Wood ducks are doing well in Arkansas. Much of the credit can go to humans, especially the many who have built or bought nesting boxes and put them up near water in all corners of the state.
Woodies readily take to the boxes if they are the right dimensions. Some safeguards are needed, too, like metal cones below the boxes to stymie snakes, raccoons and other varmints.
Plans for building wood duck boxes are available from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Communications office, 501-223-6351, or can be downloaded from the Internet through a search.
We’re offering a poor boy’s wood duck box scheme here. The recommended 1-by-12 cedar or cypress boards usually suggested are difficult to obtain in some areas. More available are 1-by-6 cedar fence pickets, and they can work for this box building.
You’ll need five of these fence pickets that are 6-feet long. Take one of them and rip saw it into 1-by-2 strips. Lay the other cedar pickets side by side in pairs and use the 1-by-2 strips to join them. Builders call this the board-and-batten technique.
Either galvanized nails or screws can be used as fasteners.
OK, you now have two pieces 1-by-12 inches by 6-feet long. Proceed with the plans you’ve obtained, and the 1-by-2 strip can go either on the inside or the outside of the box.
The wood ducks won’t be persnickety Just be careful when sawing the joined boards and avoid cutting into a nail or screw.
Cut four pieces 24-inches long. For a sloping instead of flat roof, you may choose to angle the tops of the two sides a little, making one edge 23 inches instead of 24. Cut a roof 14-inches long. Cut a floor 10-inches long and either cut off the floor’s corners or drill a few drain holes so moisture can escape the box.
The entrance hole in the front should be an oval or oblong 3-by-4 1/2 inches. You may want to draw a template for this entrance hole on cardboard then transfer it to the wood. A starter hole can accommodate a saber saw for the task. Another method is to use a 3-inch hole saw, drill two overlapping holes then finish off the oval with a saber saw.
The entrance hole’s top edge should be about 3-inches below the roof. Inside the front piece and below the entrance hole, tack a strip of hardware cloth or window screen about three inches wide. This will serve as a ladder for the baby ducks to climb up to the hole.
Assemble the pieces with galvanized nails or wood screws. For ease in cleaning out the box, you can pivot one side with nails near the top and rig a fastener near the bottom.
Don’t paint or stain the box; leave it natural. If you use untreated pine, fir or spruce instead of the cedar pickets, an outside coat of deck-type water seal will make it last longer, but don’t use this material inside the box.
There are options, of course, and wood ducks aren’t finicky about a place to use for nesting. The back of the box can be made longer, so there is room above and below for bolting, screwing or wiring the box to the pole or tree.
Put several handfuls of wood chips or sawdust in the bottom of the post, then erect it on a pole or a tree.
Locating the box is critical. First, it must be on or very close to water. Second, it must be fairly high off the ground, enough so a ladder is needed. Third, there must be a guard of some kind to prevent marauding snakes, raccoons and other predators from getting to the eggs, babies or mother duck.
A cone made of sheet metal and fastened on the pole or tree just below the box works well. A used aluminum-printing plate wrapped around the pole also works, and so does a coating of grease on several feet of the pole. But the grease has to be replaced from time to time.
Wood ducks aren’t territorial, so more than one box can be erected in an area.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.