Ducks choose their nesting site
Mallard ducks are good at choosing nesting sites, even if sometimes these sites are hard for us to understand. Mallards like sheltered spaces with a lot of vegetation, where the female can stay safe and camouflaged while she incubates her eggs. Underused, well-planted courtyards look like great nesting spots to mallard ducks. If the nest is less than 2 storeys above the ground, the courtyard is not fully enclosed, and there are no barriers more than a foot high to prevent the babies from leaving, it might be a normal situation.
Sometimes ducks don’t think ahead
Sometimes ducks don’t think ahead, and nest in places that their babies won’t be able to fly out or off of. If the nest is in a completely enclosed courtyard, OR more than 2 storeys above ground, OR has a barrier around it more than a foot high, please contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice. If the ducklings have already hatched, provide them with a shallow pan of water and consider this an emergency.
Ducklings might be trapped
Once the female starts sitting on the eggs, they will hatch in about 30 days. Baby mallards can walk within hours of hatching, and the mother will try to lead her new family away from the nest area to the closest water source. Because the ducklings cannot fly until they are about two months old, they will be unable to fly out of the courtyard to follow their mother. Please contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice.
Can I do anything to help?
It’s generally best not to intervene during incubation, but once the babies hatch they will definitely need help. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator before they hatch to make a plan for the big day!
In the meantime, there are a few things you can do:
Don’t touch the nest
Mallard ducks are federally protected, so moving the nest is illegal without a permit. A duck will not recognize her nest if it is moved even a few feet, let alone out of the courtyard.
Let people know
Put up signs to alert passersby or tape off a section of the courtyard to keep the duck safe and calm while she’s waiting for her eggs to hatch.
Don’t feed the ducks
It’s normal for a female mallard not to eat for the entire incubation period—she fattens up beforehand to prepare. Leaving food or water out for the adult duck will only attract predators like raccoons or opossums, putting the nest in danger. Once the ducklings have hatched, feeding them unnatural food like bread can cause problems with their growing bones and feathers.
If the ducklings have already hatched, it is okay to offer the babies a shallow pan of water they can easily get in and out of. Finely chop up some clover, dandelion greens, or spinach, and float it in the water for them to nibble at. Call a wildlife rehabilitator immediately if you don’t already have a rescue plan.
Plan ahead to discourage nesting ducks in the future
If you want to prevent ducks from nesting in the courtyard, 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 courtyard 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.
Ducklings found alone with no mother should always be considered orphaned. First, look around outside the building with the courtyard to make sure the mother isn’t waiting nearby. If you don’t see her, please contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately