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. Balcony planters or well-planted rooftop terraces look like great nesting spots to mallard ducks. If the nest is less than 2 storeys above ground, and there are no barriers more than 4 inches high to prevent the baby ducks from leaving, it’s probably 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 4 inches high, please contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice. If the ducklings have already hatched, provide them with finely cut up greens (e.g. dandelion, clover, or spinach) in a shallow pan of water (like a lasagna pan) and consider this an emergency.

Ducks intend to leave with their babies

Once the female mallard 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. Because the ducklings cannot fly until they are about two months old, they may be unable to jump safely from the roof to follow their mother. Generally newly hatched ducklings can fall about 2 storeys without hurting themselves, because they are so small and fluffy. If the nest is more than two storeys high, or there is a barrier more than 4 inches tall preventing the ducklings from jumping off, or you find any injured ducklings on the ground, please contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice.

Where will the ducks go if they leave on their own?

Once the ducklings have hatched, their mother will lead them to the closest water source—there’s usually one closer than you think, so check a satellite map if you aren’t sure! 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.

Can I do anything to help?

It’s generally best not to intervene during incubation, but once the babies hatch they might 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 move 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 off of the balcony.

Let people know

Put up signs to alert passersby or tape off a section of the balcony or terrace 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 on the balcony, think about making changes next year to discourage them from nesting again.

Change the landscape

Avoid planting shrubs, tall grasses, or trees that offer camouflage and make the balcony or terrace an attractive nesting spot for ducks – keep the area open and clear of hiding places. 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.

Orphaned ducklings

Ducklings found alone with no mother should always be considered orphaned. First, look around on the ground outside the building to make sure the mother isn’t waiting nearby. If you don’t see her, please contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately.