Our house for animal guests

A large duck house hangs in a tree near our pond. My husband, John, and our sons, Matthew and Carlos, built the house one winter after seeing several such boxes in our neighboring state forest. Such projects taught geometry, woodworking, and nature skills to our home-schooled boys. One fair morning the three of them leaned a ladder against the sassafras tree and took turns holding up the box as they ascertained the correct height for it to attract wood ducks.

We waited and waited. Finally, later that fall, one of our sons spied a screech owl poking its head out of the duck house. From that night on, we listened to the owl's trilling voice. Each evening it perched near the round entrance, watching us collect eggs, fill the wood box, and milk the goats. Sometime in late winter, the owl flew away, searching for a mate.

In the spring, John and the lads cleaned out the duck house and repositioned it about 12 feet high on the tree. A pair of wood ducks swam up the pond and peeked into the house. After much quacking and paddling, the pair selected the site as their new home.

Eventually, only the male swam on the pond, and we knew that his mate was nesting. We also knew that the chances of our seeing the ducklings after they emerged were slim.

But then one morning Carlos spied the ducklings floating on the pond just beneath the duck house. Eight fluff balls bobbed near the father and mother as the parents counted bills. Satisfied that all were present, the father led the flotilla to the far side of the pond and out of sight.

We try to remember to clean out the box annually, and at least one other time wood ducks have inhabited the house. The screech owl also returned for several winters to enjoy its comfort.

This morning I noticed the tip of a gray squirrel's tail slipping though the box's round entrance. Suddenly, his head popped out. He scolded a black squirrel edging too close to his new home. He'd chosen a good site near a generous beech tree, several pin oaks, and my bird feeder. Come the stiff winds of late winter that blow over Lake Michigan, he will appreciate even more the handiwork of my sons. I make a mental note to make sure we clean out the duck house in the spring.

Meanwhile, I won't disturb our unexpected guest.

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