A Home for Wood Ducks and Others

Wood ducks, buffleheads, barrow's goldeneyes, common goldeneyes, hooded mergansers and common mergansers are all cavity nesting ducks.

These ducks build nests in abandoned woodpecker holes or natural tree cavities caused by disease, fire or lightning. They will also use a constructed nesting box.

Don't have wood ducks in your area? A duck box may even attract other cavity nesting birds such as kestrels, tree swallows, great crested flycatchers or screech owls.

Already have a nesting box? See our tips for building a predator guard and finding the right place to install.

Below are plans for a nest box that you can build, install and maintain.

What you'll need for your box:

  • (1) 1 X 10 X 12' cedar board (.75" x 9.25" x 12' actual)
  • Safety glasses
  • Measuring tape
  • Handsaw or table saw
  • Jigsaw
  • Drill and 1/2" bit
  • Screwdriver or driving bit for screws
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood screws
  • Cedar shavings

Choosing Your Board

Cedar lumber is recommended because it is naturally resistant to weather and insects. You can also use other lumber such as pine or plywood. Boxes made of plastic or metal are not preferred. Do not use treated lumber.

We recommend one 1 X 10 X 12' cedar board (3/4" thick by 9 1/4" wide) lumber that is rough on one side (for the inside of the box).

Step 1

Measure and cut your board to produce the six pieces as shown below. If you are cutting your board with a handsaw or jigsaw, use anything with a straight edge (square, ruler, or spare board) to mark a line with a pencil as a guide.

Double check your measurements for accuracy before cutting. As you make your cuts, label your pieces for reference during assembly.

Protect your eyes: Wear your safety glasses.

Step 2

Attach the back (1) to the side (2) using four screws fastened from the back of the wood duck box as shown below.

Tip: For best results during the entire construction of your wood duck box, drill pilot holes as needed using an appropriate size drill bit (slightly smaller than the diameter of your wood screws) to avoid splitting your boards.

Step 3

Drill five 1/2" drainage holes into the floor (3) as shown. Attach the floor by fastening two screws through the back (1) and two through the side (2).

Note: the shorter side (7.75") faces front.

Step 4

Draw the entry hole on the front (4) using a pencil (4 1/2" x 3 1/2" oval). Drill a pilot hole and cut out the entry hole using a jigsaw. See detailed view below. Proper entry hole dimensions are critical.

Score the inside face of the front (4) with a saw. The horizontal slots will provide toe holds when the ducklings climb out. Note: You can also use steel hardware cloth fencing attached with a staple gun for toe holds.

Step 5

Attach the front (4) using six screws.

Step 6

Round the top outside edge of the door (5) with sandpaper.

Fasten the door at the top with one screw from the front and one from the back. The two screws form the hinge and allow the door to open.

Pin the door shut with a nail from the front or add a latch. If using a nail, do not hammer all the way in. You will remove this nail to gain access to the inside of the box for future maintenance (e.g., cleaning out the box each winter).

Step 7

Attach the roof (6) using four screws from the top and three screws from the back (be careful not to screw into the door).

Finishing Touches

Ducks Unlimited does not recommend applying a finish to cedar boxes. A finish might help to extend the life of a plywood box.

If you decide to apply a finish to your nest box, use a nontoxic wood preserver or a light shade of an earth-tone paint.

The ducks will find your box by seeing the contrast in color caused by the entry hole. Do not apply finish inside the box.

Cavity nesting ducks do not carry nesting materials. It's important to help them out by placing four to six inches of wood shavings in the bottom of the box. You can find wood shavings at your local pet or farm supply store. Do not use sawdust. It can suffocate ducklings and holds moisture.

Be sure and construct a predator guard for your wood duck box before installing.


Every year in the fall, after the nesting season has completed, or in the winter, clean out old nesting material from the box and replace it with a fresh layer of wood shavings. This annual cleaning needs to be part of your long-term maintenance commitment once you place your nest box.

Avoid the urge to look into the box during spring and summer.

Once a cavity nesting bird starts using your box, you'll likely see many broods raised over the years. Nesting sites for these birds are limited in number. When they find a good nesting site, there is a very good chance they'll return in following years.

If you don't have any ducks using your box over the summer, don't worry. Waterfowl biologists have seen waterfowl migrating in the fall scope out potential nesting sites for next spring. This too is a good reason to keep your boxes in top condition. You never know when a duck might hop into the box.

This information has been compiled from the nest box guide for waterfowl by Ducks Unlimited and the Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada; and a conservator article by Mearl Ronney (Vol. 19, No. 3).

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