A Delta Hen House is a cylindrical nesting structure made of rolled wire mesh stuffed with flax straw and mounted on a pole over the water in semi-permanent wetlands to provide ducks with an elevated nesting location out of reach of predators such as skunks.
Hen Houses provide a safer place for ducks to nest, providing protection from predators that would raid nests, eat the eggs, and possibly kill the hen.
Delta Waterfowl began studying and installing Hen Houses in 1991 by placing them on small wetlands in southwestern Manitoba. Delta has more than 30 years of research and implementation experience with Hen Houses and has added hundreds of thousands of mallards to the fall flight.
Hen Houses are the most cost-efficient duck production tool to increase mallard nest success—which is the percentage of nests that hatch. Nest success is the key driver of duck production. Biologists estimate nest success of 15% to 20% is required just to maintain the current year’s duck population.
Delta deploys Hen Houses in wetland habitat areas that attract a high density of breeding mallards, but where nesting cover is scarce because of intensive farming. Generally, nest predation by mammals such as skunks and raccoons runs high in these areas. As a result, duck nest success is low, often less than 5%.
Research has shown that a mallard hen nesting in a Hen House is up to 12 times more likely to successfully hatch her eggs than a mallard nesting on the ground in nearby grass cover.
Nest success for mallards using a Hen House is typically 60% to 80%, and even higher in some areas of the prairie.
For the spring 2024 nesting season, Delta Waterfowl will have nearly 13,000 Hen Houses deployed throughout key duck breeding areas, with structures in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa.
Delta currently contracts with 30 Hen House delivery specialists who install new structures and maintain existing structures each winter in preparation for the spring duck breeding season. Using an innovative phone app developed by Delta Waterfowl program managers, the specialists also record usage rates.
Delta often deploys Hen Houses in clusters of 100 or more in a small geographic area. These efficiently designed “Supersites” help reduce fuel and labor costs to install and maintain structures, allowing us to produce more ducks.
Delta’s long-term duck production goal is to maintain 110,000 Hen Houses, which would add 250,000 mallards to every fall flight.