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Students shelter feathered friends

May 02, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Twelve-year-old Nick Dawson thinks of his school's courtyard as a community for ducks.

For the past three or four springs, a female duck and her male mate have flown to the courtyard of E. Russell Hicks Middle School to hatch and raise their ducklings.

Last week, the female hatched eight ducklings, catching the attention of students and staff who often catch a glimpse of the feathered animals from the hallways.

"The kids can all see them together," Nick said. "In the morning, people usually stop here and just talk about them."

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The courtyard was converted into a Schoolyard Habitat Project about five years ago through a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Chesapeake Bay Field Office.

The courtyard, nestled between the school's corridors, is also home to box turtles, plant life and large goldfish in a pond dug by school officials.

The sheltered environment, Nick says, makes it the perfect place for the ducks to raise their young.

"It's like a community and they share their territory," Nick said. "If you just stop and look at it, you just think, 'Wow.'"

Last summer, Nick and other students helped clean up the courtyard to make it a more attractive home for wildlife.

Instructional Assistant Nancy Troup said the ducks usually stay for about a month, until the young ducks are able to fly away.

"If something happened and they didn't show up, we'd start worrying about them," Troup said. "It's just so peaceful. It's a nice learning experience out here."

She said the male duck often sits atop the school's roofs to keep an eye on the ducklings, while the female stays close to her young throughout the day.

The ducks spend most of their time swimming in the pond or waddling around the courtyard, Nick said.

He said the arrival of the ducks motivates students to come to school.

"It's kind of like an incentive to students," he said. "They might not want to come to school, but they might want to get up and see the ducks, so they come."

He said the courtyard provides protection from humans, other animals and litter.

"It's just nice that they have a home here because it's their own private home," Nick said. "It's not anybody else's like at City Park. They don't have to worry about anyone getting in. There's nothing here to hurt them."

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