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Waterfowl flock to adorable new Utah Lake ‘henhouses’

The program’s 30 homes for ducks are intended to help give the birds a leg up on changing environmental conditions.

(Utah Lake Authority) Ducklings nest in a man-made henhouse at Utah Lake.

It’s no secret that Utah’s population is growing — and some of the state’s smallest residents are getting their own new housing on Utah Lake.

The Utah Lake Authority has joined the Utah Division of Wildlife and the Delta Waterfowl Provo Bay Chapter in building “henhouses” for ducks looking to make the lake their home. So far, 27 of the program’s 30 henhouses are occupied — 26 by various species of waterfowl, and one occupied by a family of muskrats, authority executive director Luke Peterson said in an email.

“These houses — it may seem like something pretty small; I mean, they look like a tube of hay floating above the water,” said Addy Valdez, a conservation biologist at the Utah Lake Authority. “But just by seeing the results of how quickly and how much these ducks are capitalizing on this new habitat ... they’re saying, like, ‘There’s a house here finally, I’m gonna live there,’ which is awesome, because that tells us that there isn’t that habitat there at the moment naturally.”

The man-made nests stand on an adjustable pole that juts a few feet out of the lake, and wire mesh filled with hay creates a sort of cylindrical tube for the birds to bed down in. Although the nests are fairly cheap and easy to build, Valdez said they give a huge leg up for waterfowl species navigating changing water levels, habitat loss and even weather impacts.

“These ducks are able to be more successful by raising their ducklings [in the nests,] so more of them are likely to survive and more of them are likely to be less [preyed upon],” Valdez added. “That’s a really good sign that the population is going to be either maintaining itself better or expanding even.”

And the birds provide great benefits for visitors to Utah Lake — whether they are birdwatching or duck hunting.

“It’s really great for a lot of our sportsmen that we have here; that’s a really popular area to have people come out and hunt,” Valdez said. “Those guys at the Delta Waterfowl Project, they love it — and so being able to give back to the population that they’re taking from sometimes is really meaningful to them. … They can still enjoy their sport, but know that they’re not being detrimental.”

In addition to the duck dwellings, the Utah Lake Authority is also revitalizing the environment’s native plant species, like bulrushes and sedges. So far this year, volunteers have planted over 4,000 individual plants across the lake — including along the Vineyard shoreline and near South Saratoga Marina, Valdez said.

“One of our main goals is to continue to help reestablish these wetland plants, because they do so much for the ecosystem, and they’re really meant to be here,” Valdez said, noting that the authority has seen success with removing invasive weeds from the area.

The plantings are entirely volunteer-based, and the authority has about 11,000 more individual plants that they hope to get in the ground this spring. Next year, the authority hopes to plant about 40,000 of the native species — with 30,000 being planted by hired help.

But the Utah Lake Authority is always looking for volunteers, and individuals can contact the authority to put together their own “planting parties,” Valdez said.

Volunteers interested in the henhouse program should contact the Delta Waterfowl Provo Bay Chapter.