a much easier search image for them when they’re searching field edges and ditches and things like that, they become much more efficient with respect to finding duck nest. And it really tips the balance towards the predator and away from the prey. So again, what we want to do is simply keep them in balance. And again, we can triple nest success. But again, we can also increase duckling survival and increase hen survival as well. I’ve never heard of a hen being killed in a henhouse, but they often get taken off the nest, especially late in incubation when they’re really tied to those ducklings as they’re pipping and making noise in those nests.

What is it About the Henhouse that Attracts Those Ducks? 

And the whole question was, what is the optimum number of henhouses to put out per wetland? 

Ramsey Russell: What is it about the henhouse that attracts those ducks and nests there? Because it’s off the ground – what are the similarities to where they would normally have a nest selection that attracts them and make it them to jump up on the ground.

Joel Brice: Almost no similarity. I mean, have you gone nest searching before Ramsey?

Ramsey Russell: No.

Joel Brice: You need standing invite. We have college students, technicians, research technicians out on the prairies most every summer –

Ramsey Russell: Kind of like real Easter egg hunt.

Joel Brice: Well, yeah and they’re out there with various techniques typically stretching a big chain in between two 4 wheelers and the duck will flush before that chain reaches their nest site. And that’s how we locate a nest and make records and calculate hatch rates. Standing invite, come check it out.

Ramsey Russell: What time of year do you all do that?

Joel Brice: Summer. I’d say late May through June is great and things start to tail off in July. But it’s fun, but yeah – what was the original question? I got dreaming about nest searching.

Ramsey Russell: Nest boxes. I see them out there and they look nothing like something that would attract a duck, but they use them.

Joel Brice: Yeah, thank you for bringing that back into my head. But, yeah, mallards, I don’t know what it is. A mallard almost always nests in grassland habitat, they establish their pairs on a wetland, they raise their broods on a wetland but they fly up into the uplands, could be as much as a mile away from water and to have that nest. But a mallard will on occasion nest in a wetland, maybe there’s a clump of cattails or a muskrat mound. But I don’t know what it is, they are just so adaptable. I mean, the stories that I’ve accumulated over time, you’ll see hear people, mallard nesting on the roof of an abandoned house, in the seat of an old tractor, it’s just amazing. I don’t know why they do it, but thank goodness they do.

Ramsey Russell: Are there other species that will use those nest structures? Like I know wood duck boxes would attract, mergansers, owls –

Joel Brice: Scott before you came to Delta and when you work for long point, there was a cooperative research study that we did with henhouses in Northwest Pennsylvania, Southeast Ontario, you had some different species using it then.

Scott Petrie: Yeah, we had a few wood ducks and a few hooded mergansers, actually quite a few hooded mergansers using them in Ontario and Pennsylvania. And interestingly, as Joel said, that is just very adaptable and we’ve got film footage of hens fighting over henhouses which is actually fantastic. So about five years or six years ago, I was invited to Australia to give some talks at a conference in the Field and Game Australia. And while I was there, I told them all that – they were really interested in specially – well, one of our research program, but also our henhouses and our predator management because they’ve got a number of duck species there, duck hunting is critically important there. And in semi-arid and arid environments, I did my PhD in South Africa, so I know a bit about arid and semi-arid environments and they’ve got way more nest predators than we have here in more of a temperate environment. And so they introduced henhouses in Australia and they’ve got two or three species that are using them readily.

Ramsey Russell: Pacific black ducks, I know.

Scott Petrie: Yeah, that’s definitely one of them, I can’t remember what the other two are. We’ve got an article in our magazine from – I think the –

Joel Brice: I think shelduck of some sorts.

Scott Petrie: One of the shelduck and I don’t think it’s a pink ear duck, I can’t remember.

Ramsey Russell: I bet it would be the main duck.

Scott Petrie: Definitely the Pacific black duck.

Ramsey Russell: Pacific black duck. I would guess if I had to guess and I’m just purely guessing it’d be the main duck, what they call a wood duck over there and probably the shelduck.

Joel Brice: I think it was.

