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Unusual Nesting Site For Mallard Becomes Teaching Tool

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ST. MICHAEL, Minn. (WCCO) – With live, streaming video, watching wildlife up-close, in real time has never been easier. In one Minnesota school district, it’s becoming part of the curriculum for first graders.

“We had it before the eagle camera, before the bear camera,” said first grade teacher Aaron Heil, who started the Wildlife Project for the St. Michael-Albertville School District.

The education started three years ago when a mallard hen thought the courtyard of Big Woods Elementary in St. Michael was the best place to lay her eggs.

“She picked it because it’s safe and there’s no predators in here, barely any wind,” said Heil.

The cocoon of the courtyard, with 12-foot walls and plenty of shrubbery, will keep out any animals who might want to steal and eat her eggs. Once the ducklings hatch, she needs a little help from her non-feathered friends to get her out of the courtyard, through the school and waddling to a nearby pond.

“We know she has to get out of here to get them to water so they can start to eat bugs for the protein they need,” said Heil. “The mom follows the ducklings, so if we get the ducklings moving the right way, the mom follows behind.”

Last year the same mallard, recognized by damage on her right leg webbing, made her way back to the same courtyard. This prompted some teachers at the school decided to set up a live webcam to allow students to observe the bird.

“They just love watching the duck and especially the ducklings. And it gets them interested in nature and conservation and how they can get ducks to nest,” said Heil.

The students have gotten so much out of the mallard experience that the Big Woods teachers wrote some new curriculum that meets state standards. The lessons allow the kids to compare and contrast the different nesting habits of animals.

“It motivates, it’s really motivating to get outside and to see real things. We can get kids to write about these far easier than writing about a different subject,” said Heil.

She came back for a third year and this time she’s got 13 eggs keeping warm underneath her down coat and the nest she continues to build around her.

But she just doesn’t sit there.

“She actually moves quite a bit, rearranges the eggs and changes her body position to redistribute the heat that’s needed. She builds up the nest and it’s just fun to watch,” said Heil. “Not too many people can watch a bird sitting on a nest.”

The eggs are expected to hatch May 12-16, if Heil’s prediction of when the mallard laid her eggs is accurate.

The Mallard Cam isn’t the only chance students, and the public, have to see wildlife. Through the Wildlife Project, the school district has also has live streams of a wood duck and owl nesting. The cameras and equipment have all been donated to the school from businesses and other community organizations.

Click on the link below to watch the live feed and to see videos from previous years.
St. Michael-Albertville Mallard Cam

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