Building Wood Duck Boxes

ArrayApril 16, 2020 at 2:37 pm

By Regional Wildlife Biologist Chuck Hulsey

When you see a wooden box on a post over shallow water, with a hole in the front, you probably know that it is a nest box for wood ducks. But did you know Maine has other duck species that need tree cavities in order to nest and rear young? Though developed for wood ducks, they are commonly used by Hooded mergansers and American goldeneyes. “Wood duck boxes” may be the most recognizable wildlife management technique of all.

MDIFW Wildlife Biologist Sarah Spencer and retired wildlife biologist Joe Wiley with the duck boxes they made in February.

According to the Ducks Unlimited website: “In 1937, the U.S. Biological Survey (now the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) erected 486 bark-covered slab wooden boxes, which are thought to have been designed by biologists Gil Gigstead and Milford Smith at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge in central Illinois. This represented the first recorded use of artificial nesting structures for wood ducks. Over the next two years, Arthur Hawkins and renowned wood duck expert Frank Bellrose erected 700 rough-cut cypress board boxes throughout Illinois. More than half were used by "woodies," revealing the great management potential of the boxes. Since these pioneering efforts, thousands of wood duck boxes have been built and erected by a diversity of people and groups, from wildlife agencies to conservation-minded private citizens”.

MDIFW regional wildlife biologists maintain almost 1,000 waterfowl nest boxes on our wetland-based Wildlife Management Areas.  Most are checked and maintained annually.  This is done for basic maintenance, to refresh the shavings to reduce nest parasites, to increase use, and to monitor productivity. Yes, it is a fun job.

In February Sarah Spencer and Joe Wiley met me at my home, and we built 20 waterfowl nest boxes for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL).  Sarah is a department wildlife biologist who works mainly with foresters from Parks and Lands to integrate wildlife management at Maine state parks and public reserved lands.  Joe is now retired from that very same position but volunteers his time and expertise when there is an opportunity to benefit Maine’s wildlife. 

Before retiring Joe acquired enough cedar boards to make these waterfowl nest boxes, but they had been in storage for a few years.  Joe and Sarah also saved marine-grade plywood signs that were once used to prevent folks from venturing near bald eagle nesting areas. These signs were used for the roofs.

We thought it would be a great joint project to build the boxes together!