Every year wildlife rescues get many calls about ducks (usually mallards) nesting in gardens, on balconies, or even in hanging baskets. Householders are, understandably, concerned that there may not be sufficient food or water, or that the babies are vulnerable to cats and other predators.
Why do ducks nest in unsuitable places? #
During Spring, water bodies become very crowded and female ducks are subjected to a lot of ‘attention’ from the males. Consequently, females will often seek to hatch their eggs in quieter locations. Once the eggs hatch, Mum will walk them to a suitable body of water and raise them there.
Is this safe? #
Nesting high up, such as on a balcony or in a hanging basket, may not be a disaster. Many species of duck nest in trees and their babies then leap from the nest after hatching. As the ducklings are so small and light they can survive a considerable fall without damage. However, help may be needed if
- the nest is several stories up
- the nearby body of water is a garden pond or swimming pool
- the closest body of water is more than walking distance away, or
- getting to water involves crossing busy roads.
What action is needed? #
The first thing to note is that all wild bird’s nests are protected by law. Once a nest is in use, it is illegal to disturb them, even if well intentioned. If no nest has yet been prepared, it’s kindest in the long run to discourage the ducks from nesting anywhere unsuitable. Simply going out and flapping your arms to ‘shoo’ them away should do it.
If you’re too late and Mum lays her eggs, try to note when they are laid and contact a wildlife rescue to get them onboard as early as possible. They will be able to calculate when the eggs are likely to hatch and when intervention is needed. At this point it is illegal to try and deter Mum or to remove the eggs including so that they can be incubated elsewhere.
Once the eggs hatch, the babies will need access to food and water. If there isn’t any water nearby or there’s only a swimming pool or small pond, the family will definitely need to relocate and ideally within 24 hours. If you have a large pond then the timescales are more relaxed and a really big pond may even be enough to support the family – Mum will try to lead the family away if not.
If there is a body of water within walking distance, you may be able to accompany the family on their journey to it and make sure they get there safely. If not, they will need to be caught and relocated – it’s best to contact a rescue rather than trying to do this yourself. You could end up scaring Mum away and then the babies will have to be raised in captivity. If you are able, without disturbing them, a headcount of the ducklings will help the rescuer to ensure that they are all caught and none get left behind.