If you are hunting in Cache Valley this month and find a brightly colored Mandarin duck in your sights, that’s no accident.
Well, actually it is.
The national bird of Japan does not naturally inhabit or migrate through Northern Utah, or even North America, but dozens of these and other exotic waterfowl were released into the wild when the netting of a private bird sanctuary collapsed in October’s early season snowstorm.
The sanctuary on Park Avenue in south Logan is behind the home of Doug Eames, who has collected and bred a wide variety of birds there for more than 50 years.
Eames estimates from 50 to 100 of the rare waterfowl he kept on his large netted pond flew away for good during and after the storm. Another 100 or so are still returning to the sanctuary to feed between excursions into the valley, but Eames says these birds are at risk of being shot by hunters.
Among them are Mandarin ducks, wood ducks and ringed teal, all renowned for their bright and elaborate coloration.
“I’m sure when hunters see a little male wood duck they’ll want to shoot him, and a lot of them will take these ducks to taxidermists to have them mounted,” Eames said. “The birds are all used to me and other people walking close to them. These darn little cusses are so tame I’m sure hunters could just walk up to them and shoot them.”
Eames said he’s heard gunshots in the fields south of his home, and a couple of the birds have returned to his pond with wounds and died.
The 88-year-old bird collector is meticulous about keeping up his property and caring for his birds, but the October storm took him by surprise. He checked on the sanctuary around 11 o’clock that night after hearing a forecast for snow, but what came in the night was much more than forecast — an uncommonly heavy, wet snow that stuck to unfallen leaves, broke tree branches and knocked out power throughout Cache Valley.
Eames still has a sizable number of other rare and exotic birds that live outside the netting in his sanctuary — including several once-endangered Hawaiian nene geese — but their wings are clipped to prevent them from flying.
As a Logan city employee in the 1980s, Eames started the aviary that evolved into the Willow Park Zoo. Then he bought the large property on Park Avenue and started developing his own bird sanctuary. At one time it held twice as many birds and species as he was keeping when the storm hit.
During the heyday of the sanctuary, Eames became widely known as an expert waterfowl keeper, which led to a unique and delicate job assignment with Disney: hatching five trumpeter swan eggs.
Due to his advanced age, Eames has no plans to replace the netting and try to repopulate the netted pond.
“It’s been a great hobby for me, but when you’re pushing 90, that’s probably too much,” he said. “I have enough nest boxes around that it will be interesting to see if they stay around and nest this summer, because I’ve got all their feed barrels filled and they know where the feed is.”