Thirty years ago Wilkes-Barre resident Bob Avery erected his first wood duck box along the Susquehanna River.
Today, he is a hero of conservation.
This month Avery was named one of three Heroes of Conservation by Field & Stream magazine. The program recognizes those who volunteer their time and effort for the betterment of wildlife. The magazine has profiled nearly 200 men and women as Heroes of Conservation from across the country since the program began in 2005, and Avery was chosen for his 25 years of enhancing waterfowl habitat on State Game Lands 57 and throughout the area.
Avery has put up approximately 100 wood duck boxes over the years, maintains countless others, plants vegetation beneficial to waterfowl and obtains grants to improve habitat.
Still, despite all of the work, Avery, who is the Conservation Chairman for the Wyoming Valley Chapter of Ducks Unlimited, isn’t sure he should be considered a Hero of Conservation.
“It’s an honor, but I don’t think I deserve it,” he said. “I’m just a guy going out and doing what I love to do. I just care about the resource and want to help it out.”
Despite Avery’s modesty, his dedication to improving things for waterfowl can’t be denied.
During the winter of 1996, Avery braved a blizzard while walking out on the frozen ponds on SGL 57 to erect wood duck boxes. He got eight boxes up that morning before conditions forced him out.
“It was either stupidity or dedication, but it was fun,” Avery said.
It’s a passion.
Avery erected his first wood duck box in 1984 along the Susquehanna River with fellow waterfowl enthusiast John Levitsky. In 1988 Avery began installing boxes on SGL 57, erecting them on the ponds he had hunted for years, such as Bowmans Marsh and Upper Bean Pond.
Today, Avery’s work has expanded beyond the boxes to make sure the ducks not only have a place to nest, but they have plenty to eat as well.
His projects on SGL 57 include planting the ponds and swamps with a variety of species that appeal to ducks, including duck potato, wild celery, smartweed, silky dogwood and button bush.
Avery’s favorite time of year is August and September when he spends every day on SGL 57 checking the boxes for signs of use and nesting success. He currently has 60 nesting boxes on the ponds that dot SGL 57 and he maintains detailed records of which species used each box and how many young were hatched. Avery can identify which species used a box by the thickness of the egg shell fragments left behind. A merganser, for example, has a thicker shell than a wood duck because it’s diet consists of fish which results in higher levels of calcium.
Avery’s boxes have averaged an astounding hatching success rate of 85 to 90 percent. The average lifespan of a box is 10 years, he said, although one box Avery put up in 1991 lasted until last year.
Checking the boxes, Avery said, is the most enjoyable part of his conservation work.
“I go up to a wood duck box and I feel like an expectant father. I want to know what I hatched out of that box,” he said. “I’m just full of anticipation every day to get up there and see the boxes.”
But that is only part of what motivates Avery, who is retired, to dedicate so much of his time to waterfowl.
There’s a sense of urgency behind what he does as well.
“If we don’t do these things, it’s not going to be done,” he said. ” Instead of standing there complaining, sign up with an organization, get involved and do something for the resource. There are plenty of ways to help out and give back.”
Spoken like a true hero.