OTG: Habitat Spotlight on Wood Duck Boxes

In an upcoming project at Shiawassee River State Game Area on February 2, 2019, volunteers will be building wood duck boxes and placing them around the area. Shiawassee River State Game Area is managed for waterfowl hunting where hunters participate in a draw (twice daily during the season) to hunt zones around the area’s refuge. At over 10,000 acres of managed land, this is Michigan’s largest Managed Waterfowl Hunt Area. This is sure to be an exciting project, as it provides both hands-on experience of building the boxes and also the ecological science behind the placement of the structures as well.

Wood ducks are the only North American duck that regularly produce two broods in one breeding season, and is a species of interest at Shiawassee River SGA. They thrive in bottom land forests, swamps, and freshwater marshes. Their diet primarily consists of seeds, fruits, nuts, and some insects. These ducks are agile flyers and have been known to hit speeds up to 30mph, making them a particularly challenging species to pursue.

Nesting for this species begins in April and typically lasts 56-70 days with the hen laying around 6-10 eggs. If choosing a natural tree, these ducks pick trees that are more than one, but often more than two feet in diameter for their cavity nesting. The openings to the cavities may be as small as 4 inches, allowing fewer large predators to enter the nest.

They are secondary nesters, meaning that they cannot create the nests themselves but rather use areas that are already hollowed out either by a primary nester or a natural hollow area in a tree. This is why maintaining, and not cutting down, standing dead trees on your property is crucial to both primary and secondary cavity nesters. Wood ducks prefer to be between 2-60 feet off of the ground, but studies have shown that higher is better. Additionally, they like to be by or near water, but have been known to nest up to 1.2 miles away. Hens will line their nests with feathers that she pulls from her breast for better insulation.

If you have wetlands on or near your property, constructing and placing your own box is a great idea to provide habitat for wood ducks. There are a few important factors to take into consideration when building and placing a box. They should face towards the body or area of water, and be slightly tilted forward so that rain does not filter in and become trapped inside. Also, placing wood shavings in the bottom of the box works very well for additional insulation for the ducklings. The boxes should be placed 6-30 feet off of the ground, and there are particular measurements to be made when constructing the box to keep the ducklings and hen as safe as possible during their stay.  To download instructions for building a wood duck nest box and to view more information on them, please click HERE

I would love to have you join me, other volunteers, and DNR Wildlife Biologist Jeremiah Heise at the Shiawassee River State Game Area project on February 2, 2019. For more information, and to register for the event, please click HERE. It will be a great day for all ages and skill types to get outside and learn how to manage this species here in Michigan.

Finally, for a bit of fun, watch THIS VIDEO to see just how fearless wood duck ducklings truly are in nature.  I hope you’re able to come out with us and spend a day working for the betterment of wildlife habitat whether it’s on this project or another.


*Some information was adapted from Allaboutbirds.org and nestwatch.org. Header photo is from allaboutbirds.org.

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