Scott Petrie: Yeah. And interestingly they found that the Henhouses are getting used a couple times, some of them a couple of times per year. But the ducks have to be more adaptable in an arid and semi-aid environment. So, here, where you got a more predictable environment in kind of a North tempered system, we’ve only got that one duck that’s really adaptable that uses it. It’s actually unfortunate that we, we don’t have more duck species using them. And it is what it is, but certainly mallards used them quite readily and again, it increases nest success, it increases ducking survival because they jump right out of those Henhouses into the wetland rather than walking a mile over land right after hatch when they’re very susceptible. And again, hens are protected in those Henhouses and they’re not protected when they’re in an upland nest. And the other beautiful thing about Henhouses is that I hear from our staff is that landowners that have Henhouses on their property generally develop more of a conservation ethic as they see these things and see the ducks and the ducks in them because you can see them in there and which makes them more likely to protect their wetlands and just be more conservation minded.

Joel Brice: Yeah, to support that one, it’s actually an interesting story. So one of our conservation partners in Manitoba, they’re called the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, their main focus is on habitat protection, wetland easements, protecting wetlands from drainage forever. But they partnered with us several decades ago on Henhouses and they were considering getting out of the Henhouse game and just focusing more on the wetland protection game. And they started looking at how they came in contact with a lot of these landowners and what they found is that, that I think it was about 25% of their landowners that they did habitat contracts with their first introduction to them was with Henhouses. So they love our work because I guess, if there’s a landowner who’s hesitant about participating in conservation Henhouses are really cuddly, I call it a high cuddle factor. And so what they found is that that’s a group of individuals that they could contact to engage in something more permanent, more enduring. So the Henhouses have, I guess yes, there’s a duck benefit, but they do have the landowner benefit, like Scott said.

Ramsey Russell: Is there a requisite density per acre or magic number when you’re establishing these own properties, these Henhouses? Protocol I’m asking.

Joel Brice: There is, yeah. I mean, what we do is – in simple terms, we say two per wetland. But if you went to Delta’s website, there is a page on Henhouses and we have a best management practices guide for people to do it on their own, how to build them, where to put them, how to maintain them, but one of our staff members, Matt is, he’s our lead Henhouse program manager and he did his master’s degree with Delta. And the whole question was, what is the optimum number of henhouses to put out per wetland? And it was a really cool study, but it was a management heavy orientation and what he concluded and this is about on wetlands, about five acres or less in size, it was two per wetland. But the key there is mallards are territorial to other pairs of mallards and it’s probably more of a resource issue. But what we found is that if two pairs of mallards can’t see each other on a wetland, let’s say there’s a big horseshoe shaped wetland, so you could put two Henhouses on one side of that and then two Henhouses on the other. And so that’s how we roll two per wetland. And we emphasize, we focus on small wetlands because henhouses seem to work no matter where you put them. But of course, we’re in the north, we get 2ft of ice on most of these wetlands and so the key there is when that ice melts in the spring, you have a big sheet of ice that floats around and if you put it on too big of a wetland, it will chew those Henhouses up and rip them right out of the ground. So that’s why we stay on the small wetlands and then that steel pipe that we pound into the ground, it can resist that sheet of ice moving around. And then our maintenance is just focused on inspecting whether or not it was used and then replacing the vegetation in that structure every year.

Ramsey Russell: Has there ever been any research on establishing Henhouses in the Deep South? I know mallards typically go north but we do have mallard like species down south mottled duck, for example.

Scott Petrie: We partnered, I think it was with Mississippi State University on a mottled duck study and we didn’t have any use which was unfortunate because it would be wonderful if they did use it. Certainly some of the whistling ducks, there’s a possibility there. I don’t think any work has been done in that regard and I suspect that they would use them, but it did not work in the studies that we did with the mottled duck.

Ramsey Russell: Those whistling ducks, speaking of that, they’re starting to expand, it’s crazy how I’m starting to hear reports of them breeding up in Delaware and Ohio and Wisconsin, how far north have you seen them, heard of them?

Scott Petrie: Actually, I’ve got colleagues and friends that have seen them in Canada. So, yeah, in Southern Ontario and the Great Lakes. So they are not big numbers, but they’re certainly moving north. And it would be absolutely fantastic if we could get a whistling duck season during the early teal season and then those folks in the south could start harvesting some of them.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, I’d love that.

