Bufflehead Duck
Bufflehead Duck

Duck houses for ducks that live in trees? Yes, a few ducks do nest in trees on a regular basis, and these include the Bufflehead, Wood Duck, Goldeneyes and Mergansers. These ducks commonly nest in tree cavities, which makes them good candidates for man-made habitats.

They are incapable of excavating a cavity to live in as a woodpecker might, so they search for an existing hole ... and a rather large one at that. Their acceptable cavities are fewer than ever, making them quite dependent on human benefactors. Young forests, and those without woodpeckers or flickers, will not have cavities suitable for ducks.

Wood Ducks

The Wood Duck is commonly found throughout the eastern half of the US and in the Northwest. One of our most colorful waterfowl, the Wood Duck, has been a victim of loss of habitat, causing serious nesting problems. The cutting of forests and drainage of swamps, as well as hunting, left Wood Duck populations at a seriously low level early in this century.  

During the 1930s and 1940's a conservation effort was begun. Hunting was stopped, and nesting boxes were put up to enable the Wood Duck to recover. This effort was highly successful, and today the population is once again healthy.

The Wood Duck, appropriately for its name, lives in woodland ponds and streams bordered by forests. In these secluded areas, a canoeist may come upon one swimming ahead of the canoe. If they are startled, they sound their characteristic oo-eek whistle and disappear into the woods.

The Wood Duck breeds April through June. Its nest is made of wood chips lined with feathers from the female's breast. She lays 11 to 14 eggs which incubate 27 to 30 days. The little hatchlings spend only a day in their nest. After hatching in the nesting box, they hear their mother calling outside the nest. They climb up the inside of the box and, while they can barely walk and cannot fly, they jump out to mother waiting on the ground. They fall through the air, sometimes as much as 60 feet to the water or after one bounce follow their mother to the water, where she can better protect them from predators. 

This fall seems to never hurt them. And they are quite capable of feeding themselves after this first day.  Mother's only job is to protect them.

The Wood Duck does not bring nesting material to the boxes. They merely line them with down and breast feathers.

Common Mergansers

The Common Merganser has a black head and a mostly black back, with striking white body and tail. The female is a grayish color with a rust-colored crested head. The Hooded Merganser has a large white crest on its black head that is its distinctive marking, white breast and belly, and grayish sides with two white stripes. The female is brownish all over with darker wings and a light rusty-brown crest.

The female lays 8 to 12 eggs which hatch in 28 to 33 days. The breeding period is from April through June, and only one brood is raised each year. They migrate south in winter.

Hooded Mergansers

The Hooded Merganser can be found in the extreme Northwest US, as well as, in most states east of the Missouri River. They are the smallest merganser and are seen mostly in fall and winter along rivers and lakes. The Common Merganser is found in every state on lakes and along wooded rivers and ponds. In winter they may be seen on salt bays as well.

Goldeneyes

The Goldeneye is a striking duck 16 inches to 20 inches long with a white body and black back. Its name arises from the golden eye which stands out prominently in the black head. Barrow's Goldeneye has more black on the back, with a black and white pattern on the wings. The head appears black from a distance, but is actually a dark iridescent purple. Each has a white spot in front of the eye, the Barrow's Goldeneye having a more crescent-shaped spot, while the Common Goldeneye's spot is more round.

The Common Goldeneye is found from Alaska across Canada and the northern states, wintering as far south as the Gulf Coast. It nests near lakes and ponds, and in winter prefers the coast.

Barrow's Goldeneye is seen along the Pacific coast from Alaska to California, as well as along the North Atlantic coast to Long Island. It prefers lakes at high elevations and may be found in Colorado and other mountain states.

The breeding period is from May into July. Eight to ten light olive green eggs incubate for 30 to 32 days and only one brood is raised each year.

Buffleheads

The Bufflehead is a small duck with striking black and white markings. Its body is white, with a black back. The head appears black from a distance, but has lovely purple and green iridescent coloration with a large white patch behind the eye. The female's white patch is smaller on the cheek.

Buffleheads are found in Canada and across the US, except in the north central states and the Appalachians. 

The breeding period is from May through June, and only one brood is raised each year. They migrate south or to coastal areas in winter.

Duck Houses

Inside the duck house, the ducklings have to climb from the nest to the entrance hole, so the interior should have a rough surface. Nesting material must be provided for insulation and to keep the eggs from rolling around. 

Angling the house slightly forward will help the youngsters to climb out, too. It should be away from branches that may obstruct the entrance. 

The best place to mount the house is on a pole in the water. This protects the ducks from predators who live in areas near water, such as raccoons. It should sit about 4 to 6 feet above the water. If it is placed at the water's edge, the house should be 10 to 20 feet high. 

A baffle around the pole or tree will discourage predators. Once the ducks have begun a nest in the box, do not disturb it.

The female will lay her eggs in the nesting box, after which her mate has little to do with her. After hatching, the young ducklings are safe from predators only with mother in the water. So at the tender age of one day, they are called by their mothers, and they leap from the entrance hole to the water, or to the ground if the nest is in a tree over land. They follow her around for about two weeks for protection, though they are quite capable of feeding and caring for themselves at birth.

One of the ducklings' common predators is the raccoon, and one way to eliminate this threat is to place your duck house over water. It may be placed on a pole in the bottom of a lake or pond, so that it sits about 4 to 6 feet above the water's surface. If they are placed over land, a baffle should be made around the tree or post to keep the raccoons from climbing up.