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Wood Duck Houses

Wood Duck Basics

Ooo-EEK! Ooo-EEK!
The familiar call of the wood duck is a sure sign that spring has arrived, but where will the wood duck find a home this year?

Wood ducks can be found in southern Canada and the northwestern and eastern parts of the United States near wooded swamps, ponds, and rivers. They are cavity dwellers and are not capable of creating cavities of their own. Therefore, they are totally reliant on cavities made by other birds, Mother Nature or man. Because they are large birds, wood ducks often have difficulties finding natural cavities large enough for the mother and the brood. A great source of housing for these ducks is man-made wood duck housing.

At the start of spring, female wood ducks have found their mates and have begun to look for a nesting site. Wood ducks may have up to two broods each year from April through June. The female begins the search and will settle in the most suitable site. She will be looking for a nest box mounted 5 20 feet high in a pole or a tree no farther than 200 feet to the water. It is best to mount the box as near to the water as possible. To make her and her brood more comfortable add approximately 3" of woodchips in the bottom of the box. After laying her clutch of about 14 eggs, she will pull some of her own down feathers to soften the bed for her little ones.

The eggs will incubate for 30 days. One day after they hatch, the mother will call to them from outside the box. The fledglings will obediently follow their mother's voice. They will climb up the inside wall of the box to exit through the hole. It is imperative to provide a "ladder" by horizontally scoring the inside surface of the box from the bottom of the house to the hole or by stapling a 5"-6" wide wire-cloth in the same location. After making the climb, they will fall to the ground unharmed and follow their mother to water. The trip from the box to the water is the perfect time for raccoons, hawks or snakes to pounce. It is best to keep the distance from the box to the water as short as possible. Mounting the box above water is ideal.

Habitat Requirements

Wood ducks nest in woodland areas along lakes, rivers, and vegetated wetland areas. During the winter months, wood ducks inhabit bottomland hardwood wetlands, beaver ponds and flowages, river oxbows, meanders and backwaters, and other inland freshwater forested wetland areas. Habitat areas chosen by wood ducks are commonly used by other waterfowl species such as black ducks, hooded mergansers, and ring-necked ducks. High-quality wood duck habitat is intricately linked to preservation and management of old growth timber along river corridors and availability of nesting sites. Although wood duck populations have recovered, the largest threat to their future is the continued loss of habitat. By protecting and restoring floodplain timber, river oxbows and meanders, and other freshwater wetland and riparian habitats, landowners can assist in the continued success of wood ducks and other migratory waterfowl species that rely on similar habitats.


Food for young birds and adults differs dramatically. The early diet of ducklings consists largely of insects, aquatic invertebrates, small fish, and other high-protein animal material. After six weeks of age, the young switch to plant foods until their diet consists of approximately 90 percent vegetative material, primarily aquatic plants such as algae, watermeal, watershield, sago pondweed, and duckweed. Adult wood ducks feed on a variety of nuts and fruits, aquatic plants and seeds, and aquatic insects and other invertebrates. Insects and aquatic invertebrates are particularly important food items of adult hens during egg laying in spring. Acorns and other forest mast are important fall and winter foods. While acorns are the primary winter foods, the seeds of bald cypress, hickory, sweet gum, buttonbush, arrow-arum, bur-reed, and wild rice are also common winter foods. Wood ducks feed primarily in shallow water areas, but will also forage on the forest floor for seeds, acorns, and nuts.

Important wood duck food plants. The following species are known to be important food items in the diet of wood ducks.

oak (acorns), hickory (nuts), elm, bald cypress, beech (nuts), sweet gum, ash, button bush, maple, blackgum, rice cutgrass, row-arum, wild rice, sedge, smartweeds, nightshade, cowlily, beggarticks, duckweed, grape, panic grasses, bulrush, pondweed, watershield, waterlily, bur-reed, barnyard grass and St.John's-wort.

These species may be used to enhance vegetation which already exists in and around woodland areas and aquatic habitats. Adding these species to those currently existing will enhance food availability for wood ducks.

