Make Way for Ducklings: What To Do When You Find a Nest in Your Backyard

What would you do if you discovered a mother duck incubating a nest full of eggs in your fenced-in backyard?

One Newton family found themselves in just such a situation when a mallard (dubbed “Quackie” by five-year-old Dylan) laid a clutch of eggs right beside their back door.

A Female Mallard sitting on her nest beside a back doorstep

Quackie chose a sheltered corner of the yard by the back door to lay her clutch of eggs.

Initially, they were concerned that their golden retriever, Quincy, would bother the new neighbor, but the gentle bird dog, described fondly as “descended from stuffed animals,” showed no interest in Quackie.

But they foresaw a larger issue. Their home is a mile from the nearest body of water, with a busy road in between, and they worried that Quackie would need human intervention to transport her hatchlings to a safe location. They did some research and learned that mallard eggs are incubated for 27-28 days, leaving them about three weeks to make a plan.

A nest of 13 mallard eggs

Quackie will incubate her clutch of eggs for 27-28 days.

What to do?

Should they call Animal Control to transport mother and eggs to a water source? Or wait until the eggs hatch? How should the birds be moved? And where to bring them?
They reached out to Mass Audubon where Joan Walsh, Director of Bird Monitoring, and Marj Rines, of Mass Audubon’s Wildlife Information Line, delivered the answers they needed.

“I always say,” Joan explained, “that these are professional birds, and while we think we know what’s best, really, they do.”

Marj added that it’s not uncommon for ducks to lead their hatchlings for more than a mile to their pre-chosen body of water. Relocating her to the wrong spot could inadvertently make her job harder.

Marj stressed that it’s important NOT to feed Quackie while she’s incubating. Food can attract predators that find duck eggs a tasty treat. Quackie goes off to feed twice a day on her own, a ritual that is actually called recess! Joan walked the family through the hatching process, which can take a couple of days from first cracks to when they leave the nest.

In the end, they all decided it would be best to let nature take its course, perhaps opening a gate once the eggs start to hatch. As a last resort, the family may need to marshal a Make Way for Ducklings-style parade to help with any road crossings or obstacles.

We’re looking forward to an update on Quackie’s progress sometime around May 9-12, 2016!

Quackie incubating her eggs

Quackie poses for an adorable close-up.


UPDATE 5/10/16

Quackie’s eggs hatched on the morning of Sunday, May 8—a wonderful Mother’s Day surprise! The following morning, Quackie led the very antsy chicks away to a nearby water source. A well-placed “Duck Cam” caught the nest departure in action; get ready for some serious cuteness:

We’re wishing Quackie the Mallard and all her hatchlings the best of luck!

For more on what to do if you find a duck nest in an enclosed space, visit our website for Duck Situations & Solutions.

This entry was posted in Stuff We Love on by .

About Ryan D.

Where: Mass Audubon Headquarters, Lincoln | Who: A Vermont ex-pat, lifelong skier, musician, photographer, motorcycle enthusiast, budding native plant gardener, and pun master | Favorite part of the job: Working with wonderful colleagues to make nature accessible to everyone

25 thoughts on “Make Way for Ducklings: What To Do When You Find a Nest in Your Backyard

  1. Cindy Halverstadt

    We’ve had a momma duck sitting on a nest of eggs in our backyard for about a month. It is directly behind our pool in our backyard. Not sure what we should do when the ducklings hatch. Afraid they will end up in our pool sweep. There is a small body of water just down the street but we don’t know how to help them get there. We are in northern California. Any advice?

    Reply
  2. Patty

    My daughter has a duck nest in her back yard. The yard is completely fenced with no opening large enough for mama or ducklings to get out. When the time comes, should we help move the family to the other side of the fence?

    Also, she has two dogs. Should we fence off an area around the nest?

    Reply
    1. Ms Potato Head in Idaho

      I’m surprised that there’s not a gate or anything?! I would think I would want to fence off that area so the dogs couldn’t get to it.
      And honestly, if there’s not a gate I’d probably just take a fence post or 3 off when the time comes (keeping dogs in at that point) and reattach them after they depart. But I have a wooden cedar fence, as required in my subdivision.
      I just had to open the gate and let out a mama and ducklings this morning, that had just hatched yesterday it seems! But I only had to make sure that my mostly indoor cats didn’t notice or go over there, which they apparently never did
      It is not legal apparently to move or trap or do anything with a mallard duck or its nest or any contents including its feathers apparently, without a permit!
      Per https://www.fws.gov/cno/conservation/MigratoryBirds/pdf-files/Ducks-in-pool-4-27-18.pdf
      I found this page and post because after the ducklings hatched and they walked around the yard, they hung out under my portable fire pit until they left this morning, so sometime in the last 24 hours she laid two more eggs there!
      So I’m trying to figure out what I can and cannot do or should or should not do with these 2 eggs. Because I’m sure she’s not coming back for them now that she’s busy with these ducklings and can’t sit on them.

