If You Find An Orphaned Duckling

Thank you for intervening on behalf of this baby. The fact that you have taken the first step will help ensure that this baby may have an opportunity to survive. Like you, wildlife rehabilitators volunteer to help wildlife when assistance would not normally be available.

Ducklings may be orphaned for many reasons:

  • Late hatching
  • Became separated or too weak during walk back to water after hatching
  • Injured
  • Human, pet or predator interference.

Important information about orphaned ducklings

  1. Ducklings are defenseless.  A duckling can not survive on its own without its mother’s warmth and protection. Lone, orphaned ducklings quickly fall prey to the elements, other ducks, turtles, and egrets/herons.
  2. Ducklings can die from cold (hypothermia) even if the outdoor temperature is warm. Until they are several weeks old (once they begin growing feathers on their breast), ducklings can not generate their own body temperature without mom nearby for warmth,
  3. Ducklings can drown. Until they grow feathers, ducklings get their waterproofing ability from the oils on mom’s feathers. Ducklings should never be placed in water.
  4. Ducklings can die within 24 hours from lack of proper nutrition. An improper diet can rapidly lead to hypoglycemia. A very young duckling that is staggering or appears “drunk” is hypoglycemic and will die unless it is provided with some source of sugar. Dextrose or a small amount of table sugar mixed with water can be smeared onto the duckling’s tongue. It should respond to the sugar within 20-30 minutes. This is a temporary fix and the problem will continue to happen unless the duckling receives the proper diet and nutrition.
  5. Ducklings can die from overhandling. The majority of the organs in their abdomen are not protected by skeletal structure and can easily be bruised or damaged due to overhandling.  Children should not handle ducklings.
  6. Other ducks can kill ducklings.  Other ducks will not adopt lone ducklings (and may attempt to harm or even drown them), so never attempt to place them with another mother, or try to guess who mom is.
    1. Ducks identify their ducklings by voice.  If you are holding a duckling that is ‘peeping’, its mother should immediately come running up in protest.  Other ducks may vocalize because of the baby’s distress calls, but its mother will be louder and will come closer to try to retrieve her duckling.
Lone or orphaned ducklings require rehabilitation. Orphaned ducklings should be rehabilitated with ducklings of similiar age and size.  All wild ducks ducklings are federally protected birds and must be reared by a permitted wildlife rehabilitator.  Please contact a Wildlife Rehabilitator immediately by phone. Please do not rely on email because most rehabilitators do not routinely access their computers. Visit Emergency Care for information on how to keep this duckling warm and safe until you can transport to a rehabilitator.

Category: Waterfowl Info Wildlife Information