Monday, January 21, 2008

Your Wood Duck Boxes Suck! Fix Them!

Dear folks,

Do you like wood ducks? Of course you do - everybody likes wood ducks. They are beautiful, really cute, they are very responsive to habitat management, and also happen to be quite delicious! However, just because you like wood ducks, and own a pond or wetland or riverfront, does not mean that you should grab some household items and just tack up a wood duck box, in hopes of growing even more cute and fuzzy wood ducks. Why not? Doing it wrong will kill most or all of your ducklings.

The facts (roughly, from an old, probably outdated study):

65% of wood duck boxes get used each year
79% of those used boxes are NOT used by wood ducks, but instead by other wildlife
Of the roughly 14% of wood duck boxes that ARE used by wood ducks, less than one third actually hatch a successful brood of ducklings.

So approximately 5% of wood duck boxes hatch a successful brood.

How is that possible? Poor construction, installation, site selection, and management of wood duck boxes. Or at least, that is my professional opinion.

1. Poor site selection - proximity to other boxes. This is important because young hens "dump" eggs in other nests if they find them. You should NEVER be able to see the front of a wood duck box from the hole of another wood duck box. NEVER!

2. Poor site selection - area does not have standing water during early summer. Important because wood duck ducklings prefer to swim immediately after leaving the nest. They are extremely vulnerable to predators when stuck on the ground, or in the mud.

3. Poor installation - bottom of the box is less than 2 meters above high water/tide mark. This is important in the Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast because we commonly have snakes over 2 meters long. Like this one.

Photo from Maryland Wood Duck Initiative
4. Poor construction - material selection. Last week, I saw wood duck boxes made out of 3 gallon DRYWALL BUCKETS! Did they work? No, but when the buckets got hot, some kind of fumes killed the ducks who had started to build nests. I've also seen aluminum and dark plastic boxes---these get hot and fry the eggs. There's nothing the hen can do to stop it. People - keep it to high quality wood, and LIGHT colored plastic boxes, preferably the pre-fab boxes (I believe both Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited have sold these before).

5. Poor construction - no predator guard or predator guard insufficient. This is pretty self-explanatory. To finish this off, here is a great wood duck box and a great predator guard from the Wood Duck Society (I'm stealing their picture).



Photo: Ducks Unlimited

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