The wood duck was once a critically endangered species, but through careful planning and the intervention of well-intentioned folks, the wood duck population has skyrocketed to pre-deforestation numbers. We have the advent of wood duck boxes to thank for that!
A wood duck box is a man-made structure that wood ducks use to build their nests. A basic box design will stand at least 22 inches tall, 11.5 inches wide, and roughly 14 inches deep. The oval entrance hole should be around 3 × 4 inches wide to allow wood ducks to enter and exit.
Of course, you can build a wood duck to any specification, as long as it meets the minimum criteria for a wood duck to call home. In this guide, I’ll explain what wood duck boxes are in greater detail, what their size specifications are, and the ideal places to hang a wood duck box.
What Happened to Wood Ducks?
Before European colonists landed in the Americas, the wood duck was the most abundant waterfowl on the continent. But within a few generations, its population plummeted significantly, and by the late 1800s, these colorful ducks were on the verge of extinction.
Similar to dodo birds, the abundance of waterfowl made them prime targets for hunters who wanted their colorful feathers, soft down, and delicious meat. Although their habitat was being stripped from them at unprecedented rates during the early colonial period, these friendly yet highly aggressive breeders stuck around to their detriment.
Luckily, when the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918 was passed, hunters were no longer allowed to shoot wood ducks at will. This prevented hunters from decimating wood ducks quicker than they could replenish, which saw a steady increase in wood duck populations over the following decades.
Today, wood ducks weren’t just removed from the list of endangered animals; they’re listed as “least concern,” meaning that their population is on the rise. While they are still hunted for their beautiful feathers and prime-rib-esque flavor, strict hunting guidelines set by the MBTA have ensured that wood duck numbers will continue to skyrocket.
What Is a Wood Duck Box?
Not only did the MTBA do its job, but nature conservationists tasked themselves with boosting wood duck populations through artificial means. One of the most effective measures was to construct wood duck boxes and place them in strategic locations to protect nesting mothers.
A wood duck box is a man-made structure that imitates the natural nesting environment of wood ducks. Normally, wood ducks would seek abandoned woodpecker nests to call their home, but with deforestation clearing the waterfowl’s natural habitat, their ideal nesting spots became increasingly rare.
These small man-man structures are made from durable planks of wood that provide shelter to nesting hens. They have oval-shaped entrances in the front, similar to the holes pecked by woodpeckers, to enter and exit. Inside the wood duck box is a spacious room with high walls that allow the wood duck to avoid predators and care for its brood.
Dimensions of a Wood Duck Box
A wood duck box can come in a variety of sizes. The bare minimum size of such a box is usually 22 inches tall, 11.5 inches wide, and 14 inches deep, with an entrance that is 3 inches tall and 4 inches wide.
However, if you take a look at different how-to guides on building wood duck boxes, you’ll see that their measurements are all over the place.
The dimensions of a wood duck box explained by the folks at Duck.org are as follows:
- Back Panel Height—28 inches
- Front Panel Height—24 inches
- Width—12 inches
- Depth—14-15 inches
- Sloped Roof Length—15 inches
- Sloped Roof Width—12 inches
- Oval Entrance—3 inches tall, 4 inches wide
- Distance from Box Base to Bottom of Entrance Hole—14 inches
Fred Akers from CU Maurice River provides additional information on the dimensions of a wood duck box, which are as follows:
- Inside Floor Dimensions—10 × 10 to 12 × 12 inches
- Wood Panel Thickness—5/8 to ¾ inches
- Ceiling Hinge Width—2 to 3 inches
These size specifications serve as a guide to help you construct a wood duck box on your own. However, you can make the box as large as you want. But as comfortable as the box is, it won’t be very effective if you don’t place it in the right spot.
Where Should Wood Duck Boxes Go?
Perhaps due to their past trauma, wood ducks are highly secretive about where they build their nests. As such, you should place the wood duck box at a location far from human interference and possible predators.
The following points will describe the best locations and methods for installing a wood duck box:
- Near swamps, marshes, and bodies of water.
- At least 4 feet high when hanging over bodies of water or 10 feet high when hanging above land.
- Maximum hanging height of 60 feet.
- On a metal pole or on a high limb of a dead tree.
- At least 30 feet away from shorelines.
- The distance between the nest and the nearest body of water should be as obstacle-free (e.g., roads, fences) as possible.
- The oval entrance will ideally face the nearest body of water.
- At least 600 feet away from the nearest wood duck box.
- The box should tilt forward slightly to prevent rainwater from flooding the nest.
- The floor of the wood duck box should be covered in wood shavings.
How to Maintain a Wood Duck Box
While you’ve done your best to ensure that a wood duck has a warm spot to call home, you will have to keep an eye on the box’s condition to ensure that it remains usable during the following mating seasons.
Wood duck hens will nest from late January to April, depending on where you live. After the eggs have hatched, the hen will call its brood to leave the nest one by one before abandoning it completely within a week of hatching. After the ducklings have left, you should check on the box for condition problems.
Swing the roof latch open and remove the previous inhabitant’s nesting materials. Replace the wood shavings, check that the pole is still in good condition, and patch up any holes. A new tenant may go apartment hunting as early as late November.