By Mike Checkett
It's that time of year when questions come in regarding wood duck boxes. If you plan to make the commitment to put up wood duck nest boxes be sure to realize it is a commitment. Wood duck boxes left unattended or improperly placed will become unused by wood ducks or worse, can become death traps to hens and ducklings. However, a bit of thought and care can improve nest box occupancy and duckling production.
A successful wood duck nest box program requires annual inspection sometime in January and March. This annual cleaning needs to be a part of your long-term maintenance commitment once you place your nest box.
At this time, repair all nest boxes, remove old nests and add fresh material – wood ducks cannot carry nesting materials to build their own nests. Also check the predator guard annually. The best way to keep predators from boxes on trees is to install metal bands at least 50 inches wide flush around the trunk. For boxes on posts, use the inverted metal cone below the box (see below). Make sure you remove overhanging limbs that are close to the box. Black snakes and raccoons can use these to approach the box, making predator guards worthless.
I recommend placing boxes in obscure places on trees well within the woods. Boxes that are in plain site (on poles in the middle of wetland) often are invaded by many wood ducks and used as dump nests (I have seen nests with 30+ eggs!). These boxes rarely have good hatch success because the female cannot incubate all the eggs and most will go addle (die). Make sure to put the box up somewhere where it is easy to maintain. You will need to monitor boxes for the first weeks to make sure starlings or wasps have not taken them over. Do not over visit once wood ducks begin using or the hen may abandon the nest.
A good wetland site for woodies should have three characteristics:
- Approximately half the wetland should be open water, with the remainder in green plant cover.
- A supply of animal foods, such as insects and other invertebrates. These are critical, especially for ducklings less than 4 weeks old.
- Water that will remain until the ducklings are able to fly – 8 to 10 weeks.
Don't be disappointed if ducks do not use your nest box the first year. It may take a year or two for them to do so. If the box still has not been used after two or three years, try moving it to another location.
Remember, once you have put a box out, you have made a commitment to maintain it annually. If you fail to do this, you will have just wasted your time and done nothing for the cavity-nesters in your area.
Building and maintaining wood duck boxes can bring great satisfaction. However, if you're unable to make the long-term commitment there are many other valuable ways to produce the next generation of ducks.