by Roger Strand
Before placing a nest box for wood ducks, think first of the primary needs of the hen and her brood:
Wood ducks have evolved to nest in tree cavities; the hen will be keying on trees during her spring nest search. In Nebraska (and elsewhere), this may mean river bottoms and creeks, with their streamside ribbons of old deciduous trees. Nearby groves will be searched as well.
This does NOT mean the box should be mounted on a tree. Instead, sink a pole in the ground, at least eight feet from a tree and away from overhanging limbs, and mount the box with the bottom of the hole just six feet from the ground. Attach a predator guard (metal cone is best) below the box. The hen will find it just fine, and she will not have to deal with squirrels, raccoons, and mink. No ladders needed!
Water, Food, And Cover
During the egg-laying period, a hen needs protein, and lots of it. She’ll be searching out aquatic invertebrates (think bugs) found in shallow wetlands and river backwaters. This is also where she’ll be leading her hungry ducklings after the hatch, for the same reason.
If the wetland is half-filled with downed trees, flooded brush, and vegetation, so much the better. Such waters are food-rich and provide safe brood cover. Hens have been known to lead their ducklings a mile overland to good brood waters. Overland treks are hazardous, so try to place the box close to brood water.
This does not necessarily mean avoiding sites around your home, if you’re lucky enough to live near good habitat. Woodies are tolerant of buildings, including kitchen window observation points, which adds to the enjoyment of this hobby.
As a rule, wood duck hens home back to where they were fl edged, or where they were successful the year before. They will, however, pioneer to new areas. Keep box placement in tune with a wood duck’s primary habitat needs, be patient, and success is very apt to follow. Good luck!
Roger Strand is Past-President and current Secretary of the Wood Duck Society and was instrumental in Bluebirds Across Nebraska receiving the NETF grant
Originally printed in Bluebirds Across Nebraska Newsletter BANner Volume 10 Number 4 Winter 2003-04