Wetlands = Magical Places

Strutting its stuff, an all white GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba) is a bird that likes water and wetland habitats. That is where its food is found. Close by in tall trees is where a pair will build a nest of twigs. Nests can be up to three feet in diameter and one foot deep, and are often over water. A clutch of one to six eggs will be laid. Incubation takes 23 to 27 days. About 25 days after hatching, young Great Egrets are about ready to explore home wetland territories. And the Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.

Great Egrets live in a wide variety of marine, brackish or freshwater wetlands. Breeding season will see the colony effect of many nests in close proximity to other of its kind, and co-mingling with other wetland colony nesters. Anywhere there is water, be it a stream, river, lake, pond or wetland complex, it is possible to see this big white bird.

Long ago when ladies wore hast, this 19th century fashion trend called for long feathers. It was the in-thing of those times. Egret feathers from breeding birds were in high demand. Great egrets grew long plumes from the back of their heads. The French people called these plumes aigrettes. Collecting colorful feathers was big business for many decades until more enlightened minds started gathering data about the plight of wetland bird species such as herons, wood ducks and other. Thus the hat demand subsided, so did the slaughter of the birds.

Luckily, scientific knowledge about wetland habitats and the animals that thrived in these watery places began to increase. People learned more about wetlands. Prominent people of one hundred years ago, people like Theodore Roosevelt, helped immensely to see the plight of natural lands everywhere as degradation or elimination destroyed these unique wild places.

Fast forward to today where other wildlife habitat organizations are partners with each other for long term conservation projects. Just one of those organizations is Ducks Unlimited, an entity that began in 1937 when drought-plagued landscapes had a dramatic negative effect on waterfowl populations. The Dust Bowl years made life tough for people and wild animals. Ducks disappeared from waterless glacial basin potholes. And since ducks were big enough to easily notice, the drive by waterfowl enthusiast, mostly hunters at that time, got the ball rolling to form DU in Canada and America. DU is now the world’s largest and most effective private, nonprofit waterfowl and wetlands conservation organization.

The mission of DU is to conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people. Hundreds of non-game birds, amphibians, reptiles, song birds, insects live in wetlands. Fish reproduction is another factor serving as initial nurseries for newly hatched fish eggs. A whole lot of benefit derives from wetlands.

In one looks at a map of North America beginning in Alaska, and flowing south and east across Canadian tundra, boreal forest and grasslands, wetlands are one predominant feature of the landscape. Prairie pothole wetlands extend south of Canada into all the prairie states including Iowa. Western Boreal Forest projects by DU just in 2016 alone show 8,650,000 acres protected with 5,000,000 more acres classified as sustainable development. The Prairie Pothole Region has seen DU’s hand in protection of 83,778 acres with another 32,233 acres restored or enhanced. Far to our south is the Lower Mississippi River and Tributaries region where DU assisted with 5,834 acres protected and another 3,760 acres restored or enhanced. Far to our west in the Central Valley of Coastal California, DU partnered for 274 acres and another 3,141 acres enhanced. Lastly the Gulf Coast Prairie noted 9,738 acres protected and another 13,2014 enhanced. Not a bad record during 2016.

The history of DU’s Habitat Conservation Programs as of Jan. 1 finds these impressive totals since their humble beginnings in 1937: Acres conserved in Canada is 6,439,113; Acres conserved in Mexico 1,953,824 and total acres conserved in the United States are 5,509,855. The total of all three countries is 13,902,792. There is the side benefit of additional acres positively influenced adjacent to all the above. DU sets this figure at 157,660,148 acres.

You can see how a simple membership by one person in one local chapter all across North America can influence the big picture of wetland conservation. DU has 620,853 adult members and 45,357 youth members. DU Mexico has 4,662 members and DU Canada has more than 130,000. Membership dues goes a long way. For each dollar contributed to Ducks Unlimited, 84 percent is dedicated to waterfowl and wetlands conservation and education. Thirteen percent is used for fund raising and development. Only three percent is used for administration and human resources.

Iowa is part of the Mississippi Flyway, a time honored corridor for birds going north every Spring and south every Fall. Along this route from Louisiana to Minnesota and everywhere in between, places like Minnesota’s Rice Lake, Arkansas’s Alluvial Valley, Frog Bayou, Raft Creek and the White River National Wildlife Refuge, southeast Missouri, southern Illinois and western Kentucky are all linked to a DU Rescue our Wetlands project to celebrate 80 years of conservation. To learn more about DU and their latest campaign to conserve wetlands, contact Troy LaRue at 573-220-2140. He is a DU director of fundraising and volunteer relations for Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri.

If you are so fortunate to be observing wetland wildlife and you see for yourself a big beautiful all white Great Egret, be thankful for what wetlands provide, learn their importance as a vital link in all species conservation, and perhaps add your name to the ranks of Ducks Unlimited membership so that your financial assistance can help more Great Egrets strut their stuff.

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WILD TURKEYS taken by Iowa gun or archery hunters as of mid week shows a total harvest of over 11,000 bearded turkeys. Marshall County hunters have registered 48 birds so far. The top five counties of Iowa are Clayton with 530, Allamakee at 379, Jackson with 373, Warren shows 329 and fifth place is Appanoose at 266. The wild turkey population in Iowa is holding its own quite well, even expanding somewhat into all the finger tributaries of Iowa’s river and stream systems.

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I’ll close with an update on the DECORAH BALD EAGLES. The nest of three young is progressing nicely. They are almost adult size now. Exercising their wings has begun for the eventual and inevitable leap from the nest. Like teenagers leaving home, it can be a bit traumatic but it must be done. Independence has to be forged according to Mother Nature’s blueprint for wild things. It has taken a lot of fish and other meaty morsels brought to the nest by the dedicated adult bald eagle pair.

And the best part is that millions of people got to watch the entire story unfold via their computer screen videos.

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Here is a curious question: Would a fly without wings be called a walk? This is from the Philosophy of Ambiguity.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.