The how to of building Mallard Hen Nests.

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The how to of building Mallard Hen Nests.

Postby h2ofwlr » Wed Feb 06, 2008 8:35 pm

If anyone had any questions on how to build them, please feel frre to PM me. :)!

Instructions for Mallard Hen nests

These are recommendations from my experience with building and maintaining many of these structures for many years.

Hen Nests. If you have a lot of water fluctuation, the floating platform works better than the pole method, 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 creek/river. Use a 1” i.d. used well pipe for the main post and 1.5” i.d. well pipe for the “sleeve” that slips over the 1” pipe. 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. It is best if the nests are installed on ice in February.

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, sweet grass, horse hay, etc.. Use soft hay for the inner bedding, not course hay (like Canary grass which grows in the low lying meadows), as the hens like the softer hay much better for its nest as they normally nest in the upland grasses and it simulates it. 1 smaller bale of hay should do about 6 nests. For a longer lasting nest, flax straw can be used for the cylinder. In some areas it is readily available, in others, it is impossible to get. But still use the soft hay to fill the tunnel. Use Treated wood as regular wood rots much too quickly. It is best to use a 2 x 8 plank as 1” thick splits way too easily. The 8” (7.25” nominal) width is important, it’s so the nest does roll to the side. Cut the board no more than 4” longer than the width of your wire mesh material. This is because 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. 2x10 plank can also be used. 2x6 is too narrow. 3/4” Galv. 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 the nest into a tunnel effect (there are some opinions that it gives a sense of security to the hen). Use only outdoor or carpet runner where the water does NOT get through (rubber backed). I buy 3x4 door mats at the big building center when on sale for $4 each and cut in ½ to 2x3’ pieces [Regular carpet rots and is not water proof.] Cut the mats to 24 to 30” wide x 3' long. (The 3’ long length is important so ¾ of the top portion of the nest is covered.) 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. (The next post will have this info and pics with it.) It is helpful to use leather gloves and safety glasses while manipulating the wire. Cut a piece 100” long from the roll, make the cut so you have 1.5”+- 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 + the 1.5” tag end that is then looped and hooked over. Attach all the wire tags ends all along the width to the mesh to keep the inner nest circle in place.[I bend them diagonally to cross 2 wires and bend then against it self so no wire is sticking up inside the nest] Squeeze it into a round circle. Place a 2x8 Treated plank (the board should be 2 to 4” longer than width of wire) under the wire about 8" from the very end of the wire mesh, (which is the opposite end of the inner circle) and attach the mesh with ¾” Galvanized fence staples with 2 rows along each side of plank about every 8" at the crossing wires into the 2x8 treated board. Place (shake the hay so it falls loosely) a thin layer of hay/flax on the wire mesh (just enough so that you can not see through it), place the carpet runner so the 36” goes the long way and the shorter width goes across. The fiber side should be faced down. Spread more hay/flax over the carpet to cover it up. Now tightly roll 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. The distance between the 2 wire layers should be about 1.5 to 2”, if it is more than that, it is too “fat” and unroll and remove the excess hay (if it is too fat—the carpet will not end at edge of plank-but up the side instead). 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. (The hay should be stuffed tight in the middle so the wind will not blow it out). So to recap you have 100” long wire mesh: 40” for inner circle, 44” for outer circle, 8” at board, and 8” beyond the board.

Making the pipe sleeve. The idea is an adjustable height sleeve that slides (1/4” play) over the pipe that has been pounded into the pond/slough. Use 1.5” pipe that is 1.5’ to 3.5’ long. 6” up from 1 end drill a 3/8” hole through 1 side (the use of drill press and vice clamp is needed to keep pipe from rolling). Then take a metal grinder and grind around the hole the size of a quarter and also along the opposite end of the pipe up a ¼” around the pipe. (the galv. interferes with the bond when welding). Use a 5/16” x 1” long grade 8 bolt and nut for the next step. Insert the bolt into the nut so it sticks through at least a ¼”. Weld the nut over the hole that was drilled. Now make up the base plates. It is 5 x 8 and 1/8” thick. Drill 4 – 11/32” holes in about 1” from the corners. Now weld on the pipe to the base plate. Just attach the metal plate to the 2x8 with 1” x ¼” galv lag bolts. When tightening the bolt, make sure that the nest can not spin in the wind. Also you need to “dimple” the 1” pipe if you have to lift the sleeve up in the air. The dimple means you have pushed in enough with the bolt so it can not slip down, but not so tight that it distorts the 1” pipe and you can not lift off the sleeve at a later date if needed.

