With charging tanks and booming artillery, you would think that ducks would want a quieter place to park their tails than Aberdeen Proving Ground.

But the U.S. Army believes otherwise, and that's why it has constructed three ponds for ducks at the proving ground.

The ponds are a part of a new international initiative to increase the population of the fine, feathered friends at the proving ground.

The program, called the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, combines private and public sectors of the United States, Canada and Mexico to protect the continent's duck population.

The North American duck population has declined to about 50 million today, down from about 70 million in 1955. The drop has been caused mostly by development that erased wilderness areas where ducks would feed and roost.

But wildlife conservationists believe that trend can be reversed by creating natural habitats to serve as safe havens for the migrating waterfowl.

Because of its vast wetlands and forests, the 80,000-acre proving ground is an ideal rest stop and breeding site for duckson their yearly treks north and south.

The Army has built three waterfowl management ponds at the proving ground for puddle ducks -- mallards, black ducks and wood ducks -- that travel along the Eastern seaboard.

The military decided to get involved in the program as part of its goal of becoming "stewards of the land," said Steve Wampler, an environmental protection specialist at the proving ground.

"We're stepping out. We're making sure we're doing things different than in the past," Wampler said.

Until now, the Army had no specificconservation effort for ducks.

Wampler outlined the Army's role in the program at the proving ground's monthly environmental meeting on Monday. A dedication ceremony at one of the ponds, attended by state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Torrey Brown, followed the meeting.

The three ponds, which cost a total of $255,000, have been built on the Edgewood and Aberdeen areas of the proving ground atdeteriorating beaver dams.

Two natural ponds, at Watson and Swaderick creeks on the Edgewood Area, have also been enlisted in the program.

The five ponds range between 10 and 150 acres.

The army signed up for the program in November 1989, teaming with Ducks Unlimited, a non-profit, wildlife conservation group, to build the ponds. Ducks Unlimited contributed $30,000 to the project.

The ponds are equipped with valves that control the water levels throughout the year to create a habitat that will attract waterfowl, Wampler said.

Water levels are lowered in the summer to allow vegetation to grow so waterfowl have food later in the year, Wampler said. The ponds are flooded in the fall to provide nesting sites for the birds.

Wampler said there was "heavy use" of the ponds during this spring's traveling season, although the Army has no concrete numbers of the waterfowl that used the facility.

Most of the waterfowl, except for a few resident ducks, have left the proving ground for season, Wampler said. Generally, ducks fly south in October and return in March.

In addition to the ducks, the ponds and adjacent wetlands have been used by geese and other birds, Wampler said.

A family of bald eagles also hastaken up residence at one of the ponds.

Chip Heaps, spokesman forDucks Unlimited, welcomed the Army's effort to help wildlife.

"They have 80,000 acres of some of the most prime undeveloped wilderness" on the East Coast, Heaps said. "I think it's great they're (helping) the natural habitat."

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