Scott Petrie: Yeah, that would be fantastic

Ramsey Russell: And crazy as it sounds, what made me think about Henhouses in the Deep South is the fact that as we continue to warm this warming trend, we’re in warm winters and stuff. I’m starting to hear reports of blue wing teal and other species kind of holding over in the Deep South. Now, not all of them are migrating north and I’m just wondering, is it possible, would it be possible? And I’m just purely an opinion, is it conceivable that if you began to put these Henhouses throughout the flyway that maybe birds would use them?

Joel Brice: I suppose it’s conceivable. I guess, I have not heard of very many, if any success stories in the Deep South, not sure why. I mean, a mallard is a mallard. But I think one of the neat things about Delta is our chapter system. When they raise funds for Delta, they get to choose where 15% of their dollars go to do local programming. And so we have chapters all over the US and Canada that use, they’re called Waterfowl Heritage Funds, it’s their share, it’s their profit share to do local work. And many of our chapters will put out wood duck boxes and some put out Henhouses. So we have this while we may not go and do a big research project in Texas or Louisiana, for example, on Henhouses, our chapters can do that and they could try it and that’s going to be a big feedback mechanism for us. And so who knows, never say, never.

Ramsey Russell: Never say, never.

Scott Petrie: The last time I checked and we don’t have a really good handle on the numbers, but it was about 17,000 henhouses and wood duck boxes that our volunteers have out through our chapter system. About 17,000 combined and interestingly, we’re about to embark on a henhouse research project in California because California produces a lot of mountains. And so we’re excited to give that a try and there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work and the nice thing about it is, is you can direct where those ducks breed and ensure that they’re going to be near some brood water and not strand them in areas where they’re going to have a problem after they’re done reproducing. But we’re hoping it works in California and we’re certainly excited about it.

Ramsey Russell: Well, speaking of California, California Waterfowl Association had a massive wood duck nest box program that produced millions, it’s unbelievable. It was unbelievable, what it had did, to produce ducks by putting up these structures like that.

Scott Petrie: Yeah, they’re a great organization. We partnered with them and they do wonderful things in the state of California for sure, yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Any parting shot on a million duck campaign because I’m excited, I tell you, I’m excited for it.

Scott Petrie: Yeah, we’re very excited and again, it’s going to be wonderful for Delta Waterfowl, it’s going to be wonderful for duck hunters. And we think it’s going to kind of change the duck metric in North America and that people are really going to look at what we’re producing. And again, it’s a tool in the toolbox, we’re not trying to replace habitat management or habitat protection or acquisition. But it’s going to be a wonderful complimentary tool in that tool box that we hope that other folks and other organizations embrace as well. So, we’re very excited.

Joel Brice: Yeah, so like Scott said, we’re launching it tomorrow night, Saturday night, it will be launched to the public on Sunday. And then on Monday, when I think everybody starts getting back to work, there will be the mass release. There’ll be a website that people can go to and learn more, there will be a pretty cool video that both Scott and I were part of that will launch to the public. But there will be opportunities for people to make contributions to the Million Duck campaign. So those dollars go into the endowment so people can choose their value, 5 bucks or 100 bucks.

Ramsey Russell: Anybody listening can contribute to that?

Joel Brice: Yeah, for sure.

Scott Petrie: And they can do it directly to the organization or through their chapter or however they wish to do so, yes.

Joel Brice: Yeah. There will be a chapter component of the Million Duck Campaign, major donor component and just anyone that wants to be a part of it can contribute to that endowment and know that they were a part of perpetual duck production.

Ramsey Russell: Fantastic. Scott Petrie, Joel Brice, thank you all very much for taking time out of a busy weekend to sit in and explain this to us. Thank you Delta Waterfowl for tackling a million ducks, I’m so proud to be a part of this organization, I can’t stand it. And folks thank you all for listening to this episode of Ducks Season Somewhere, a million ducks coming at you soon. Thank you to Delta Waterfowl, see you next time.


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It really is Duck Season Somewhere for 365 days. Ramsey Russell’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast is available anywhere you listen to podcasts. Please subscribe, rate and review Duck Season Somewhere podcast. Share your favorite episodes with friends. Business inquiries or comments contact Ramsey Russell at And be sure to check out our new GetDucks Shop.  Connect with Ramsey Russell as he chases waterfowl hunting experiences worldwide year-round: Insta @ramseyrussellgetducks, YouTube @DuckSeasonSomewherePodcast,  Facebook @GetDucks