& Owl Trails
in Orange County, California
Gordon Outhier of Yorba Linda (pictured with Saw Whet Owls from his boxes) monitors approximately 300 Wood Duck boxes in the Orange County and Riverside, California areas. Gordon is always looking for volunteers who are interested in helping him maintain and monitor Wood Duck boxes and can be reached at (714) 996-9879.
Gordon is just starting to show me how Wood Duck monitoring is done and this web page will attempt to document some of those processes. Saw Whet Owls (photo to right taken last year) use the boxes in addition to Wood Ducks.
My apprenticeship began by nailing together about eighteen duck boxes which had been generously provided by the owners of Canyon RV Park (near Gypsum Canyon) in Yorba Linda to replace old boxes.
Wood Duck boxes are big, cumbersome, and weigh about TWENTY pounds each. Measurements are approximately:
2 feet tall
1 foot square
Precise oval hole
See link on how to build and monitor them at: Wildlife Library
The boxes aren't water-tight so several holes are drilled in the bottom board to allow any rain to seep out.
A few inches of wood shavings are added to the inside of the box as a bedding material. Gordon was careful to smooth out and flatten the surface of the wood shavings so that he will be able to "read" the surface during a later checkup and know if the box is being used. If the wood shavings are slightly sunken in the middle during a subsequent check, it shows there were occupants (he calls it "House-Play").
Ladder: Wood Duck monitors will need to carry a ladder that expands to about 10 to 15 feet. With a twenty-pound box in one hand, a fully-loaded carpenter's belt around his waist and an expandable ladder slung over his shoulder, Gordon effortlessly strolls off to install one of the boxes. Needless to say, folks working these trails need to be "can-do" people in top physical condition.
Choosing a box site and preparing the box for installation:
Wood Ducks need to have boxes mounted very near a water source where chicks can get to the safety of water as quickly as possible after they jump from the box shortly after the hatch.
Areas that have a thick shrubbery "corridors" leading to the water will also provide vulnerable chicks with protection from predators on their maiden voyage out of the box.
After arriving at a good location, three sturdy nails (size 20d, I think) were nailed at a downward angle into the inside top back of the box until they just poked out the back. Those will be used to hook the box onto the tree trunk.
Getting the Ladder and Box in Position:
Gordon has already removed the swivel feet off his expandable ladder so the raw edges of the legs will cut into the soil and soft sand for added safety. The feet of the ladder are positioned at least five feet away from the trunk of the tree and settled in.
The lid is tucked inside the box so both are brought up the ladder together in one neat package.
He then slings the box half-way up the ladder onto a rung before he starts the climb behind it. My budding technique was much slower where the hefty box was set on a bottom rung and then lifted, in progression, up the ladder, one rung at a time.
Nailing it to the Tree
The next step is nailing it to a large tree. This was the hard part for me. Gordon props the box on one knee to get it above the top rung of the ladder while it is being nailed to the tree. Otherwise, it is sometimes difficult to get the ladder out from under the box if the ladder is tightly wedged between the ground and the bottom of the mounted box.
The lid is taken out of the box, put in place and four smaller nails are put into predrilled holes at the upper side edges of the box and bite into the slats that have been put on the underside of the lid.
A felt tip marker is used to put an identifying number on the box which is actually an ID for the location rather than the box when year-end reports are submitted.
When Wood Ducks took a hanging box hung at eye-level on a "Bluebird" trail in 2009, I was hooked. Shown below is the box at Green River Golf Course in Yorba Linda:
See photo of hen sitting on eggs in the hanging Wood Duck box below: