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Summary of 2014 Breeding Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers on Duck Creek

Sep 19, 2014

Although the September teal season brings into focus the upcoming waterfowl season, it is also the time in which we reflect on the ducks that were produced on the area. We’ve been monitoring nest boxes at Duck Creek for 19 years. This has given us the opportunity to observe trends of the breeding wood ducks and hooded mergansers over time. Peter Blum has been the waterfowl biologist going out every day, tending the boxes, monitoring the eggs, and banding the ducklings year in and year out.

Total Numbers

This year Peter monitored 103 nest boxes during the breeding season on Duck Creek. Overall 71 nests were started by either wood ducks or hooded mergansers. Interestingly, this was the lowest number of nest attempts recorded during the 19 year study. Out of these 71 nest attempts, a total of 1,005 eggs were laid by either species. At the end of the breeding season 727 ducklings had hatched out and left the nest boxes, which is about 100 less than the long-term average. Overall, it looks like a slow year with fewer nest attempts and a smaller number of ducklings produced, but there is a different story when you split out the wood ducks from the hooded mergansers.

Wood Ducks

Wood ducks attempted 49 nests and laid a total of 731 eggs in 2014. This was the lowest number of nest attempts and total number of eggs that has been recorded during this study. Half of these nests had been initiated by April 4th, which is almost a month later than hooded mergansers. Despite the low numbers and late start the nest success was 78%, which was better than the long-term average of 69%.

At the end of the season 466 wood ducks exited the nest boxes. Three hundred and eighty of these downy ducklings were sporting leg bands before they left the nest. Later in the summer 3 of these birds were recaptured in Pool 1 at the age of 71 and 72 days. Prior to re-release their legs and bands were inspected and look good. This is the third year in a row that the number of wood duck ducklings has decreased. Over the course of the study there typically has been a peak and a dip in numbers every four to five years. This recent downward trend in wood duck production has begun to break away from the up and down cycle that we’ve seen before.

Hooded Mergansers

Data on the breeding hooded mergansers at Duck Creek are similar yet different than the wood ducks. They too nested later in 2014 than previous years, as noted earlier in this post. Half of the hooded merganser nests had been started by March 9th. In 2013 this halfway date had been March 4th. In 2014 hooded mergansers made 22 nest attempts and laid a total of 274 eggs. They too were very successful with 91% of the nests resulting in hatched ducklings, which is much higher than the long-term average of 75% nest success.

All but one hooded merganser duckling hatched and left the nest box with some leg jewelry, totaling 260 young hooded mergansers with leg bands. Twenty of these young mergansers hatched out of wood duck nests. You might recall hooded mergansers employ the strategy of nest parasitism which is laying eggs in another hen’s active clutch so that it doesn’t have to raise its own brood. Results over the years from this study have shown that this is a successful strategy for hooded mergansers as they haven taken advantage of the active wood duck nests. Another difference in the long-term trend for the hooded mergansers has been the steady increase in duckling production. For the first half of the study period the average number of hooded mergansers that left the nest was 93 birds. In the last ten years the average has been over double that amount with the last 5 years being between 241 and 271 ducklings.

The reason for the three year decline in wood ducks and uptick in hooded merganser production is unknown. Possible explanations include that it is part of the natural variability of population dynamics, somehow tied to harvest of local birds later in the fall, or perhaps wood ducks are using natural cavities at a higher rate in recent years while the mergansers are keying in on the boxes. We’ll just have to stay tuned and see what happens in the coming years.

Waterfowl Banding Resources Online

There are a couple of online resources that are good to know if you find banded waterfowl interestng. First of all, if you happen to harvest a banded bird, please do your part to contribute to science and our understanding of these birds by reporting the band at Secondly, if you want to explore recovery locations for different species of banded waterfowl in particular flyways or states go to Bands Across North America. It is worth checking out.


Photograph of a female Hooded Merganser swimming with chicks.
Hooded Merganser Female Swimming with Chicks
Hooded mergansers breed in our state, nesting in tree cavities. The downy chicks leap from the nest to the forest floor the day after hatching.


Female wood duck and her chicks
Female Wood Duck and Chicks


After October 15th hunting game like squirrel or rails will be closed. The only exception is archery deer hunting. Thanks for the question.

Will squirrel hunting still be allowed after October 15 at Duck Creek???

At this point we don’t have an exact number of the positions during the Youth Weekend.  We are still flooding up spots in Units A and B and we’ll have a better idea in the coming weeks. There isn’t a registry, but will have a draw like we do during the normal season. 

This wetland renovation has shuffled the deck and at times temporarily reduced access for different public uses. We’ve removed the ADA blinds from the edge of Pool 1, along with reducing traffic, to reduce the disturbance and increase its value as waterfowl refuge.  The past two years we haven’t had an ADA blind available because we didn’t just want to plunk a blind in any spot. We wanted to see how the reconfigured levees affected waterfowl use and provide a quality hunting experience for those that are disabled. This summer engineering plans for an ADA blind was drafted and we did some preliminary dirt work.  The plan is to do the rest of the work and get it completed next summer.  The blind will be located on the south corner of the hunting position 16 in Unit A.  This blind will be similar to the one on Columbia Bottoms CA. Thank you for your patience.

I would like to know the status of the handicap hunting situation at Duck Creek this year. Are you going to be able to provide a handicap blind and hunting area this season?

Do you know how many positions will be open for the youth waterfowl hunt at duck creek on the 23/24 of October? Is pre-registry required?

What is the status of having an ADA blind at Duck Creek? They went from having 2 for many years (one on each side of the lake), down to 1 and then none at all for the past few years...

We started work on some of these issues in 16, but will need to go back and finish it up next summer. For now we'll just need to be mindful of a couple spots as people go out in the field, which is what we did last year. Yes, we do have some corn food plots scattered around the hunting pools in Units A and B and some on the north end of Pool 2.

Teal numbers haven't been tallied as staff is in the midst of preparing for the big duck season.  I'll post the numbers when we get them in the next couple of weeks.

Any idea on teal harvest on duck creek? Thanks

I think this was asked in an earlier post regarding the deep burrows in pools 18 and 16, but have they been able to fill in some of those areas? and I saw on the preseason waterfowl reports that you guys have floodable crops this year, is that the case? thanks!

Thanks for your questions.  These seem to fall in line with a pre-season waterfowl hunting conditions post that we can do in October. However, I can quickly address some of your questions briefly right now, with more information to come at a later date.  Water levels in Pool 1 are definitely high enough to flood Pools 2 and 3 this fall without a threat to Pool 1’s fishery. Timing of flooding Pools 2 and 3 is partially tied to when the oak trees go dormant so flooding will be staged through November to minimize harm.  Pool 7 will be flooded similar to Pool 8 and will be largely dependent upon rainfall, so this will be probably closer to Thanksgiving depending upon local weather conditions. Greenbriar is looking different. The contractors have removed some woody debris and have been moving dirt here and there. As conditions have allowed they have been making good progress.  We’ll have more information for you on these questions in a couple weeks. Thanks.

Hi Frank. How is it going? I was wondering if you could tell us the current lake level in Pool 1? Any idea if and or when Pool 2 and Pool 3 will receive any water for the upcoming waterfowl season? And any info on when the new area Pool 7 will be huntable? What is the greenbriar unit looking like nowadays?

The acorn survey hasn't been done yet, but we'll let you know once it is. Thanks.

How does the acorn crop look this year?

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