Once you have completed construction of your nest box and predator guard, you need to consider where to install it.
Be sure to place the box in a location that will be convenient for monitoring and annual maintenance.
Where to Find Tenants
To increase the chances of your nest box being used by waterfowl, it should be located in an area attractive to cavity nesting ducks.
You'll see these birds using wooded wetlands that contain water year-round or, at least, throughout the summer. You'll also see them using trees along riverbanks and lake shore lines.
Positioning Your Nest Box
Nest boxes can be mounted on tree trunks or on steel poles beside the water or above the water.
- Good placement: A dead tree at the water's edge
- Better placement: A solid dead tree in the water
- Best placement: Boxes on poles near standing, flooded, dead trees
Note: Live trees can be used for mounting boxes, but keep a close eye on your box. Growing trees may loosen mounts and make boxes less attractive to the birds.
When installing your nest box, always include a predator guard.
Live and dead trees are suitable. If beavers are around, don't place nest boxes on poplar or white birch trees. Beavers eat these trees. Also, avoid placing the box where stiff branches are close to the box. Raccoons can climb these branches and gain access to the box.
Make sure the poles are fixed solidly in the soil or marsh bottom, to ensure that the nest boxes are stable. Drill two holes in this pole to accommodate a predator guard.
- Boxes should be placed above typical high-water levels and at a height that will allow you to access the box for monitoring and maintenance (4 to 6 feet above land or water).
- In terms of distance inland, try to keep your box close to the water.
- Clear an unobstructed flight path to your nest box by removing branches that might be in the way.
- The entrance hole to the box should face the water.
- You can tip the box forward a little bit to help the ducklings reach the entrance.
- Ducklings prefer privacy. Don't mount boxes close to human disturbance or close to other nest boxes.
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 choose your nesting 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).