Cover - Nesting
Wood ducks nest in natural tree cavities and in some cases, those excavated and abandoned by woodpeckers. Nesting boxes are also readily accepted for nesting. Nesting pairs typically select cavities in deciduous woodland areas in close proximity to rivers, wetlands, and other suitable aquatic habitats used for brood rearing. Cavities located 30 feet or more above the ground are preferred, but the height can vary from near ground level to 65 feet. Suitable natural cavity dimensions typically have an entrance hole diameter of at least 4 inches, an inside diameter of approximately 6 to 8 inches, and a depth of at least 24 inches. Optimal nesting habitat contains up to five suitable cavities per acre in close proximity to brood-rearing habitat; however, since most natural cavities are not suitable for use by nesting wood ducks, these conditions frequently require that 50 or 60 natural cavities per acre exist. This illustrates the utility of providing suitable artificial nesting boxes to augment the availability of natural cavities.

Cover - Brood Rearing

Wood duck broods require shallow water for foraging on invertebrates and aquatic plants that contain some protective cover from predators. A ratio of 50 to 75 percent cover to 25 to 50 percent open water is preferred as brood-rearing (and breeding) habitat. Cover may be provided by trees or shrubs overhanging the water, flooded woody vegetation and debris, and herbaceous emergent vegetation. Ideal shrub cover is provided by mature shrubs that provide a dense canopy about two feet above the water surface. Button bush is an important shrub species in a large portion of the wood duck's range due to its brushy growth form, providing brood cover, and its prolific seed production, used heavily by foraging adults. Reliance on permanent, deeper water bodies for brood habitat should be avoided to minimize duckling mortality from aquatic predators such as snapping turtles and large fish.

Adult molting cover requirements are generally met by suitable brood-rearing habitat. Permanent water, cover, and food are the key elements of molting habitat.

Cover - Winter

In areas where wood ducks winter, areas similar to brood rearing habitat provide adequate winter cover. Bottomland hardwood wetlands and quiet river backwaters and streams with an abundance of partially submerged downed timber, shrubs, and woody debris are favored. Winter-persistent herbaceous emergent vegetation that has a shrubby-like life form (e.g., cattail, soft rush, bulrush, bur-reed, etc.) may also provide adequate winter cover. Security provided by overhead woody cover is the key element of good wood duck roosting habitat.


Water requirements for wood ducks are assumed to be met where suitable brood-rearing and wintering habitat exist.

Interspersion of Habitat Components

In order for successful wood duck reproduction and survival to occur, all the habitat components must be available in relative proximity to one another. Since wood ducks are highly mobile during winter, the most critical aspect of habitat interspersion, or the mix of different habitat types, is the proximity of suitable brood-rearing habitat to nesting habitat in the spring. The highest-quality nesting habitat is of little use if the nearest brood-rearing habitat is more than a mile distant. Likewise, the best brood-rearing habitat will not support wood duck broods if there is no nesting habitat in the vicinity. In southern areas where wood ducks are year-round residents, the best habitats consist of a complex of forested wetland habitats that include live forest, green-tree reservoirs, rivers, oxbows, riparian corridors, beaver ponds, shrub-scrub and robust emergent herbaceous wetlands.

Minimum Habitat Area

Since wood ducks are able to nest at some distance from brood-rearing habitat, no reasonable estimate of minimum nesting habitat size exists. In addition, no good estimates for minimum wintering habitat area are available due to the high mobility of wintering birds. However, at least 10 acres of wetland or other aquatic habitat in a contiguous unit, or in isolated parcels separated by no more than 100 feet of upland, is needed in close proximity to nesting habitat to support brood rearing. Lands outside the immediate planning area should be considered when making the determination of minimum habitat area for wood duck reproduction.

Nest Box Installation

Wood ducks are highly secretive in selecting nest sites to minimize impacts of nest predators and competition from other wood ducks. Therefore, it is important to locate individual nest boxes in relatively secluded areas within timber stands where natural cavities would occur naturally. Nest boxes can be placed either on land or over the water. If located over the water, they should be placed at least 4 feet above the high water level and the entrance hole should face the open water rather than the shoreline. Because of ease of access by predators, installation of nest boxes directly on trees should be avoided. Nest boxes placed on land should be located from 30 to 150 feet away from the shoreline. Boxes placed directly on the shoreline appear to be more likely frequented by nest predators. Since the hen must lead her ducklings to water soon after they hatch, the area between the nest box and the water's edge should be free of any major obstacles such as roads or fencing. Nest boxes placed on poles over water are generally more easy to monitor than those placed in trees. Regardless of whether the box is placed over the water or land, the entrance should be clear of obstructions to provide easy access for the ducks.