Picture is of an 18" long sleeve

Where to place Nests Generally smaller shallow water areas are best. Smaller meaning form 100’ pothole to a small slough. Lakes do not seem to be as good as less usage by the hens. They like nearby cover (reeds) and the shallow water is where the macro invertebrates are located which the ducklings and she will feed on in the summer before they can fly. Also ice is a consideration, as ice can push a pole over, especially on lakes of bigger sloughs. So choose small narrow open water fingers that go up a finger bay, smaller sloughs <10 acres, or small potholes/ponds <1 acre. Shallow depths (under 6’) seem best. Often even small sized waters the ice can push a pole over (the ice melts around the perimeter, but 1” of ice in middle yet, and the wind pushes the ice, and then the pole. So often the North side (sun melts this side first) about 6’ from the rushes is often used. Do not place the nest in the reeds, for whatever reason, the usage is a lot less than when compared to placed in open (emergent vegetation) water. And creeks/smaller river are asked about, but due to fluctuating water levels (floods) these nest should not be placed nearby. Also, debris floating with the current pushes over the poles even if no flood.

Installing the main pipe. The goal is to have the nest at 3 to 4’ up off the water. Once a spot has been chosen, you’ll need to check the water depth and softness of the bottom. Well pipe come in 21’ lengths, often I cut it so I have a 2 lengths. A 9 and 11.5’, or a 10 and 10.5, and sometimes an 8 and 13.5’ lengths. I always have extra various lengths with. Sometimes though I have used an entire 21’ length as the bottom was so soft. Thus a bit of trial and error is needed to determine to actual length that you need. For example, a clay or sand bottom, with 3’ of average water height, you would pound the pipe in 2’, plus 3’ for out of water, and so 8’ would be needed. A softer bottom maybe 10 or 12’ length is needed. If you find you have a length that is too high, use a cordless Sawzall or a metal cutting cordless circular saw to trim the height. ( A power inverter on vehicle so regular AC tools can be used at the truck works too) If the pipe only sticks up 1’ out of the water, use a 3’ sleeve to add the additional height that you need. I often place the main pipe at 2’ up off the ordinary water weight. If a drought it’ll be 4’ up, and if wet weather pattern (high water) I can use a 3.5’ sleeve and still be 2.5’ up off the water. Thus the sleeve gives you adjustability as well as portability too.

Maintenance. For best results, the nests should be maintained yearly, about 1 or 2 months before nesting season. Often you can add hay/flax to the top outer layer using a piece of wood lath by pushing tufts of hay under the wire. (The hay slips to the sides during the course of a year). Also take out the old duck nest and replace with new soft finer bladed hay for the new nest. If there was no duck nest, use the hay in the inside the tunnel to stuff the outer layer, and add fresh hay inside the tunnel. But every other year you need to unroll the nest and add hay. Often you can reuse the inner hay on the outside, and add fresh hay to the inside of the carpet and tunnel. (Obviously, do not reuse rotted hay) This is best done in February when there is solid ice. This is also a great month to install new nests. If you live in an ice free area, then you’ll need to use a boat or waders. If using a boat, there will need to be at least 2 guys, if not 3. One to work on nest, another to hold boat in place and counter balance the boat (2 guys holding the boat is place is much easier-especially if not a calm wind). In this situation (open water) a good way is to fully add new hay is to loosen the bolt, and lift off the old nest from the pipe, and then install a new nest. Do the adding of hay on land as it is much easier. I suggest pounding in a 5’ x 1” pipe 2’ into the ground, and drop the old nest over it and then do the maintenance at your shop/garage area. (One guy welded a 3’ piece to a tire rim, and filled the tire with concrete so it is portable, and yet stable). Often guys will make up 2 to 6 additional nests to exchange out with the old ones. Go back to shop and do the maintenance, and keep replacing as you go. Often the extra nests the guys just add to a new area each year. It is a great way for a bunch of like minded conservationists to do a hands on project in your area. But even 1 guy can build and maintain nests, as I maintain over 24 nests myself.

