Put your eggs in a basket! 12th November 2020

Artificial nesting opportunities have been in use in the Netherlands for a long time, and braiding breeding baskets of willow or reed is an old craft. Breeding baskets are thought to improve breeding success of ducks by protecting them from predators, bad weather circumstances and mowing of ditches. 

By Anne ten Berge & Roderick Enzerink, Royal Dutch Hunters' Association
Photo by the Royal Dutch Hunters' Association

Efforts to boost the breeding success of Mallard in the Netherlands have been increased in 2020, Year of the Mallard. To better understand the effect of breeding baskets, the Royal Dutch Hunters’ Association has started a long-term research project.

2020: Year of the Mallard

Every year the Dutch Institute for Ornithology (SOVON) gives special attention to a certain species. They do this by declaring it the ‘year’ of said species. This is done to draw extra attention to a species and undertake research projects. In the Netherlands, 2020 is the Year of the Mallard.

Mallard is one of the most common waterfowl species in the Netherlands. However, there has been a decline in the number of breeding pairs since 1990. At present, the number of breeding pairs is the same as in the 1970s. This development is striking because the general trend in breeding pairs in Europe is stable or slightly increasing.

SOVON has stated that this decline is most likely due to low reproductive success. Nesting success data show that more than 60% of the natural nests do not successfully hatch at least one chick. The number of fledged chicks per nests is unknown, and this is being studied by SOVON. Research and public campaigns conducted during ‘the year of the mallard’ should close such knowledge gaps.

Breeding basket project

Dutch hunters have been placing breeding baskets for many years. Many experienced hunters state that these artificial nests improve the nesting success, but evidence remains anecdotal.

This is why the Royal Dutch Hunters’ Association has started a long-term study to gain insight into the number of nests being placed and to monitor the breeding success in these artificial nests. The study should determine whether breeding success is improved by using nesting baskets, and if so, by how much. It will also study the influence of date of placement and whether consecutive years of placement (ducks can get used to artificial nests) further improve nesting success.

Hunters and local hunting clubs were asked to place baskets at the start of this year and monitor them during the breeding season. After the breeding season, nesting results are reported back. The response has been overwhelming and insightful experiences were shared. A total of 680 nests were monitored last year. The upcoming season artificial nests are monitored again for this project.

Public awareness

Apart from the research goals, this study was used to raise public awareness of this method for providing nesting opportunity and the efforts that are made by hunters. A press release was released in newspapers, our association’s newsletter and in our magazine to provide information on the project.

Dutch hunters have a legal obligation to take good care of their hunting grounds and game numbers. Placing artificial nests is one of the ways in which they can do this. To increase the use of breeding baskets by hunters, the Royal Dutch Hunters’ Association provides hands-on information how to purchase/produce and place the baskets. This information will soon be shared in several languages by Waterfowlers' Network.

Below you can watch a film made by one of the Dutch hunters - enjoy!