Ducklings and goslings are what we call “precocial” babies. That means that very soon after they hatch, they are able to walk around, swim, and eat on their own. They still need their parents to protect them from predators, teach them about the world, and keep them warm.

Baby water birds are covered in fluffy feathers called “down”. The down might be yellow, brown, greenish, black, or white. They all have webbed feet to help them swim.

If you don’t think the baby you’ve found is a duckling or gosling, go back to our species selection page.

If the duckling you’ve found has a bright orange beak and feet, it is probably not a wild duckling. Check out our page on helping domestic animals.

Is the duckling or gosling injured?

A fledgling baby duck or goose with any of the following signs is injured and needs medical attention:

  • There are obvious wounds or blood on its body
  • It has had contact with a cat – even with no obvious injuries, this is a medical emergency for baby birds
  • The bird is lying on its side and cannot right itself
  • It cannot stand, walk, or run
  • It is covered in bugs or insects
  • The bird feels cold to the touch when you pick it up
  • It is fluffy, looks “sleepy”, and doesn’t perk up or try to get away when you approach it.

Put the injured baby bird(s) in a cardboard box in a dark, quiet place. Put a heat source like a rice sock or warm water bottle in the box with them. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator right away.

Baby mallard

Baby Canada geese

What’s normal

Ducklings and goslings are what we call “precocial” babies. That means that very soon after they hatch, they are able to walk around, swim, and eat on their own. They still need their parents to protect them from predators, teach them about the world, and keep them warm. Their mother should ALWAYS be with them. For Canada geese, their dad is usually nearby as well.

Do you see the parents nearby?

Goslings and ducklings can sometimes get separated from their mother. Because their parents can’t count, they usually won’t come back for missing babies.  If the family group is still close by, though, it might be possible to get the baby back. Have a good look around — do you see any ducks or geese around with babies the same size? If the baby is healthy and active, and it’s just a case of getting it over a curb or around a barrier, see if you can get it back with its family.

If the baby can’t keep up with the family, or the family ignores it, or you can’t get it back with them, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice. 

Gosling with parent

The babies are with their mother, but I’m worried they’re in a dangerous situation

If the babies are with their parents but you’re concerned because they’re in a pool, on a road, in a courtyard, or in another dangerous spot, see our page on nuisance ducks and geese. It will help you figure out whether the family needs help, and how best to help them.

MYTH! If you touch a baby bird, its parents will not abandon it. Birds are excellent parents. All they want is their baby back.

I can’t find the parents anywhere

If the baby is found alone with no parents nearby, it should be considered an orphan. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice. In the meantime, put the baby in a cardboard box and make sure it has a heat source. Do not give it any food or water. Even though ducks and geese are water birds, they need their parents to keep them warm. Putting them in water — or giving them access to water — can cause them to go hypothermic, which can kill them. Further information on temporary care instructions can be found here.