Endangered Ducks in China Find Refuge in Chevrolet Volt Battery Covers

Endangered Ducks in China Find Refuge in Chevrolet Volt Battery Covers

NGO collaboration and business innovation align to help save the Scaly-sided Merganser
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General Motors repurposed scrap Chevrolet Volt battery covers into nesting boxes to provide refuge for endangered scaly-sided mergansers in China. GM partnered with World Wildlife Fund, Wetlands International and the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development to install 10 boxes inside the Changbai Mountain National Nature Reserve in Jilin province. (Photo by Piao Longguo)

The Scaly-side Merganser is an endangered species in East Asia. The ducks’ history dates back millions of years, but now only 2,200 breeding pairs are estimated to be alive. (Photo by Piao Longguo)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 4:30pm

CAMPAIGN: GM Resource Preservation


The Scaly-sided Merganser has become the latest critter to call a Chevrolet Volt battery cover home. This duck with a feathered mohawk is an endangered species living in East Asia and could use some extra protection due to the declining number of trees old enough to provide natural cavities for nesting. The ducks’ history dates back millions of years, but now only 2,200 breeding pairs are estimated to be alive.

Our resident MacGyver, John Bradburn, first heard about the ducks’ plight while attending a U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development meeting in Austin, Texas. There he met Ward Hagemeijer, corporate relations manager for the nonprofit Wetlands International. John told him about the nesting box project and how we have more than 700 of them located on General Motors sites and various public and private lands across North America, and asked how they could help other wildlife globally.

That meeting became the first chapter of a story of collaboration, innovation and preservation.  

At the time, GM’s lineup of nesting boxes successfully accommodated the lifestyles of bats, wood ducks, and bluebirds – each one specifically modified from the T-shaped battery cover inside the Volt electric car.

The material used for this project is considered scrap — it may have a dent, scratch or other cosmetic flaw on it. Throwing it away isn’t an option given GM’s robust landfill-free program, which now counts 122 facilities that send zero waste to landfill. Instead GM upcycles it, taking advantage of its shape and makeup to benefit various wildlife.

“My job is to find reuse and recycling solutions for our manufacturing byproducts,” said John. “I grew up enjoying waterfowl and built many nest boxes in my youth. Once I saw the Chevy Volt battery cover in our plant, I knew it would make a good nest box. To test the idea five years ago, I built a prototype and within two weeks, I had a Hooded Merganser hen nesting in it.”

Although similar to the wood duck boxes GM makes, the Scaly-sided Merganser model needed some extra touches, such as a second hole where the ducks can quickly evade the tigers prowling in the region.

Diana Solovyeva, Wetlands International’s regional coordinator for North Asia and expert on the endangered species, worked with John on these nuances, serving as a key advisor on the design.  She even visited John’s farm in Michigan where he builds and tests many of his reuse innovations. After a few modifications and help from other environmental advocates, he completed the new structures, shipping 10 of them to China.

Once they arrived, Wetlands International called up the China office of the World Wildlife Fund to help install the Volt boxes inside the Changbai Mountain National Nature Reserve. The teams shared a sense of hope that the new homes would attract the endangered merganser.

“If we do not take action to protect this species and their habitats, they will disappear in the next five to 10 years,” said Peiqi Liu, manager of WWF China’s Flyway program.

The efforts are paying off. Three months after installing the nesting boxes, a Scaly-sided Merganser hen moved in. The box soon became home to 11 newborn chicks. John and the rest of the GM team were overjoyed to open an email containing photographs of a baby duck on top of its mom’s back as she leaped out of the Volt cover into a pond below.

Solving the environmental challenges we face requires a team effort. It all starts with a willingness to lend your personal experiences and talents, and begin the conversation. In this case, three NGOs and an automaker came together to create a project with great potential and societal benefit.

“The Scaly-sided Merganser is a very beautiful creature,” said John. “I highly admire the work that WWF and Wetlands International is doing to protect them. At GM, we feel honored to be able to help. As someone who loves all wildlife and specifically birds, this has been a special highlight of my life and look forward to being able to help more in the future.”

To learn more about the merganser’s declining habitat and migration pattern disruptions, visit Flyway.  

CATEGORY: Environment