Instructions for Mallard Hen nests, Predator Guards and Wood Duck boxes.
These are recommendations from our experience with building and maintaining many of these structures.
Mallard Hen Nests.
If you have a lot of water fluctuation, the floating platform works better than the pole, but it is easier to be raided by raccoons and mink and is a lot more costly to build too. The floating platform is not covered here. The best choice is the post method, unless on a river. Use a 1 to 1.5" i.d. used well pipe for the post. I can get the used pipe for free from my local well driller [He supports the ducks in this way] Check in your area for a well driller and politely approach them—often they will be very happy to help you out when you explain what you are trying to accomplish and will give you the pipe for scrap price or for free. Highway hat channels can also be used for the post too, but require a custom made side bracket (not covered below). It is best if the nests are installed on ice. Speaking of such, if it is a bigger area the ice will push the pole over if it becomes windy out in the spring when the ice is melting, so put it in a more enclosed area of a small finger bay, etc to help protect it from the ice flows, so think about that when placing the nest. Here is another important key, with the post/pipe method you can install a cone type predator guard on it so no raccoons or minks can get to the nest! We will not cover the floating rig, only the post method, nest building, and guard.
Materials for the nest.
Use at least 12.5 gauge Galvanized metal wire (the 14 gauge is too light) in the 2x4 mesh. [Ducks and geese love to sit on top of the nest and the geese will crush the nest way too easily with 14 ga wire and the 14 ga is not nearly as durable as the 12.5 ga. is.] Buy it about 30" to 36" wide in 50’ or 100’ rolls, a 50’ roll makes 6 nests at 100” long for each nest. Use hay and not straw as straw will blow away and is not preferred by the hens. Hay is not alfalfa either. Use upland hay, which is the natural growing taller/finer grasses, also known as buffalo grass and sweet grass. Use soft upland hay or flax straw for the inner bedding, not course hay (like Canary grass which grows in the low lying meadows), as the hens like the softer stuff much better for its nest. 1 bale of hay should do about 6 nests. Use Treated wood as regular wood rots much to quickly. It is best to use a 2 x 8 board as 1” thick splits way too easily. Cut the board no more than 4” longer than the width of your wire mesh material as crows love long boards sticking out too far for a landing area so they can predate the nest. For 36” wide wire, use a 40”x2x8 Tr. board, you will get 3 pieces from a 10’ length. 3/4” fence staples will be needed to fasten the wire to the board. For the carpet layer, its purpose is a rain shield, and to darken it into a tunnel effect (there are opinions that it gives a sense of security to the hen). Use only outdoor or carpet runner where the water does NOT get through (often rubber backed). [Regular carpet rots and is not water proof.] Cut it to 24 to 30” wide x 3' long. Tan color is best as it is same color as hay and being neutral in color it does not absorb heat as readily as a dark color does.
Building the nest.
Cut a piece 100” long from the roll, make the cut so you have 1.75”+- long wire “tag ends” on each end (you will need to trim off 1 cross wire for long enough tags ends on both ends of 100” long piece). When you roll up the nest, make sure the long (100”) running wires are on the outside VS the inside of the cross wires( 30 to 36” long) as too often the welds will break over the years and the wires on the outside will help hold the nest together. [Sometimes this means bending the wire the opposite direction of the how it was rolled up]. Make a circle about the size of a basketball (38” in circumference) and hook over and attach all the wire tags ends all along the width to the mesh to keep the circle in place. Place a 2x8 Treated board (the board should be 2 to 4” longer than width of wire) under the wire about 10" from the very end of the wire mesh, (which is the opposite end of the inner circle) and attach the mesh with ¾” fence staples with 2 rows along each side of board about every 8" at the crossing wires into the 2x8 treated board. Place a thin layer of hay on the wire mesh (just enough so that you can not see through it too easily), place the carpet runner so the 36” goes the long way and the shorter width goes across. The lighter colored side should be faced down. Spread more hay over the carpet to just to cover it up. Now roll it up tightly, the inner mesh over the hay/carpet/hay into a full circle. The one continuous piece of wire mesh will be wrapped around 2+ full times with the hay/carpet/hay sandwiched in between the wire. Bend 4 of the wires ends to hook the rolled up nest together (the use of pliers is helpful). You need to remember that the hay will need to be added to or replaced every year, so all you have to do is unhook the 4 outer wire tag ends and you will be able to unroll the nest, add more hay as needed and roll it back up and rehook the wire ends. Remember to stuff the middle of the inner circle full of hay as the hens will build her nest from this hay, but allow a hollow area at each end for the hen to enter. So to recap you have 100” long wire mesh: 38” for inner circle, 48” for outer circle, 8” at board, and 10” beyond the board.
