Wood-duck hens are early nesters, usually selecting a site and getting down to business in early February, so you don’t have a lot of time remaining if you want to help them along this year with nesting boxes.
Boxes that have already been installed need annual maintenance, which can be as simple as wading out with a ladder, pulling out the old nesting material, and adding some fresh cedar or cypress wood shavings. Some additional work may be needed to repair old predator guards, but annual maintenance of boxes is not a difficult task, and it is important for maximizing the use of your nesting boxes.
If you don’t have boxes up, now’s the time to get to work. I installed two boxes in our Morgan County swamp last month, the first boxes I’ve ever dealt with, and my mistakes may save you some headaches. With the boxes and pre-cut predator guards in hand, I first went to a fantastic book, “Attracting Nesting Wood Ducks to Your Property,” for guidance on how to mount the boxes. The book, written by Dr. Morgan Smith of Fitzgerald, recommended galvanized metal poles for the best protection against predators. Off I went to buy the poles — basically looking for chain-link fence rails. Nobody in my hometown carried them, and I ended up having to drive 45 minutes to a builder-supply business to find 10-foot poles. Dr. Smith later recommended Home Depot, where you can get 10-foot lengths for about $7.50 each.
The next step was pre-drilling the holes into the poles and the boxes so that once we got to the swamp, mounting them would be a snap. Using a 1/4-inch metal drill bit, we laid the boxes over the poles, and with GON Editor Brad Gill’s technical and physical support holding everything in place, we drilled through the poles and into the boxes so everything would line up once we were out in the swamp.
So far, so good. Now we just needed to take our flat, pre-cut sheet metal and wrap them into cone shapes to form predator guards. We secured the two ends together with sheet-metal screws. Our problem arose when we slid the guard on the pole. The pre-cut center hole in the guard was too large for the pole, so our idea of securing the guard with a hose clamp wasn’t going to work. The best solution we could come up with — short of going out to find larger poles and starting over — was to use the sheet-metal screws to attach the guard to the pole. Our guards aren’t pretty, but they should help deter any snakes, coons, or bobcats from trying to get at our precious wood-duck eggs.
Next we headed for the swamp, a trek made far easier with a four-wheeler pulling a trailer that carried our poles, predator guards, duck boxes, waders, a 10-foot ladder, and a 15-lb. post driver. With the post driver, setting the posts was a piece of cake, even with a ladder sinking in the muck of the swamp. With two people, it wasn’t difficult to attach the boxes using three-inch long, 1/4-inch carriage bolts. Boxes installed, we added some wood shavings, and now we’ll wait a few months to see if our new boxes will attract a nesting wood-duck hen.
Having gone through the process, I would recommend calling Dr. Smith if you want to install some boxes for the first time. He makes boxes, predator guards, and he developed an important adapter piece that simply slides into the top of the metal pole, making the step of mounting a predator guard very simple.
Dr. Smith can be reached by calling (229) 423-2356.