North America's waterfowl population is making a remarkable recovery. After decades of decline due to drought and the loss of endless hectares of wetlands and grasslands under the farmer's plow, ducks are reappearing in eye-popping numbers — most notably throughout the Prairie pothole region. The small ponds and marshes that still dot the area are brimming not only with water but also with mallards, wigeons, gadwalls, and teal, thanks to extraordinary rainfall and a burgeoning movement to reclaim water-fowl habitat. Setting the trend towards more sustainable land-use practices are programs like the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, a campaign to rehabilitate waterfowl habitat in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
Now's your chance to "get quacking" and help keep the comeback on track by creating habitat where waterfowl can feed, breed, nest, and rest. Providing nesting cylinders has proven to be enormously successful with mallards, pintails, and teal in open wetland areas, such as the Prairie pothole region. The materials needed for this project are sold in imperial measures, so the following instructions use feet and inches.
- Start with a 3' x 7' length of chicken wire or galvanized stucco wire.
- Roll the first 38" length of wire into a cylinder (approximately 1' in diameter) and fasten in place.
- Continue to roll the remaining 47" length of wire, lining the 1½" space between the inner and outer layers with a generous amount of straw (preferably flax).
- Attach the cylinder to a 1" x 8" x 3' wooden board, using heavy wire or two 4" U-bolts.
- Screw a floor flange onto the bottom of the board. The final assembly (mounting the structure onto a support pole) takes place in the field.
- Choose a site in a marsh fringed by cat-tails and bulrushes, on the edge of open water 1' to 4' deep. The water should remain until at least mid-summer.
- Install the nesting cylinder by April 1, preferably in winter, when you can easily bore a hole through the ice to drive the support pole into place.
- Pound a 2" diameter galvanized support pole, approximately 6' to 8' long, at least 2' into the marsh bottom. The nesting cylinder should be at least 3' above the water's surface, so the required length of the pole will depend on the depth of the water. The pole should be threaded for easy connection to the floor flange at the bottom of the structure. Protect the threading by temporarily screwing a coupling onto the pole before driving it into the marsh bottom.
- Attach the structure by screwing the floor flange onto the support pole, positioning the nesting cylinder crosswind to prevent drafts from entering.
- Place additional straw in the cylinder, fluffed to enable the hen to arrange it.
- Check the structure for damage each spring and supply new nesting material.
Plunging populations in 10 of our 15 sea duck species have raised an alarm among waterfowl biologists. They need to know more about the ecology, population dynamics, and threats to the health of this least understood group of ducks. Species, such as king eiders, oldsquaws, and harlequin ducks, are so specialized for life in salt water that their natural history differs markedly from that of most waterfowl. Reversing their decline will require unique conservation approaches.
Wildlife agencies across North America have recognized four main threats to sea ducks: lack of knowledge about their ecology, contaminants, unsustainable hunting, and habitat loss and degradation. They have also identified the need for concerted research, monitoring, and management action to conserve populations. Partner agencies within the North American Waterfowl Management Plan recently launched a Sea Duck Joint Venture to save these waterfowl.
You can participate by doing projects to conserve breeding areas, migratory stopovers, and wintering sites. Such threats as logging, fuel-wood harvesting, and land developments have left many cavity-nesting sea ducks (namely, mergansers, goldeneyes, and buffleheads) out in the cold. These birds breed in tree hollows dug by woodpeckers near inland swamps, ponds, lakes, and creeks -- habitats that are rapidly disappearing.
Do your part to solve the sea duck crisis by conserving these sites and by placing nest boxes along wooded shorelines.
- Build nesting structures out of weather-resistant wood, preferably cedar, with the roof sloping downward and overlapping at the front and back.
- The box should be 60 cm deep; the floor 30 x 30 cm; the entrance hole oval and 46 cm above the floor -- 8 cm high x 10 cm wide for hooded mergansers, 10 x 13 cm for common mergansers, and 9 x 12 cm for common and Barrow's goldeneyes. For buffleheads, the box should be 45 cm deep; the floor 18 x 18 cm; the entrance hole round, 35 cm above the floor, and 7.5 cm in diameter.
- Attach an 8-cm wide strip of wire mesh on the inside front panel of the structure for ducklings to climb to the entrance hole.
- Line the inside with cedar shavings 10 cm deep.
- Mount the box on an isolated tree (3 to 6 m high) facing the water's edge or on a post 1.2 to 1.8 m above water, with no obstructions near the entrance. To deter raccoons, install a baffle or aluminum sheet around the base of the tree-trunk or pole.
- Angle the structure slightly forward to make it easier for ducklings to climb out.
- As a rule, install two nesting boxes per hectare of wetland.
- Inspect, clean, and line the box with fresh wood shavings each fall.