Attaching the nest to the pole.
Just make up 6 x 8 piece of 1/8" metal and drill 4 -7/16" holes into the plate 1” in from the corners, and then weld the pipe or the threaded pipe connectors in the center of the metal plate. Then just attach the metal plate to the 2x8 with 1” x ¼” lag screws.
For threaded well pipe, now the nest can be screwed onto the threaded pipe after the pipe is installed. Here is a key about pounding the pipe into bottom of pond. Check first to see how soft the bottom is and cut the 21' length of pipe down accordingly. (It could be a 8’ length or a 17’ length is needed all depending on depth of water and softness of bottom soil). The nest should be about 4’ above the high water level after it is pounded down (remember on drought years to allow for extra height when the water returns so the nest and guard are above the high water line). Remember to keep the threaded end up, screw on an end cap to the pipe and then pounded it into the pond. The cap protects the threads from the fence post slide hammer blows. Then unscrew the cap (usually you will need 2 pipe wrenches to do this) and install the guard and then the nest. Remember the drill the hole for the predator guard at your shop before you head out to place the pipe.
For slip over pipe method. Another way is to weld on a pipe 3’ to 4' long to the base plate that would slide (1/4” to ½” play) over the pole/pipe that is pounded into the pond. Drill a 3/8" hole about 6" from the bottom of the pipe and then weld a 5/16" nut to it. Then screw in a 5/16" 1" bolt, this bolt tightens up to the pipe so it will not spin the nest. Also you can slid it up the pipe too about 2' for added height and them screw in the bolt. Attach the guard to the 3’ pipe at your garage/shop. This allows you not having to worry about pipe length as you can cut the pipe off to height after it is pounded into bottom of pond/slough with a battery operated Sawzall or by hand with a hack saw while out at the pond (this harder to do than it sounds)
Either way, you may need a step ladder (especially if soft bottom) and a slide hammer or a 15lb hammer maul to pound the pole in.
Here is the link to the MWA website for a view of the Mallard nest http://www.mnwaterfowl.com/
The guard is similar to an upside down funnel except flatter and no spout. About a 45-degree angle from the upright pole works good. Make it out of sheet metal that is 3' wide. Mark and cut it into a 3' circle. Then mark and cut a wedge out of the circle about 12" on the outside to 1" at the center. At dead center cut about a 3 to 5" hole depended on pole size used (you want it to come very close to the pole so the critters like Mink can not get past the opening between the pole and guard). You then pull the edges together and lap them and use 2 Vise Grips (top and bottom) to hold it together. Use 2 sheet metal self tapping hex head screws, 1 at top and 1 at bottom edge of the overlapping metal. [Or drill 2- 3/16” holes (top and bottom at overlap) into sheet metal and use 2 - 1/8” x 3/4” L. Pan Head bolts and washer and lock nuts. (Using a bolt and nut is better for the long term) ] To mount the guard, attach the brackets to pipe. The brackets are about 8" long when bent (16" total length x ¾” wide x 3/16” thick) and bend them (use vise) closed to 45 degrees (like a “V”). When bought in a hardware store, these are 2 – 90 degree right angle strap metal brackets should be pre drilled and you then bend them to 45 degrees. Otherwise if you buy raw stock you need to cut and drill them. Before you bend them, drill one end with a 1/4” hole 1” from end and the other end with a 11/16” hole 3” from end. To Mount the bracket, drill the 11/32” hole into the pipe 12” down from the base plate, then mount the 2 brackets using a 5/16” bolt to go through bracket, pipe, bracket and secure with lock nut. [If using threaded well pipe, drill the 11/32” hole in the pipe, but instead for ease of assembly, use a 2’ long piece of pipe as a dummy post in the vise on a work bench to help assemble to guard, and attach it to pipe when out in the field]. Now attach the sheet metal guard to the brackets with 2 – 1/8” x 1” L. Pan Head bolts, washers and lock nuts. Place a 3/16” drill bit thru the ¼” hole of the bracket from underneath and the drill a hole through the lapped sheet metal and attach the small bolt, and then attach the other bracket to the sheet metal in the same way. It is now completed. Needless to say much of this work is done at home in your garage/shop so you have the proper tools around. The guards can also be bought in kit form from Chapel Central in Willmar, MN 320-235-2151 (which will ship the guards) which is what I do for convenience sake. They come precut and with the brackets. But you still have to drill the holes, etc…
The Guard should be mounted a minimum of 3’ above surface of the high water mark or a min 4’ if over ground.
