Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Other things to consider before building nest structures are aesthetics, initial costs, and maintenance costs. Aesthetically, curved shapes and earth tones blend into the environment better than sharp angles and glossy paint. Ducks and geese can easily find nest structures that are not obvious to the human eye. The initial and maintenance costs of artificial nest structures will vary depending upon the design, materials used, and the life of the structure. Reducing initial costs by using salvaged materials may be wise in some instances, but it could cause your wetland to resemble a junkyard.
Waterfowl, unlike other birds, do not carry nest material to their nest sites. Therefore, before erecting numerous nest structures, consider that most structures will require annual maintenance and replacement of nest material to insure consistent, successful use. This can often be easily accomplished in late winter. Lack of proper maintenance is the number one cause of failure for most nest structure projects.
If your nest structures are not used immediately, do not get discouraged. In areas where ducks and geese are not accustomed to nesting in structures, it may be several years before they try them. Once waterfowl nest successfully in structures, they and their offspring will very likely return to nest in well maintained structures year after year. As use of the nest structures approaches 50 percent, you should consider adding more structures since few projects ever exceed 75 percent occupancy.
To determine if your nest structures are being used, it is best to check them during or immediately after the nesting season. When checking structures during the nesting season, wait until the majority of the waterfowl in your area are midway through incubation. Ducks and geese are more likely to abandon a nest if disturbed while still laying eggs or during the first week of incubation. If you flush the bird from the structure, be sure to cover the eggs lightly with down and/or nest material so they are not exposed to the elements or predators. Checking your structures during or immediately after the nesting season will enable you to determine use and success as well as help you spot any predator problems that might develop. Keeping written records of the waterfowl use of your structures will not only help you, but may also help someone else in implementing another nesting structure project.
If you have questions or need additional assistance, contact your local wildlife biologist.
Good luck with your project and thanks for helping our waterfowl populations!