Ducks in Your Backyard
“This has been sitting in our garage for 7 years and of course it only took us about 30 minutes to build.”- My dad, once we finished putting together the duck box
After about 20 years of living on the Eastern Shore, my dad has grown a fondness for the wildlife in the area. In October 2018 I wrote an article titled, “Bats in Your Backyard,” in which I interviewed my dad on how and why he built a bat house in our backyard. Last May, I helped my dad with finding, purchasing, and putting oyster spat off our dock and wrote, “Oysters in Your Backyard.” In addition to oysters and bats, my dad has now added ducks to his backyard.
My dad and I had the idea of installing a wood duck box at our house on the Eastern Shore of Maryland a couple years ago. However, there is always so much to do and explore on the weekends at the shore, that we kept pushing off building the duck box. The wood duck box kit sat in our garage for a couple years, until it was finally brought out this past weekend!
We laid the kit out, followed the directions, and built the duck box in roughly 30 minutes. We realized though, that we still had a lot of questions about the purpose of wood duck boxes and next steps for setting it up.
Wood duck boxes were made to help increase the population of local wood ducks. The first record of a wood duck box was in 1937, when the U.S Biological Survey (now U.S Fish & Wildlife) made 486 back covered slab wooden boxes, which were the first man-made bird nesting boxes. After it proved to be beneficial in increasing the wood duck population, the number of homemade nesting boxes increased significantly. I see wood duck boxes all over the place on the Eastern Shore. Next time you go to Black Water Refuge in Dorchester County, you will notice all the duck boxes.
My dad and I took the easier route when it came to building the duck box and purchased a kit online, however, it’s not hard to build your own duck box with simple pieces of wood. Check out, “Ducks Unlimited” for instructions on how to build a wood duck box here. The ideal wood duck box is made with rough cut wood so the ducklings can use their claws to climb out. Metal or plastic are too slippery for the ducklings. Once the box is set up, make sure to include roughly 4 inches of wood shavings and chips for the mother duck to hide her eggs in. Make sure to clean out these shavings every year in the late winter, and add new shavings for the next year. The box should be elevated on a post, with a conical shield around the post to protect the ducks from predators, such as rat snakes and raccoons. You can find instructions on how to build a protective predator shield here.
Placement is also key when it comes to a successful wood duck box. The box needs to be placed near a suitable brood habitat in order for the ducklings to survive. A suitable brood habitat would generally consist of shallow wetlands with thick grasses that will contain a good food source for the ducks and ducklings. The duck box should also be near a bushy or wooded area that will provide coverage for the ducklings. To learn more about installing your wood duck box click here.
Lastly, don’t forget about maintenance of your duck box! As mentioned before, every year you will have to clean out the old nesting material from the box and add a new layer of wood chips or shavings. Ducks Unlimited advises you to avoid the urge to look into the box during the spring and summer. Don’t be discouraged if ducks don’t nest in the box the first year you make the box, there is a good chance that a duck will decide to nest in the box the following year.
Due to limited resources because of the shut down in response to COVID-19, my dad and I weren’t able to purchase the predator shield and post for to complete our project. However, we are excited that we are one step closer to having ducks in our backyard!