For decades deer hunters have manipulated forests and fields to enhance the habitat. Food plots are part of their overall plan. Various seed plantings help produce abundant forage for deer in wildlife openings. This simple process has provided ample hunting opportunities. Many duck hunters may not realize that wetland creation is not much different. A little more planning will be required in creating duck hunting habitat that will attract ducks from any direction. The extra effort will be worth it in the form of many successful hunts throughout the season.
It is important in establishing wetland habitat for ducks to be diverse. The life cycle, growth, nesting brooding and food availability are all critical for survival of waterfowl. Ducks engage in high-energy activities and quality food sources are important.
Creating a wetland for waterfowl habitat doesn’t have to be complex. Simple ponds, flooded marshes and timber tracts can provide the necessary resources for waterfowl from season to season. Landowners and duck hunters have several options to create or improve wetland habitat.
Wetland Creation – Building a Duck Pond
Landowners building a pond or lake for waterfowl may want to consider making it multipurpose. The water impoundment could be used for ducks and for fishing. The planning and construction would need to be modified so both goals could be accomplished.
Selecting a location for the pond is the first step in the planning for wetland creation. This includes determining the size and shape of the pond. A water source like creek or small stream would ensure a continuous supply of fresh water.
“Before starting construction on a duck pond, landowners should have the soil tested to verify the ability to hold water,” advises Seth Maddox, Migratory Game Bird Coordinator with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF).
Maddox also mentions that if the site location is already part of an established wetland, a permit would be required from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
There are several companies that specialize in the construction of lakes, ponds and dams. Choose one that is certified and bonded when creating duck hunting habitat.
Maddox mentions that the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division provides technical assistance to private landowners free of charge. They enjoy getting out and helping landowners create or improve waterfowl habitat on their property. Contact Maddox at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When building the lake or pond the bank or shoreline should not have a steep drop off. A shallow or gradual slope will help waterfowl transgress the water when feeding. The topsoil should be saved. After excavating return the topsoil. There are seeds waiting to germinate.
“In lakes that will be used for both fishing and for waterfowl habitat, a gradient is better,” Maddox advised. “The pond should be deep on one end and shallow on the other.”
Most ducks are dabblers and prefer shallow water to feed. Teal only need a few inches, just enough to set down on the water. For other ducks 6 to 18 inches of water depth is sufficient and 24 inches should be the max for most waterfowl to feed.
Creating duck hunting Habitat – How Much does it Cost?
When creating Duck hunting habitat, costs can vary tremendously depending on the scope of work to be completed. You may be surprised to learn that creating duck hunting habitat can be considered a land improvement and can be eligible for financing. Before construction on the lake or pond is ready to begin, landowners should contact a lender that is experienced in financing rural property and understands how improvements enhance the value of property. One such lender is First South Farm Credit. They can help not only with financing the land improvements but also the equipment needed to improve and maintain your rural property.
“Based on the equity in the property we finance ponds, lakes and improvements to the property,” advises Frank Loftis, First South Division Vice President. “We can look at the property on a case-by-case basis to determine financing available for the landowner.”
Loftis further mentions “There are many aspects to financing rural property and each case is different. Just know that in addition to lending money for the purchase of rural property that may include good duck hunting habitat, First South can finance the land improvement needs that are often associated with these type properties.”
Creating Duck Hunting Habitat – Moist-Soil Management Techniques
Another method of wetland creation is “moist-soil” management. This system began back in the 1940s when it was introduced in the Illinois River Valley. The method is similar to natural wetland management, but on a smaller scale.
“The moist-soil management process is using water, natural seed banks and manipulated soils to promote germination of desired plants,” Maddox mentioned. “It is both an art and a science.”
While many landowners provide conventional grown agricultural crops for waterfowl, the moist-soil management goes a step further. The planted crops do meet some nutritional needs with carbohydrates, there are other nutrient needs.
Maddox commented that wintering waterfowl require natural vegetation and invertebrates(insects). The natural food sources provide amino acids for fat and calcium for egg production.
Creating a moist-soil management area is relatively simple. The most critical factor is water control. The area will need to be flooded in the late autumn to early winter months. During the spring, the area is drained, and the soil allowed to dry out.
The size of the moist-soil management area can range from around one-half acre upwards to 100 acres or more depending on how much land the owners wants to allocate. Generally, an area should have about 50 percent open water. A size of around 5 to 10 acres should be enough to start.
The key is good water control structures,” Maddox said. “Good water control can save a lot of headaches and backaches.”
There are several different types of water control structure to employ during wetland creation. A screw gate valve operates by turning a handle or wheel on a large screw to open and close a valve or gate to hold or release water. Screw gates can be somewhat expensive and difficult to install. But they are easy to operate.
A water board gate is operated by adding or removing boards inside a drain box located in the middle of a dam or levee. Board gates can be difficult to install but are easy to operate.
Moist-soil management areas only require a few inches of water to be effective. Water depth of around five to eighteen inches is sufficient. The key is being able to control the water depth.
“The landowner may want to flood an area of hardwoods,” Maddox commented. “This would be beneficial to wood ducks and mallards.”
In the spring the water level is drawn down and the trees are not harmed. For successful moist-soil management water is left in the wetland until the danger of frost has past and growing season begins.
Wetland Creation – Manipulation of Moist-Soil Management Locations
In some areas the landowner may want to manipulate the soil to enhance plant growth and establish a natural food source. To enhance moist-soil plant species, disking, mowing or burning are methods to employ during wetland creation. This disturbance does not have to be done every year.
“Annual plants are the most desired species,” Maddox reported. “These include wild millets, sedges, bidens, panic grasses, sprangletop and annual smartweed.”
Maddox pointed out that the timing of water drawdown is tied to the general plant response. Early season drawdowns produce smartweeds. While mid-season drawdowns contribute to grasses and millets.
Other food sources can be planted in the late spring and summer months then flooded in the fall. Favorite duck foods include corn, Japanese Millet, grain sorghum, chufa and rice. Make certain the soil is dry enough before venturing into the area with tractor or other equipment.
Soil disturbance can also create the growth of undesirable weeds and woody plants. These can be controlled by mowing, herbicides or flooding.
Moist-soil management is a simple and cost-effective method to enhance waterfowl habitat. All types of ducks and other wildlife can benefit from wetland creation. So take a look around your place, you may be just a few steps away from many more successful hunts next season.