Wood duck boxes
The best way to obtain the wood duck boxes is to buy them from the MWA in their precut kit form. The plans are also available on their website and are self explanatory. http://www.mnwaterfowl.com/
Placement of wood duck boxes.
A word of warning---PLEASE do NOT mount the Wood Duck Boxes on trees!
Here are 3 reasons why from Dr Strand (a good friend to the MWA) and from my experiences from years of putting them up and yearly maintenance:
1. If mounted on tree there is up to 80% predation by Raccoons-It is a death trap for the hen Wood Duck!
2. Squirrels invade them and take it over so Woodies will not nest in it.
3. The tree will in a 2 to 4 years time split the Wood Duck box’s back board that is mounted to the tree on due to tree growth.
So what is the solution?
Mount the box on a pole. This can be a highway sign "hat" channel, an 8' landscape timber, a 10’ piece of 1” well pipe, etc...
Place the pole at least 30' away from any trees or overhanging branches. This way no Raccoons or Squirrels can jump to it. But there MUST be a predator guard under the box to prevent predation. The best defense against predation is the cone shaped sheet metal type. Did you know that when the Wood Duck ducklings hatch they stay in the box for 1 full day? You ever hear how much peeping they make? It is like a "dinner is ready!" for the Raccoons and Fox from all the peeping noise!!! In my opinion it is ESSENTIAL to have a predator guard. It is far better to place 2 Wood Duck boxes with each having a cone shaped predator guard than 10 boxes with out it. And you save hen Woodies from being eaten! The guards are about $14-17 to make or buy for each post with the 2 brackets. You can also place the boxes on highway posts out in the sloughs over water -but again predator guard is highly recommended.
Height of box.
The box only needs to be 6 to 9' off the ground/water. No more height than this is needed. In populated areas (parks, boat landings, etc.) 9' is best so people to do not bang on the box, etc. thus disturbing the Woodies. It is best if the boxes are not placed where dogs regularly run about-the hens think they are fox (predator) and are not nearly as likely to nest. In unpopulated locations, 6' high is just fine. The 6' level makes it easy for the yearly changing of the bedding (no ladder is needed). The 9' level will need a 6-7' stepladder for the maintenance. The idea of the box needing to be any higher than the 6-9' high hole level is pure fiction-and a lot more dangerous (falling off ladder) to you the installers and maintainers of the boxes.
Also quite important when installing them in open fields/prairie areas is that if they are over 8' high the owls and hawks and such like to sit on top of the box to survey the area for food---so keep them low (6-7') because especially if over 10' tall on a post you are inviting troubles from the raptures.
It is far better to do it the right way the first time. I hope this helps to guide you in helping the Woodies.
In summation, If all this sounds like a lot of work--it is! But you are doing it for the ducks! It is one of the ways you can give back and enjoy being a year round water fowler. :getdown:
Installing a pole mounted Wood duck box with guard. Please note that the predator guard on the ground was mounted where my hand is on the pole.
Mallard hen nesting - look closely you can see her inside the nest
Fruits of the labor. Mallard hen and ducklings 2 months later