If you were to argue that wood ducks are the most beautiful ducks on earth, you wouldn't be wrong.
They’re beauties, they just are.
A recent tweet, not a quack, announced that a few of these birds had already migrated back to Minnesota. A local report of a pair spotted on the Minnehaha Creek offered confirmation.
This news sent some duck-housing providers into a panic. Houses had to be cleaned. Sticks and leaves had to be removed. Intruders had to be shooed away.
For houses mounted in trees or on poles out of arms reach, ladders had to be employed. For houses placed over water, thin-ice dangers had to be considered.
Chanhassen’s Dan Slinden, a special education teacher at Eden Prairie High School, has been there and done all that.
He’s been placing and monitoring wood duck houses on the Meeker County family farm for years.
In 2009, Slinden created a wood duck house spreadsheet. This allows him to know which houses have been successes, which houses might need to be moved and which houses need to be replaced.
“My buddy who goes out and cleans houses with me calls me the coach,” said Slinden. “I think it’s because of the clipboard.”
Slinden also answers to Duck Commander.
Through trial and error, Slinden has settled on both a design and a mount.
“The MWA (Minnesota Waterfowl Association) side-hinged boxes are the ticket,” he said. “They’re easy to check and easy to clean.”
Pro tip: Cedar shavings work best as nesting material (pine shavings clump when they get wet).
He prefers to mount the boxes on signposts rather than well pipe.
“You have to drive the well pipe too deep,” he explained.
Not only does he use predator guards, but he paints the guards so they’re not so shiny.
His placement preference is four to five feet off the ground.
“I’d rather not bring a ladder,” he said.
That’s the ticket
Each box is marked with a number.
“My dad bought me some stainless steel plates,” said Slinden. “They’re numbered from 1 to 50.
“I guess he thought that if I got to 50, I should be done,” he added.
Question: Is Slinden’s father a wood duck fan?
“He loves them,” said the younger Slinden. “And since I take care of them, he figures he gets to see me a couple more times.”
Slinden said 2017 was his best year.
“I had 44 houses,” he said, “and 26 were used. That’s a 59% success rate.”
If you extrapolate these numbers further by using 12 eggs as the average clutch size, Slinden’s houses produced more than 300 eggs.
In 2018, 25 of his 50 houses were used.
Last year, occupancy dropped to 42%.
“Dr. Roger Strand wanted me to count membranes,” said Slinden, of the New London area conservationist and Wood Duck Society member, “but I don’t do that. Instead, I just look for crushed shells.”
“I’m still mesmerized by that one box that had 17 un-hatched eggs,” said Slinden.
Good old box No. 39?
“I added that box in 2010,” said Slinden. “It’s been used every year since.”
“We’ve got three really good sloughs,” said Slinden. “I have 12 boxes on the one that’s a little more hidden, and they all do pretty well. I have six boxes on the slough that’s a little more out in the open and they don’t do so well.”
Speaking from experience, Slinden said waiting until the last minute isn’t the best wood-duck-box-checking strategy.
“Once,” he said, “the back of the four-wheeler went through the ice.
“Hasn’t happened since,” he added.
Typically, Slinden checks his houses in late January and early February.
“It’s about a three-hour process,” he adds.
“I remember reaching my hand in one box and thinking it didn’t feel right,” he said. “It didn’t bite but it scared me.”
The intruder was a squirrel.
Pro tip No. 2: When checking wood duck boxes, knock first.