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Out of the box

A wild animal in its natural habitat is a window to a larger world.

Two New England winters ago, in a marshy part of the pond in my backyard, I gingerly, but purposefully, walked out on the ice intent on driving a 10-foot metal pole into the muck beneath. My purpose was to attach a wood duck nest box atop it.

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But before the pole could support a wooden box, 24 inches tall, 11 inches wide and deep, with a sloped roof and an oval entry hole, it had to support - me. I fell through the ice, twice. Each time, I sank almost waist deep.

With the box firmly anchored in in the mud beneath, and myself relatively secure on the ice above, I crowned the accomplishment by a cell-phone call to my wife, encouraging her to look out the back window and see what a mighty work I had wrought.

Pride cometh not only before the fall, but after it as well.

That first season, wood ducks swam all around the box. Only swallows nested.

This spring a female wood duck, as if shot from a bow, flew into the box, driving the swallows out. Quietly nesting as I write this, she will lay up to a dozen eggs, one per day as the May-June issue of Audubon magazine reports in an article: "Breaking Out of the Box: Wood ducks like to nest in the woods. So why build them nest boxes over a marsh?"

Fall No. 3.

It turns out that such boxes, however good they make us feel in providing "a proper home for needy wildlife," attract multiple hens who lay their eggs, "dump-nesting" in the easily available and highly visible box. Sadly, fewer eggs hatch as a result.

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Last weekend, a snapping turtle lumbered out of the pond, up a steep bank with a southern exposure, and laid its eggs. I have no turtle improvement plans.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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