'Sitting ducks' get a special ramp at disused city reservoir

Call it a mission of mercy to save some sitting ducks.

The Capital Regional District has built a duck ramp at an unused reservoir after nearby residents alerted them of about ­ 25 ducklings trapped in the body of water, which is several metres lower than the ­surrounding land.

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Every year, ducklings hatched in the surrounding neighbourhood find their way to the Smith Hill Reservoir, the largest body of water in the area.

The reservoir, which sits on top of a hill just south of Finlayson Street between Cook and Quadra, was built in the early part of the 20th century,, but by the late 1940s, it was disconnected from the city water system and used as a backup for firefighting. It has sat unused since then, at least by humans.

The Capital Regional District is responsible for the upkeep of the facility, next to Summit Park, a 4.5-hectare Victoria park with a Garry oak meadow. Trails from the park connect to the reservoir, allowing visitors to walk along the circumference.

While a chain-link fence keeps people out, ducks and other small animals can easily get through, leading to families of ducks taking up residence every year.

But with no shelter and no way to escape into the bushes, the ducklings become easy prey for predators.

“Last year, I watched an eagle swoop down again and again over the course of an hour and fly away with the tiny ducks,” said Shawn Strobbe, a neighbourhood resident who started an online petition asking for a ramp to be built. “They had no chance, as it takes a duckling 50 to 70 days to learn to fly. Out in the open, they are just sitting ducks. I didn’t want to go through with it again this year.”

Similar ramps were installed in 2019 in the Inner Harbour by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, to help ducklings get from the water up to the dock.

The authority installed six wooden ramps on the docks after consulting wildlife experts and the Friends of the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary. ­Yellow “duck ramp” warning signs were also installed.

Boaters have commented that they have seen the ramps used for their purpose.

“We will occasionally get comments from boaters such as: ‘You do know that ducks can’t read signs?’ ” said Brian Cant, spokesman for the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. “But overall, it has been a great teaching opportunity as we try to provide a safe and natural experience for all users of the harbour.”

parrais@timescolonist.com

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