Mallard ducks are good at choosing nesting sites, even if sometimes these sites are hard for us to understand.
Ducks often nest in seemingly strange areas—backyards with barking dogs, on cement islands in the middle of parking lots, and in courtyards frequented by crowds of children. Mallards like sheltered spaces with a lot of vegetation, where the female can stay safe and camouflaged while she incubates her eggs. The spot is usually within 2 or 3 km of a pond, stream, lake, or river.
Leave duck nests alone
Mallard ducks are federally protected, so moving the nest is illegal without a permit. Even more importantly, a duck will not recognize her nest if it is moved even a few feet. A relocated nest will be abandoned.
Be patient and the ducks will leave
Once the female mallard starts sitting on the eggs, they will hatch in about 30 days. All of the babies hatch at the same time, and are able to walk within hours of hatching. The mother duck will lead her new family away from the nest area, usually to the closest stream, river, pond, or lake.
Ducks build their nests near water
There’s usually a stream, lake, pond, or river closer than you think, so check a satellite map if you aren’t sure! Remember that the mother duck surveys the area from the air, so her choice may not be obvious. The duck might lead her babies 2–3 kilometers from their nest site to her chosen spot. This can be a dangerous journey for them, but it’s a normal part of their development.
Plan ahead to discourage nesting ducks in the future
If you want to prevent ducks from nesting in the yard, think about making changes next year to discourage them from nesting again.
Change the landscape
Planting shrubs, tall grasses, or trees can break up the sightlines and make the yard a less attractive nesting spot for ducks. Scare devices such as eye-spot balloons, coloured flags, or garbage bags tied to sticks can be very effective if you set them up just before nesting season and move them around frequently.
Be a nuisance
Physically getting outside and chasing the duck away while she’s still scouting the territory (but before there are eggs in the nest) can help convince her to find a better spot.
To learn more about mallard ducks, their nesting behaviour, and their life history, check out allaboutbirds.org.