Volunteers feed ducks at Cottonwood Island Park

As the cold sets in, hundreds of ducks are still at Cottonwood Island Park and so are the two volunteers who feed them daily to help keep the ducks alive during the harsh winter months when food is in short supply.

On any given day, there are as many as 200 ducks in the water located near the main parking lot of the popular park.

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As Paul Cailleaux and Brock Bailey, volunteers, friends and longtime members of Ducks Unlimited, recently filled their buckets up with cracked corn and whole barley in preparation to feed the ducks, passersby stop to thank them for their work.

"Winter came about a month early, so the ducks are here for the long haul," Cailleaux said.

The need to feed the ducks during winter in Prince George started about five winters ago when there were reports that ducks were falling from the sky on First Avenue.

The ducks literally dropped dead mid-flight.

Bailey examined the bodies and discovered the fowl were emaciated. They had starved to death.

The mandate of Ducks Unlimited is to conserve Canada's wetlands so Cailleaux and Bailey honour that by supporting the water fowl that live in that habitat.

As the daily feeding took place late last week Cailleaux stayed up on the bridge and fed the ducks gathered under and near it while Bailey ventured out to the spots where the water meets the land.

Bailey would like to remind everyone to please not let their dogs chase the ducks as they are trying to avoid any extra expenditure of energy as they are just trying to survive the season.

"It's going to be a long winter," he added.

Bailey explained how the dominant birds will always eat first and it only takes a couple of them to make tracks towards the feed the rest will follow because they're herd birds.

Bailey makes sure he spreads the feed far and wide so that the females and the few wood ducks that are with the mallards are able to feed, too. If the feed isn't spread out the dominant males will chase all the others away.

"At least if it's spread out the others have a crack at it, too," Bailey said.

In the early years, Cailleaux and Bailey would pay for the feed out of pocket but purchasing duck food for months at a time can get expensive so they reached out to the community for help and got a strong response.

"We sent out thank you cards to everyone who donated last winter," Cailleaux said. "We sent out about 45 cards or so."

And people have already started to donate again but of course this is an ongoing process.

Landmark Farms in Vanderhoof has donated peas to Bailey and Cailleaux and their generosity helps offset the ongoing demand. 

But ducks cannot live on peas alone.

The ducks need as many as three 20 kg bags of food every day and Bailey and Cailleaux have both invested their own money so far and as others have donated food already, they are hoping more will help out and donate to the cause through Spruce Capital Feeds.

People can buy bags of whole barley and cracked corn for a little less than $20 each and then Cailleaux or Bailey will pick up the bags as needed.

"We really appreciate anything people can do to help us," Bailey said. 

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