When mallards begin nesting, they select a safe, seclude spot to hatch their eggs. An enclosed courtyard seems like the ideal location because few predators can enter and the ducks can fly in and out easily. However the ducks fail to recognize that this perfect spot will also be a trap for their ducklings, who won't be able to fly out for 2-3 months. Without a replenishing supply of fresh food and water, the ducklings won't survive until they are capable of flying out on their own. Often, human assistance is needed to provide a guided escort of mom and ducklings to the outside world.
Discourage Ducks Before Nesting Begins
If your school experiences an annual duck hatch AND you would prefer this not occur, you must begin harrassment methods to discourage the ducks before nesting begins.
Once Nesting Has Begun
If nesting has already begun, it is a violation of federal law to disturb the eggs, nests, or raise ducklings of all wild ducks without first obtaining the necessary permits. Therefore it is recommended that school personnel contact the VBSPCA when an active nest is evident inside a courtyard and allow the ducklings to hatch. The VBSPCA Wildlife volunteers will advise and may assist in the guiding the duck and ducklings to their preferred waterbody. Direct assistance is dependent on volunteer availability. It is our goal to keep waterfowl families together so that the ducklings can be raised naturally in the wild.
If a wild duck has begun to lay eggs in a nest she will lay an egg approximately every 20 hours and will only be at the nest around the time she is ready to lay an egg. ONLY when she is finished laying will she begin to incubate the eggs around the clock. This is so that all will hatch at the same time. She will leave for brief intervals to get food and water. Mallards typically lay 8 - 10 eggs before beginning incubation. Muscovy ducks can lay 12 - 18 eggs but as many as 30 eggs have been reported. Incubation lasts from 21 - 28 days. A baby can take up to 24 hours to complete hatching. Please have someone check on the mother duck daily to see if she is incubating the eggs. If this is done daily it will be possible to predict when they will begin to hatch. A week before you know the eggs will begin hatching, please call the Vbspca Wildlife Referral Phone Line 263-4762 to for advice or to see whether a volunteer if available to assist in guiding the ducks.
Identify Nearby Waterbody
Please watch the female as she flies out of the courtyard to see which direction she is flying. This information will be helpful in identifying their preferred waterbody. This information is critical because she will only return to the location where her mate is waiting. The female and the ducklings need his protection for survival. If guided to the wrong waterbody, the female and ducklings will be vulnerable to predators and other aggressive waterfowl, and she will still attempt to walk her ducklings to the correct location which increases their exposure to danger.
When all the eggs have hatched it is extremely important to have a count of the ducklings so that all can be accounted for as the family is transitioned from the courtyard. It is also important to cover any storm drains in the courtyard once the ducklings have begun hatching. Anything large enough to cover the drain (cardboard, construction paper, lunch trays) and weighted down with bricks or rocks will prevent babies from falling down the drain. This is a temporary measure which can be removed once the family has been relocated.
Food And Water
The ducklings are most fragile during their first two weeks. If the duck and ducklings are allowed to remain in the courtyard, a fresh water source and Egg Maker Crumbles must be provided.
Videos demonstrating a guided release used by other schools:
In this video, the videographer is herding the family towards exterior doors. He is maintaining the proper distance to prevent distressing the ducks. It is preferable that the exterior doors already be opened before the family arrives.
In this video, the videographer is walking too closely, too quickly, and distressing the mom and ducklings. Staying at least 10 feet away during a slow herding is ideal. Again, the exterior doors should already be opened before the family approaches. Once inside, the family will move towards areas of natural light. Bed sheets can also be used to deter the ducks from taking a wrong turn. This nice part about this video is that the ducklings were allowed to stay 4 weeks. At that age, they are not flighted but are fully feathered and have a better chance at survival.
When Should This Occur
Ideally, this activity should occur before or after school hours or on a weekend, with the least amount of onlookers as possible. If the ducks' preferred waterbody is not adjacent to the school or the ducks will have to cross streets, it is ideal to have 2 chaperones present to accompany the duck family's walk to water.