Pictures is of 2 year old nest that was top stuffed with hay 1 year ago. [It is on a 21' pipe (very soft bottom) with an 4' extension (bottom 1' of sleeve is down in the ice)]

It'll need to be unrolled and rehayed this month yet.

This is nest I had ran out of hay, so did not add any on top. So 2 years worth of wear, thus bare carpet.
It happens to be mounted on a highway hat channel with custom made bracket.

Making a bracket when using a highway hat channels for posts. Basically you will need to fabricate a bracket to support the nest. It will need to strutting “arms” to go out from the channel. And will need 2 holes that go up against the channel to bolt it to the channel. These arms will need to be at least 20” long. Think of an upside down roof truss with a king post. The top 2 arms are made of 1.5” angle iron in which are 2 holes drilled (11/32”) in each arm to secure the nest to. I suggest also using ¾“ angle iron for struts that brace it so the arms do not bend. Then you’ll need a 4” x 10” x 3/16" thick base plate to which 2 - 11/32” holes in which 2- 5/16” bolts will hold the nest to the channel. You would weld the top arms at an approximate 30 degree angle to the nest and then weld the 2 smaller angle iron braces to the bottom edge of the base plate. Keep in mind that you’ll need about 6” of clearance from the edge of the 2x8 plank to the base plate/channel because the diameter of the nest is about 20” across. You can splice the hat channels for additional height. (14’ is about max length when 2 - 8’ pieces are used). They make the top channel to fit inside the lower piece that goes into the ground. The highway hat channels are pricey to buy new. But if you ask the county highway dept, they often will be exchanging the old rusty sign posts out for new ones over the course of the year. Often you can obtain the old rusty ones for scrap price or sometimes they’ll even give them to you when you explain what you are doing with them. [A good idea is to place a couple of nests near the County Highway dept. if possible, as they will indeed remember you as they get to see the ducks using them. ; ) ]

Picture of bracket with the offset mounted on new nest. Notice difference in hay when compared to above pictures.

Reverse side of bracket. FYI, thie nest is made from flaw straw

FYI, the above pictures is of a custom stainless steel brackets I had made up a few years ago. They used a laser to cut it out of sheets and an industrial break to make the bends. I had exchanged a day of labor on a friends house, and he spent a Saturday at his work to write the computer program and do the cutting and bending. It would have cost over $25 a piece if contracted out. And that was before the big price hikes in metal the last 3 years. But it should like you a good basis on the principle on making up a bracket for a nest when using highway hat channels for posts.

Here is something that I have been experimenting with. It is combo of a MHN and a Woodie Box mounted on the same Highway hat channel post. There is no predator guard under it as it is away from the shoreline far enough. Being the ducks are territorial, they I am looking at if it is a practical way the do double duty. This way you have 1 pole with a nests, and 1 predator guard ($15 each), so more cost effective. The verdict will not be known for another 2 years yet if enough double usage warrants it or if better off to seperate them by 100' apart.

Others I have a cone shaped sheet metal predator guard under it when on land (Woodie box only) or close to shore.

In conclusion, it is far better to do it the right way the first time. I hope this helps to guide you in helping the Mallards.

If all this sounds like a lot of work--it is! But do it for the ducks! It is one of the ways you can give back to them since you hunt them too. And watching them hatch is a bonus event in the off season. :)!
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Hey I resemble that comment!!! Those are FIGHTING WORDS!!!
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Postby greenster » Fri Feb 08, 2008 10:23 pm

Nice info for all of use conservationist to have... thanks for posting this series..
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Postby flinthunter » Fri Feb 08, 2008 11:36 pm

Thanks for the info I have been looking at differnt ways of making them
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Postby David » Sun Feb 10, 2008 5:57 am

Great post h2ofwlr! :thumbsup:
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