Wood Duck Ecology – The History of the Nest Box

The wood duck (Aix sponsa) is the only duck species to nest in significant numbers in South Carolina. Historically, the species nested in natural cavities created by broken limbs and wood peckers. Due to the loss of hardwood bottomland habitat from extensive logging and heavy hunting pressure from market gunners wood duck populations declined to very low numbers in the early 1900’s.   With the passing of conservation laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and the Lacey Act, the wood duck was able to start making a comeback from what was considered to be the brink of extinction.

​As early as 1912 nest boxes were as a tool to improve wood duck habitat. The first attempts to improve wood duck nesting habitat by government agencies was in 1937 by placing over 700 nesting structures on National Wildlife Refuges along rivers and swamps in Illinois. Evidence of wood duck use of over half of approximately 700 nest boxes led to the conclusion that nest boxes could be a valuable tool in the management and conservation of the species (Hawkins and Bellrose 1940). These first nest houses were bark covered slab boxes attached directly to trees with no predator guards. They were bulky with a short life span, often receiving less than 15% occupancy by wood ducks (Bellrose 1953). Nest boxes in successive years were constructed with entrance dimensions based on measurements from taken from natural cavities.

​With the observation that predators could be deterred from entering the boxes by adjusting entrance dimensions, further variations on the theme of predator guards were developed. The conical metal guards used by the South Carolina Waterfowl Association’s Wood Duck Production Program were popularized in the early 1970s in the southern United States as a means to prevent rat snakes from entering the boxes. When securely attached to a pole and combined with a properly placed nest box, these guards are considered to offer the best protection available against pole climbing predators (Bellrose and Holm 1994).

​As is readily noticeable with the nesting structures distributed by the South Carolina Waterfowl Association and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the wooden houses with the metal predator guard are the most common nest boxes seen in South Carolina.

 Should you have any questions about the Wood Duck Project, please feel free to contact David Wielicki. His contact information is below.

Office: 803-452-6001 ~ Email: contact@scwa.org