Wood ducks, stunningly beautiful cavity-nesting birds, live in wooded swamps throughout the United States. Once threatened due to wetland habitat loss and over-hunting, Wood Duck populations have rebounded in the United States and are listed as a species of low concern in terms of conservation status. This indicates stable population growth and no major threats resulting in population decline. Wood Ducks are omnivorous, feeding on aquatic insects as well as plants, seeds, nuts, and fruits.
When looking for Wood Ducks, keep an eye out for the brightly colored plumage of the males as they feed in wood-fringed marshes, or slowly flowing streams and ponds. The only duck in North America to regularly produce two broods per year, the Wood Duck requires cavities in which to nest, and will readily use a nesting box given that these cavities can be rare in nature. This article will share information on how to create a wood duck box that will provide a welcoming home for breeding. Plus, you can enjoy watching and helping out our feathered friends.
Nesting Box Considerations
Egg laying begins in the early spring—often late January in the south—and the months following the ice melt in the northern states. Females select the nesting sites and males guard the nests until the eggs are near hatching. A typically clutch contains six to sixteen eggs, glossy white or tan in color. Cared for by the females, the eggs are incubated for 28 days before hatching. Wood Ducks typically have one to two broods per year. One day after hatching, ducklings jump from the nest to the water, and remain with their mother for six to eight weeks.
Building Your Wood Duck Box
- Attach your nest box on a sturdy pole or post, 6 ft. high on land, or about 3 ft. above the average high water levels, if mounting in water.
- Install a predator cone below the box to prevent predation of eggs by raccoons, rat snakes or other predators. A 36 in. wide metal baffle is ideal, allowing for safe nesting, while facilitating annual box clean-out and inspection. Mounting to a pole or post with a predator guard is safer than mounting to a tree, to better avoid nest predation. Do not locate your box directly under low-hanging tree branches, to avoid aerial box access by predators.
- Install the nest box in, or near, fresh water. If placed on land, face the box towards open water (a pond, lake, marsh or slowly flowing stream). Always locate the box pointing away from trees, providing the ducks with a clear flyway.
- Space nest boxes at least 100 ft. apart, or at a minimum of one box per acre.
- Rough sawn cedar, cypress or pine lumber is ideal. If using a smooth wood, ensure that a piece of metal mesh is installed on the inside front panel below the entry hole, to facilitate exit of the ducklings. Do not use treated lumber.
- Nest box dimensions:
o 28 in. x 12 in. x 10 in.
o Entrance hole should be 3 in. high by 4 in. wide. (This size allows entry by the female Wood Duck, while excluding larger predators.)
- Nesting materials: Since females do not bring nesting materials into the box, place 4 in. of woodchips in the bottom of the box to cushion the eggs. The hen makes a cup-like depression, and lines the box with downy feathers. Ensure that bedding material does not raise the nest box bottom too close to the entry hole, to limit potential predation.
- Install a piece of metal mesh on the front inside panel of the nest box under the entrance hole, to assist the day-old ducklings in exiting the box when their mother calls them to the water.
- Clean out Wood Duck nest boxes after breeding season, and inspect the nest annually. Installing a latched panel will facilitate box cleanout.
- How to Build a Wood Duck Nesting Box – Audubon
- Wood Duck Nest Box Plan and Information – NestWatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology