May 4, 2014

Building home for ducks a learning experience

Misty Watson

— Bill Steele wasn’t sure that a wood duck box he had students in metal technology classes at Murray County High School place in a natural spring on the school grounds would attract any ducks.

“We did it to help the habitat,” said Steele, who teaches the classes at the school. “I didn’t know if in the middle of the city we would have any ducks. I thought we’d try.”

Steele, a duck hunter himself, said he was surprised to find out the box attracted ducks to the spring this year.

The area doesn’t lend itself to wood ducks. The spring is along Green Road just north of the school. The duck box sits in the middle of the spring on a pole. Wood ducks like to nest in hollow trees around water, but will also inhabit wooden boxes designed to attract them. Conservationists have begun placing duck boxes in wetland areas to increase waterfowl population to the area.

Building the boxes has been a good project for the students, Steele said. They sell them to the public for $60. The money goes into the school’s SkillsUSA budget to be used for student competitions and materials. SkillsUSA, formerly known as VICA, is a nonprofit agency serving teachers and students while helping them prepare for careers in trade, technical and skilled service. It includes areas of study such as welding, construction, health occupations and graphic design.

SkillsUSA has local, state and national competitions for the students, which can help them receive scholarships and jobs.

With so many people in the area interested in ducks — through hunting, the A&E television show “Duck Dynasty” and Ducks Unlimited, a wetlands and waterfowl conversation organization — Steele thought people would be interested in the habitat.

“I noticed you can draw more ducks to wetlands with these habitats,” he said.

The project also hones in on some much-needed skills for those seeking a career or wanting a hobby in metal works and construction.

Student Dakoda Bishop helped make the predator ring, a cone-shaped piece of metal under the duck box that keeps snakes and other predators away from the ducks’ eggs.

“You cut it out of a piece of sheet metal by hand,” said Bishop, who is considering a career in welding. “You take it from a flat piece of metal and form it into a cone. It’s hard. You have to wear gloves (because the metal is so sharp.) So you can’t feel what you’re doing. You have to do it all by sight.”

Learning to lay out and cut a cone is a hard, but necessary, skill in metal work, Steele said.

“It teaches these guys radial line development,” he said. “They have to learn how to put the pattern on paper, learn the math and learn how to cut it. A lot of things start with a cone.”

Students also learn how to avoid as many waste materials as possible by using as much of the sheet metal as they can. The metal class has access to a machine that will do the work for them, but Steele makes them learn it by hand first. They may not always have access to a machine later in life.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Daniel Albor, a metal and construction student, of the duck box. “It’s providing ducks with a shelter. I welded the base to the box and put some of the boxes together during construction. The predator ring was the hardest part. I learned a lot.”

Construction teacher Phil Stafford said the boxes teach his students how to follow directions from a plan, assemble boxes, and how to lay out an odd-shaped hole using a nail and a string to draw the circle.

“It’s a good learning experience,” Stafford said. “You learn to measure, lay out, assemble. And it’s a good little community service project. If the kids get to build it, and they see it out somewhere, they can take ownership in that.”

He said he hopes it gives the students something to be proud of and boosts their confidence.