By Keith Gauldin, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
The wood duck (Aix sponsa) would most likely serve as the representative waterfowl species in Alabama due to its year-round abundance and popularity. Well recognized by its vivid colorful plumage, it is also sought after by many waterfowl enthusiasts. Currently, wood ducks are abundant in Alabama and represent the second most harvested waterfowl species in the state. They provide challenging wing shooting as they dart through wooded swamps and beaver ponds, and are excellent for the frying pan as well.
- An oval shaped entrance hole 3 inches high and 4 inches wide, which is important to target the use of the nest box to wood ducks.
- A 4-inch-wide strip of hardware cloth fastened to the inside of the box from the bottom of the entrance hole extending to the floor. This will function as a ladder for the hatchlings to exit the box. Be sure to bend the sharp cut edges of the cloth inward towards the box surface to avoid injury to the young ducklings.
- A layer of approximately 3 inches of wood shavings or coarse sawdust in the box to serve as suitable nesting material, as wood ducks do not bring nest material to the cavity.
One of the most important elements of the next box is the predator guard. Typically fashioned from sheet metal and permanently affixed to the box mounting pole, the guard acts as an umbrella that prevents predators from climbing the mounting pole and is crucial in the aspect of successful nesting. Nest boxes without predator guards can make wood ducks easy prey and cause negative population effects.
Site selection plays a key role in the use of artificial nest boxes. Wood duck hens prefer areas to themselves away from other hens and/or disturbances to the nest. Box sites should be visibly isolated from one another to provide hens a degree of secrecy and to deter other hens from utilizing the same nest. An ideal pole-mounted box location would be within 200 feet of a wetland or waterway edge. Limbs of over-hanging trees adjacent to the box should be trimmed accordingly to minimize possible avenues of predation. Make sure there are no natural or man-made barriers that would prevent the ducklings from accessing the water following their exit from the box.
Annual maintenance and monitoring should be an established practice on all wood duck nest boxes. For Alabama, wood ducks can begin nesting as early as February, so conduct these practices during the winter months to avoid the possibility of disturbing nesting hens. At this time, remove old nesting material and replace with fresh. Sometimes there are other interesting things you can learn at this time such as how many egg fragments are left from the previous year’s hatch or if any un-hatched eggs are present, or you may be able to see where other wildlife has used the box.