In order to maximize nest box use while minimizing nest dumping, it is generally recommended that nest boxes should be placed at least 600 feet apart and should not be visible to one another. When placing nest boxes in isolated locations, consider ease of access for monitoring purposes.

Heartwood Wood Duck Joy Box Birdhouse
John James Audubon did some of his most famous bird drawings as he explored on foot along the Natchez Trace, which happens to be located near Star, Mississippi, where we design and make all our Heartwood homes. While birding has come a long way since Audubon's time, today with our four-season nesting boxes and basic homes, you don't need to go to anywhere to enjoy all manner of wonderful bird life flocking to your door. Discreet complements to any landscape, these hardy havens are convenient, long lasting and beautiful-the picture perfect start to your life in birding! Season after season, this delightful nesting box is a joy to behold and a breeze to maintain thanks to easy twist latch and slide-front panel that also inverts for winter roosting. So easy to use, so easy to love, it turns birding into child's play! Rugged construction features 13/16" solid cypress and headed ring shank stainless steel nails.
Dimensions: 11" x 12" x 24 "; 4" hole
Made in the USA!

Coveside Bufflehead Duck House
The Bufflehead, with its striking white sides and white patch on its head, is smaller than most cavity nesting ducks.Dependent on nest boxes, this house is ideal due to the scarcity of holes excavated by a large woodpecker or flicker.
RANGE: Breeds in Alaska east to western Quebec, and south in mountains to Washington and Montana. Winters in southern U.S., south to Mexico, Gulf Coast and northern Florida.
HABITAT: Nests on wooded lakes and ponds; winters mainly on salt bays and estuaries.

(17-3/4"h x 9-1/4"w x 11"d)

Coveside Common Merganser Duck House
This house provides a perfect nest box for mergansers that normally nest in tree cavities. Positioning a house on a pole in the open water provides extra protection from predators.
RANGE: Breeds across Canada from eastern Alaska, Manitoba and Newfoundland south in mountains to California, northern New Mexico, Great Lakes and northern New England. Winters south to northern Mexico and Georgia; also in Eurasia.
HABITAT: Breeds on wooded rivers and ponds; winters mainly on lakes and rivers, occasionally on salt water.

(24-1/4"h x 11"w x 13"d)

Coveside Small Wood Duck House
"Dump nesting" occurs when a number of females lay eggs in a single house, which sometimes results in clutches with over 70 eggs. Mississippi State University did a study of Wood Ducks in an effort to reduce this problem. A smaller nest box was designed and "dump nesting" was reduced. Although fewer ducklings are fledged from each box, the survival rate is improved and the cost per fledgling is less. This box comes with a wire ladder and nesting chips, and the front opens for observation and cleaning.
RANGE: Breeds from British Columbia south to California, and from Montana east to Nova Scotia, and south to Texas and Florida; absent from Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. Winters near Pacific Coast north to Washington, and to New Jersey in East, rarely further north.
HABITAT: Nests beside wooded rivers and ponds. Visits freshwater marshes in late summer and fall.

(17"h x 7-1/2"w x 15"d)

Coveside Wood Hooded Merganser Duck House
Coveside's Wood Duck House opens two ways for observation and cleaning, and has an internal ladder for the duckings to climb out. Mother calls ducklings to the protection of the open water at age one day.
RANGE: Breeds from British Columbia south to California, and from Montana east to Nova Scotia, and south to Texas and Florida; absent from Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. Winters near Pacific Coast north to Washington, and to New Jersey in East, rarely further north.
HABITAT: Nests beside wooded rivers and ponds. Visits freshwater marshes in late summer and fall.

(24-1/4"h x 11"w x 15"d)

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