Daniel Nelson, 12, says he knows a lot about the Mid-Columbia's feathered residents thanks to his mother's interest in birding but he has not seen all of them.
"I've seen golden eye ducks and some others, but I'm not sure I've seen a wood duck before," said the seventh-grader from Richland's Carmichael Middle School.
That didn't preclude him and others in teacher Jared Farley's science class from working with Dale Schielke and others of the Richland Rod and Gun Club on Tuesday to build nesting boxes for the colorful waterfowl.
Schielke and Farley said the project provides an opportunity to promote wildlife conservation and outdoor sports such as hunting. For the students, it was a change of pace from the routine of just reading from a textbook.
"I thought it would be fun and a break from studying," said seventh-grader Meghan Callaway, 12. "It's more hands-on."
Schielke said he's been helping students build nesting boxes since 1983, and more than 400 are installed throughout the region.
Wood ducks, unlike most ducks, are cavity nesters, meaning they build their nests in hollowed-out trees and similar spaces instead of on the ground. That can present a problem for waterfowl in the Mid-Columbia.
"Especially in our area there aren't a lot of big trees," Schielke said.
Building the nesting boxes gives students the chance to learn about the ducks and their needs. On Thursday, Farley's students will help install the boxes off Weedle Road near Twin Bridges in West Richland.
And Schielke said he's adding a more interactive element to the project.
His son-in-law developed a computer program that will allow data collected on the use of the boxes to be uploaded and seen online. A live webcam also is being installed at one of the boxes.
"It gives ownership (to the students) in the process," Schielke said.
The students used power tools with help from club members to assemble the boxes from pre-cut pieces. Many also personalized the boxes by writing their names on them and adding drawings of ducks gliding along on a pond.
Farley said this is his first year working with the club to build the boxes but he was glad to give his students the chance to have a more real-life application of what they're learning.
"Some of these students don't go out and see our native grasslands and see what's happening," he said.
Daniel and Meghan said they do like the outdoors and spend plenty of time out in nature but they were still glad to work on the project.
"I'm helping the environment; I think that's just great," Daniel said.