By: Jeff Dennis
Especially in the southeastern states, the wood duck plays an important role as one of the top ducks in the hunter’s bag.
The federal limit per day per hunter for wood ducks was raised from two woodies to a three wood duck limit just a few years ago due to a sustainable harvest.
Hunters need to play a role in spring by maintaining wood duck boxes to aid in their reproduction.
Unlike most other species of ducks, the wood duck can adapt to nest in a man-made duck box.
True to their name, wood ducks haunt the woodlands and are also adept at nesting in tree cavities and other hideaways that are almost impossible to identify.
Among the earliest ducks to begin nesting, wood ducks are usually paired up by the end of February and looking for a suitable nesting site.
Wood ducks can be picky though, especially as it concerns previously used wood duck boxes.
If egg shells and moldy bedding materials are present in early spring, they may shun that box.
Wildlife managers must be willing to visit and service their boxes each and every year.
This gives the outdoor enthusiast a great reason to be outside and provides an opportunity to encounter non-game wildlife.
Opening a wood duck box in order to empty the contents and provide fresh bedding sounds like an easy chore, but there is a lot of adventure along the way.
First, consider that the wildlife manager is likely up on a step ladder and perched over some kind of water.
The wood ducks moved out of the nest box after their ducklings hatched last spring, but what else might have moved in?
When it comes to insects don’t forget about wasps, since they love the protection afforded by a nesting box.
A can of wasp spray is always prudent to have handy and works well on spiders too.
And if the nest box post is in dry dirt, like perhaps on a dike, there is a good chance that ants are using the box and some ant bait will need to be applied at the base.
After opening the box and dealing with any inhabitants, use a pair of leather gloves to scoop out any old bedding material, egg shells, spider webs and residue.
Then add fresh pine shavings to cover the entire bottom of the nest box, and then fasten the lid shut.
The hen woodie will add her own down feathers to the bedding.
The opening on the front of the box is a great place to aim your game camera to watch for nesting activities and ducklings.
Pruning limbs that are near the nest box are also part of the annual duties to prevent snakes from defeating the metal predator guard underneath and dropping down from above.
Wood ducks like to fly directly into the box on the wing, so keep a clear flight path for them.
Wood ducks stick close by when the hen is sitting on eggs so the area around the base of the nest box should also be kept clear of any brush that might invite predators to gather in hopes of an ambush.
A typical clutch of eggs for wood ducks might range from 12 to 15, but not all of the eggs will hatch.
Even less of the yellow fuzzy ducklings that leave the nest box will live, but the survivors are truly raised wild.
The drakes will grow up to assume their role as the most handsome duck of the woodlands, and the hens will ensure that woodies remain a sustainable natural resource.
This will continue to provide waterfowl hunting opportunities for everyone, with some credit going to the wood duck nest box managers.
The author’s Lowcountry Outdoors blog is celebrating the tenth anniversary in 2019.
Photo Credit – Jeff Dennis
A clutch of wood duck eggs on clean bedding in a nesting box