      Reply
      1. Bernadine Boyett

        Hi Ms. Potato Head,

        I currently have a female mallard duck and two males that started visiting our pool everyday. She laid an egg two days ago next to our pool behind a fence we put up to keep the baby rabbits that nested in our yard from drowning in the pool. There is only one egg so far. She doesn’t sit on the egg, but she does attend to the nest, moving the egg and covering it with debris. I’m thinking that she is laying eggs some where else, and she doesn’t intend on sitting on this nest. I’m not sure what to do with the egg. I was thinking that we leave it alone for a week or so, and if she doesn’t lay any more eggs, simply dispose of it. I’m not sure how long the egg will remain viable. Have you found out any more information regarding abandoned eggs?

        Thanks!

        Reply
        1. Gayle Fitzpatrick

          I had a similar situation last year. Leave the egg alone. She will continue to lay eggs and when she’s done she will sit on her next. She will leave occasionally to get food. We had a total of 12 eggs last year.

          Reply
        2. Ryan D. Post author

          Hi Bernadine: The female typically only lays one egg a day, so it’s possible she simply hasn’t finished yet. Your idea of leaving it for a week makes sense, and then you can dispose of it. With any luck, you’ll find more eggs as the days progress!

          Reply
  3. P Kozak

    My daughter has a duck nest in her back yard. The yard is completed fenced with no opening large enough for mama or ducklings to get out. When the time comes, should we help move the family to the other side of the fence?

    Also, she has two dogs. Should we fence off an area around the nest?

    Reply
  4. Ana

    There is a pair of ducks coming to our back yard, male and female and I am very excited if she will lay eggs here. What is the best thing to do? I give them food and water when they come (I usually have for birds)
    I set a pot with dirt in case she needs it but its not surrounded by plants.
    Should I get tall plants and put them around them and should I get nesting pads?

    I so excited if they do lay eggs and want to put everything they need 🙂
    Thank you!!

    Reply
    1. Hillary T.

      The duck will decide where to lay her eggs regardless of how inviting you might make it. If she does decide to nest in your yard, don’t put out food near the nest as it could attract predators.

      Reply
      1. Ms Potato Head in Idaho

        Yes
        That’s what this article that we are commenting on said and it makes sense:

        Marj stressed that it’s important NOT to feed Quackie while she’s incubating. Food can attract predators that find duck eggs a tasty treat. Quackie goes off to feed twice a day on her own, a ritual that is actually called recess!

        Reply
  5. Alana Hernandez

    I have a duck in a shed with a hole in the roof and she is sitting on eggs and I don’t see a way for the little ducks to get out so I’m researching what to do online and came upon your story..🙃 very cute… SO GLAD THERE ARE OTHER HUMANS OUT THERE THAT CARE FOR ANIMALS TOO✌️

    Reply
    1. Ms Potato Head in Idaho

      Any day now (if they haven’t already hatched) you’ll have to leave the door open for them to get out. I’m sure you already figured that out!
      So exciting!
      A mama and her newly-hatched ducklings (the dad was here today too) left my yard today. 😊

      Reply
  6. Dawn

    I have a clutch of 8 now on my bank under a Bush. Water a man made pond about a mile away and I’m enclosed with 6 foot walls. Would it help the babies to offer a Dough Boy pool until they can fly.?? I’m a worried animal lover with 2 small dogs!!

    Reply
  7. Robyn Buck

    We have a momma and her 9 eggs by our mailbox. She and hubby are found in my swimming pool every morning. I don’t want 9 ducklings there as well! What should I do?

    Reply
    1. Hillary T.

      It’s illegal to tamper with the nest in any way. It’s most likely that when the eggs hatch the mother will lead them out of your yard right away. If the ducklings do end up in the pool, create a ramp from the edge of the pool to the water for the ducklings to use for escape.

      Reply
  8. Gary Laura

    Hi.. we have a duck who layed 8 eggs by my front door last week. Last night my wife heard the duck quack and went to by the door to check on her and there was a fox trying to get at her. My wife scared the fox away but we are certain it will be returning probably tonight..We did see the mother this morning so thankfully she was not harmed. Anything we can do?

    Reply
  9. Nancy

    We have a duck nest with 6 eggs
    She leaves the nest all night with out covering them
    She leaves in the afternoon for about 2 hours and then about 9 pm and comes back about 7 am. Is that normal

    Reply
    1. Reilly

      Yes! That means the mama duck is still laying eggs. She will not start to lay on the eggs around the clock until the last egg is layed!

      Reply
  10. Gayle Fitzpatrick

    a duck is nesting outside the back door of our Apt. building. We are near a river. The landscapers came and used a leaf blower and I guess she got scared. This happened about an hour ago and she still hasn’t returned. How long will the eggs be ok.

    Reply
  11. Susan Gadwa-Pruitt

    4/10/2020. A momma duck laid eggs behind our front yard fountain. We do not have any water nearby. What will happen to the ducklings?!?
    BTW I’m in So Cal.

    Reply
  12. carol donnelly

    We knew some ducks were around yesterday cause we found droplings around pool. Today the Mallard and Drake have been here sleeping on grass, eating and swimming in pool. I’m afraid they are planning to mate. If they have ducklings how do they get them to water other then our pool?

    Reply
  13. Mona Lotinbed

    Tee hee. once I remember seeing a family of ducks crossing the street and seeing a car waiting for them to cross the street so hopefully the quackies will be dandy. Recently I’ve seen a duck twice in our neighbor’s yards next to us and across the street. I’m guessing that we’ll have quackies here soon too

    Reply

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