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October 05. 2013 3:43AM

Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Predators attracted to wood waterfowl boxes

SEVERAL YEARS ago when my wife and I decided to put up a wood duck box that we'd won at some waterfowl fund raising event, we thought that being set out near saltwater would doom the luck of having any ducks use the darn thing, but it looked better hung on our huge red oak tree just off the shore of Great Bay than it did covered with saw dust webs in my workshop.

Then the miracle of all miracles happened. A trio of hooded mergansers, not noted for being interested in breeding around saltwater, discovered the nesting box and when one of the two drakes that was seeking a wife was driven off by the other drake, both the hen and drake started to consider the box their home.

Even though the box was put together by some waterfowl enthusiasts, there was a big flaw that we didn't pay much attention to. There was no metal predator protection around the box entrance. But that didn't seem to bother as being in a heavily settled neighborhood, predators such as raccoons, fishers and other egg and duckling robbers were pretty scarce.

Emboldened by the fact that we'd been the proud foster parents of the big clutch of ducklings later that summer, we decided that if one nesting box was good, we'd add another couple of boxes to our property. And yes, these additional boxes brought more excitement and progress, as two pairs of wood ducks, also not known for liking saltwater, came and raised their families in the boxes along with a pair of the hoodies, which were the same ducks that had success in the prior year with our still, not perfect nesting boxes.

Well, being the normal dumb humans that didn't do much research before doing things like this, we added a couple more boxes to our property and also got some to our surrounding neighbors to install on their properties. The next year our neighborhood was buzzing with nesting wood ducks and hooded mergansers as well as having the thrill of hosting some screech owls to our menagerie.

Then came trouble in the form of racoons and fishers. Our waterfowl overpopulated area had caused a magnet for them to use. Our poorly constructed entrances to the duck boxes were quickly enlarged by the predators and soon we were finding egg shells out on our lawn and when inspecting the nests, finding just about all the eggs were gone or just finding empty shells. While not totally admitting to it, somehow several of those predators were sent to the predator happy hunting grounds.

We've now removed several of those "death boxes" but have a couple that we can't get at but that doesn't seem to matter as we haven't seen any duck action for several years but do still have a couple of families of screech owls come each year. And last spring we had a family of cardinals take advantage of an old duck nesting box that was missing most of its roof.

We've recently learned of a study that may well be the death-knell for most of the use of wood duck nesting boxes, which will really shake up the conservation groups that have used the wood duck nesting box production and management as their main waterfowl conservation program.

This study concluded that in most areas where the artificial boxes are placed, there are more than enough natural nesting places in hollow trees and other such places. And their findings were that these natural places are most often chosen over the artificial nesting boxes.

Also, another more motivating factor for not installing these boxes is that the study found that predation was much higher in the boxes than when the natural nesting places were used. This is a real shocker to many but not to us, as we've seen it in living color.

On the flip-side, it's been proven that Delta Waterfowl Foundation's artificial nests, made out of hay and suspended over the water have worked wonderfully on mallards and similar ducks, even black ducks. These are constructed of a cylinder of heavy wire netting that is thatched with hay and then another smaller cylinder of wire net is placed inside, to contain the hay. The pipe that supports the nest makes it just about impossible for predators to climb into the nest and avian predators are frustrated because they have no room to enter and destroy the eggs, chicks or adult hens.

Let's hope that those huge efforts to supply artificial nesting boxed for wood ducks and hooded mergansers shift their efforts to this very productive program that Delta has discovered. Humans love to do something that is visible and proven effective. Seems like the Delta nesting device could be it.

Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.


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