27 June 2014

Waterfowl at Shadow Lake, Elmwood‏ Park

The following email was sent 27 June to the director of Omaha Public Works, the director of Omaha Parks and Recreation, as well as the office of Omaha's mayor.

During the morning of 26 June, Shadow Lake was visited once again to evaluate how waterfowl are using this unique urban habitat.

There were more than 20 young Wood Ducks present, along with at least three adult females. Upon my arrival, most of them were congregated at the west portion of the pond, along the dam. They eventually dispersed elsewhere upon the waters, and due to my diligence to minimize disturbance, none of the birds flew elsewhere.

There are probably three broods of Wood Ducks. Some of them were larger and would have hatched something like two weeks ago. There were nine very small hatchlings, so itty-bitty that two could be held in the palm of a hand. They scurry about like little bits of feathered furry, and this is because Shadow Lake is a haven, necessary for their immediate survival.

It takes 8-10 weeks for a Wood Duck duckling to mature to the extent that it can fly.

Also present was a female Mallard with five larger ducklings.

Shadow Lake now provides a safe habitat for these waterfowl. Any activity which would degrade the quality of this habitat would be extremely detrimental for these birds. If the water is pumped away to allow repair of the berm, the lives of the young ducks would be threatened since there is no similar, alternative habitat in the vicinity. Or if action was undertaken that drastically reduced the extent of pondweed, it would also not bode well for the fowl that already face a difficult time of survival. Forced to wander through Elmwood Park, they could be subject to predation by feral-acting cats from neighboring houses, or perhaps an attack by a wandering dog not on its leash (which occurs regularly within the park, despite it being an illegal action).

Any action which results in the death of any of these wildbirds would personally be considered as a "taking" action.

Taking of any protected bird species is not allowed by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A taking can include the unintentional destruction of birds through a deliberate action. This act is enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a state representative of this agency is now aware of this situation.

If there is any action done which threatens the ducks, I will ask that FWS undertake an investigation and potentially an enforcement action, and that fines be assessed.

The lack of action by Public Works in May, when the dam degradation was initially indicated, does not mean that some sort of emergency action now should preempt retaining water at Shadow Lake. Failure to act is not an excuse.