Sep 11, 2015
Dabbling With Ways to Attract Waterfowl
By Steve Jordan
I have had great success attracting waterfowl through the years to the property I’ve owned or hunted. As a senior in Winneconne High School we were blessed with a nice metals shop and a great teacher, Mr. Tobe Emerson. While my classmates were making metal funnels, Chicago Bear tin targets, plumb bobs, and various other boring items, I made my first two wood duck houses. You’ve probably seen the design. The top looks like a pointed clown hat. The design is somewhat predator proof, but to me with what I know now, it is more of a torture chamber. Metal has no insulation value. We all know how metal can get cold at night and how hot it can get in the day. A properly vented wood house has got to be much more comfortable.
Planting food plots for waterfowl is very rewarding too. When giving a tour of my food plots last year I couldn’t help but entertain the group. They were looking over my crops sticking out of the water. There was millet, dwarf corn, sunflowers, annual wheat, buckwheat and soybeans. All had nice seed clusters just above the surface. My guests were looking very puzzled and I could hear them whispering. Finally, one of them asked me how I even worked up a field like this. With tongue in cheek, I simply explained that I just pulled the disk behind my boat. Actually, I can control the water level. In the spring, I sometimes have to pump water out to let the soil dry out for planting. If we get a lot of rain in the summer, I may have to pump some water out so as not to drown the immature plants. In the early fall, I can reroute an artesian well to the area and fill it up with water in about three weeks. The plot is now one foot underwater and ready for the waterfowl to land and enjoy a feast.
The marsh on our property is called a “perched marsh.” This means it is at a level higher than the summer level of the river. The marsh will drain out into the river and then fill up at various times of the year. I planted wild rice over twenty years ago and it has replanted itself ever since. Some years it is so thick I have to take the 4-wheeler into the marsh when it is drained just to knock some of the rice down for duck landing strips. Wild rice grows 8-10 feet high on an average. The bottom in this marsh is fairly solid. I usually expect to get stuck and always go into an area with trees within 300 feet to be able to winch out, if need be. However, so far I have not been stuck and I’ve been doing this for years.
Getting back to wood duck houses, I have attended wood duck seminars and have put on wood duck seminars. While attending one, the presenter had a booming voice. He was explaining how important it was to clean out the wood duck house each year and put in new bedding. He warned everyone in attendance if you don’t think you can take the time to clean out the house each year, THEN DON’T PUT IT UP. He scared us all.
The first thing that went through my mind was who cleans out the house in a natural cavity? Maybe squirrels have a cleaning service. I should look that up in The Nutty Pages. Most wood duck houses are designed to be tall from top to bottom. The oval hole for the wood duck to enter is toward the top of the house and is 4 inches wide and 3 inches high. This allows a raccoon, a major egg snatcher, to stick his head in the hole or his arm in the hole, but not both. His reach is limited without getting his head and arm in at the same time, protecting the eggs. If you do not clean your wood duck house out periodically, the nesting material will build up through the years and the raccoons will be able to reach the eggs.
While observing wood ducks in the spring looking for cavities in trees, jumping from branch to branch, craning their necks to try to spot holes, I thought of an idea to ensure they find my wood duck houses. I went down to the sawmill and picked up some fresh slab wood, brought a pile home and painted spots on the wood with flat black spray paint. I learned through the years to place wood duck houses on healthy trees. Old, especially dead trees, are naturally sought after by the wood duck because most contain holes or cavities. But those trees seem to fall down in 3 to 5 years. By using my slab wood (which I call “billboards”), I can attract the wood ducks to my house on a healthy tree. The billboards make the healthy tree appear to be an old dead tree. The success rate on my wood duck houses is above 90% and I believe the billboards are one of the main reasons.
Cleaning out wood duck houses in the winter is very interesting and enjoyable. You will occasionally find eggs that did not hatch, piles of twigs from wrens that came in late spring or in summer to nest, old paper wasp nests, and once I even had a hive of honey bees living in the house. You really have to be a detective sometimes because deer mice will eat up most of the egg shells. Looking carefully, you will see little remnants of egg shells and some of the down the hen wood duck pulled off to surround her eggs.
By attracting wildlife to your property, whether it is by planting food plots, prairie planting, aquatic planting, or building nesting structures, you can gain much knowledge by observing these birds and animals.
Have a great fall and think about putting up a few wood duck houses this winter or planning how to put in a food plot for the ducks while deer hunting in your tree stand, duck hunting blind, or enjoying our fall fishing.