duck nest tube
duck nest tube

What’s in the nest?

With reports of ducklings hatching out across the country, now is the perfect time to monitor any duck nest tubes you may have installed.

It’s fair to say that the weather we have received so far this spring hasn’t been the kindest, and the effects on our wildlife – including quarry species – will soon be apparent. A change in conditions may offer a glimmer of hope for many species that are yet to breed, but some wildfowl including mallard duck, will have already attempted to nest. 

Many have been exposed to the rising water levels and bad weather that we have recently seen. These conditions are far from ideal for the UK’s resident mallard duck population, especially since we have seen a decline in their numbers over the past 20 years.

As a ground nesting species, mallard and their nests are vulnerable in such conditions. Add to that the risk of predation and disturbance and low hatching success rates are likely to be a contributing factor in population declines. 

Wild nests are difficult to monitor, and to understand the impacts of environmental challenges on nesting success rates, we need as much data as possible to monitor breeding success.

Duck nest tubes to the rescue

In 2021, the duck nest monitoring project was founded by the Waterfowlers’ Network, an international partnership made up of hunting organisations from across Europe. The project is dedicated to the conservation of wild ducks such as mallards across the flyway. It involves installing artificial nesting structures and monitoring the breeding success of the species that use them.

Aimed at mallard, the success of the project heavily relies on both the installation of nesting structures in appropriate sites and data being recorded and reported back. The data element is vital to help to understand which management practices are most likely to have a positive impact on the breeding success of resident mallard.

two ducklings

Monitoring your duck next tubes

Mallard can breed all year round, but many start to nest early in the year, so now is the time to start checking on any nest tubes you may have installed. Below are a few tips on how to do this successfully.

  • Maintenance – any repairs to your nest tubes should have already been done, including adding new bedding material and cover. If the nest tubes are not currently occupied, make renovations a priority so that any resident mallard duck still looking to nest can take advantage of the tube.
  • Monitoring – when monitoring any nest sites, try to do this from as far away as possible to avoid any disturbance. Using binoculars will allow you to see if a nest tube is occupied without needing to get too close. The use of a wildlife camera, if available, is also a great way of remotely monitoring any nest structures and positively identifying the species using them.
  • Leave your pets at home – disturbance from both humans and pets is a known contributing factor in the success of nesting birds. If you’re going to check your nest tubes it’s best to keep any pets away from these sites during nesting season. You can also encourage others to avoid the area, too, by placing signs.
  • Habitat management – if nest sites are known to be in use, it’s advisable to delay or keep any management activity in the area to a minimum to avoid unnecessary disturbance.
  • Predator control – providing legal and effective predator control against corvids, rats and mink will not only offer extra protection for nests and sitting birds, it will also help to reduce the chance of predation once the ducklings leave the nest. Before doing so, check the relevant general licence and be aware of any regulation changes when using rodenticides.
  • Record and report – all data is essential, including any failed nesting attempts. This helps build an accurate picture of nesting success across different sites. While the project is aimed at collecting data on resident mallard, we also have seen other bird species using nest tubes which is also very useful to know. If you’re unsure on anything, please take pictures and send them to us here so we can help you report your data correctly.
  • Plan ahead – if a nest tube has not been used for a number of consecutive years, look for other potential areas of where to re-site it and plan ahead for when you will look to move it.

To report your duck nest tube data, download our annual update report, or just to learn more about how the duck nest monitoring project and why it is important, head to our dedicated page here.