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Photo courtesy of Don Yurewicz
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Female Common Merganser

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Hooded Merganser

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Wood Duck

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Installing a Duck Nesting Box on Conway Lake

Tin Mountain.jfif

CAVITY NESTING DUCK HOUSE CONSERVATION PROJECT 

By Bill Petry

Last summer Nelson Cormier of Tin Mountain Conservation Center (TMCC) and I worked on a conservation project to increase the nesting habitat for wood ducks, hooded mergansers, and common mergansers on Conway Lake.  While our lake is quite well protected from any commercial activity and has a largely unspoiled shoreline, the available nesting habitat for cavity nesting ducks has been depleted.  We initiated a pilot program by asking shoreline property owners to volunteer for having a suitable nest box installed on their water's edge locations.

We were quickly over-subscribed by volunteers and Nelson went to work building nest boxes that have been proven to have the right characteristics for these species.  The ducks like to have their nest right over the edge of the water, so when their chicks hatch they can drop into the water without being easy prey for predators.  Once in the water, they never return to the nest and after about 7 weeks the young are able to fly and eventually migrate south, many returning to their "birth" lake or area.

 

We installed the large nest boxes, approximately two feet high and a foot square, on one inch galvanized poles at about six feet above the water's edge.  The boxes were made of cedar which is weather resistant and will hold up for decades in our weather and hopefully will be the home for several generations of ducks.  Each of the boxes was filled with about three inches of fresh wood chips to provide attractive bedding for the ducks.

The ducks normally start their nesting by early May and incubate the eggs for about four weeks.  By the first of June, the typical brood of 7-8 chicks hatch and soon drop into the water and immediately paddle out of the immediate area and learn to forage with Mom keeping guard.

 

Nelson and I examined the 10 newly installed nest boxes in the second week of June and unfortunately no signs of any ducks nesting were evident.  In two of the boxes we found song birds' nests but no ducks. 

 

We suspect there were no takers for a couple reasons.  First, there are few cavity nesting ducks on the lake, with one or two broods of wood ducks observed this year.  So, no ducks, no nests.  However, all three species of cavity nesters have been observed migrating through the lake both spring and fall and the hope is they will scout out the new habitat and nest in future years.   

 

Second, the bedding material we used were wood chips from Paris Farmers'.  It is possible that the wood or additives in these chips were somehow not tolerated by the few ducks who may have given the nest boxes a closer look.  I have had successful nesting in past years using straw bedding.  We intend to change out the bedding material to straw in the late summer or early fall as during migration time the ducks will look for suitable nest sites for their return in the spring. 

 

Hopefully next spring will bring some nesting, but it does take a few years for these ducks to fully acclimate to new surroundings.  If after three years of no nesting, it will be time to relocate at least some of the nest boxes to different locations on the property owners' shorefront.

 

Part of our objective of this project was to bring TMCC awareness to Conway Lake property owners and perhaps build some stronger membership relations.  Members of TMCC and CLCA have many common interests and objectives.  This year the TMCC Nature Center in Albany NH is open for visitors and members alike.  Vaccinated folks are welcome to visit mask-free but are requested to wear masks if children are in the facility for their summer camp experience. Of the nine CLCA shorefront owners who volunteered to host the nest boxes, five are now TMCC members, four of whom joined last year because of the project.  These members have also made generous donations and Joe Berry went above and beyond by sponsoring the nest box program and paying for all the materials.