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Eagle Scout builds homes for Mergansers at the Diane Moore Nature Center

My name is Sawyer Ellsworth. I’m a sixteen-year-old Boy Scout from Troop 161. I finished my Eagle Scout project on March 23, 2023 by hanging a total of 8 boxes built for Common Mergansers!

a group of scouts and parents standing, displaying their wooden nesting boxes they built
Troop 161 proudly display the Common Merganser nest boxes they constructed for IBO

In August of 2022, I contacted Heidi Carlisle from the Intermountain Bird Observatory to see if they had any projects I could do to finish my Eagle Scout. The project that stuck out for me was to build and install 6-8 Common Merganser boxes. This sounded like the perfect project for me to take on.

In September, my project got approved by the Scout office, meaning I could start planning and make this project happen. I had to get my project done before April so they would be ready for nesting Merganser females in the spring.

While working on this project, I learned that Common Mergansers are large duck-like birds found in rivers and lakes that eat mostly fish. Cute, aren’t they? Well, sadly, they are slowly shrinking in numbers in Idaho. I was excited to get my boxes installed before the next nesting season so they could help these cute birds.

a female merganser, which is a type of fish eating duck, and chicks swim along in green water. They have rusty red heads, red beaks, and gray bodies
A hen Common Merganser and brood swimming along the Boise River. Photo Credit: Ken Miracle

With the boxes needing to be installed by April, I had just under six months to get everything done. This started with me building a prototype of what the boxes would look like and making sure it was right for the birds.

Then I had to find the materials I needed. This meant going to multiple different hardware/lumber stores and seeing what they would be willing to donate to me. After some searching, I got materials donated thanks to Lowe’s Hardware store and The Home Depot. I got all of my fundraising done right before Christmas.

After Christmas break, I had to start working on what my build day would look like. February 19, 2023, would be the day I invited all the Scouts, and parents of said Scouts, to my garage to build eight boxes. In all, the process of the build day only took 2 hours because we had a combined force of 12 Scouts and parents working to build these boxes!

a view up to a pine board nest box with a square opening. The box is mounted on the trunk of a cottonwood tree. It has a spraypainted number 2 on the side
One of Sawyer’s Common Merganser boxes mounted in a cottonwood tree at the Diane Moore Nature Center

As I mentioned, on March 23, I installed the boxes. I did this with the help of Greg Kaltenecker from the Intermountain Bird Observatory and my dad, Mike Ellsworth. We put them up in IBO’s Diane Moore Nature Center a week and one day before our deadline of April 1st. Perfectly timed.

a father and son smile at the camera while hanging a nest box. The teenage son stands holding a ladder while the father climbs up to the box holding a drill
Sawyer and his dad, Mike, hang one of the boxes on a cold spring day. Photo Credit: Greg Kaltenecker

When it’s all said and done, I put in a personal 50 hours of work with more hours on top of that by volunteers. Another special thank you to Heidi Carlisle, Greg Kaltenecker, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Boy Scout Troop 161, and my parents, Mike and Holly Ellsworth.