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Help...There's a Duck Nest in My Flower Pot!

But What Can I Do if "Ma" Abandons the Nest

My advice: accept it. After you are sure that she has truly abandoned (3-4 days absence) remove the nest and discard the eggs. Do it before Tommy Jr. decides to heave one at Cathy Jane.

This may seem harsh, but there are good reasons. First is the basic fact that in nature, only about 15% of all nests need to hatch to maintain a mallard population. Many urban mallard populations are far larger than the area can sustain without risking mass mortality due to disease. If the nest fails, Ma will simply go off and try again. Use the experience to teach the kids that nature is not as benign as some TV nature shows would have them believe.

Second is the fact that by the time you can be absolutely sure that Ma has abandoned an incubated nest, the embryos already will have perished. This, of course, does not apply if the nest was abandoned during laying.

Third is the low likelihood that your hand-hatched ducklings will survive when released. Ma leads them to a suitable food supply, broods them in adverse weather, and alerts them to danger. Without her, very young ducklings released in the wild have little chance of survival. It seems far more humane to let an undeveloped embryo expire than to sentence a sentient duckling to an uncertain future with high probability of slow and painful death.

Fourth, if you elect to hand-rear the birds to a more advanced age before turning them loose, you are now putting out ducks that are both socially and biologically maladapted. Sure, they may have a somewhat better chance of surviving than they would if they were released as day-old birds, but their long-term survival is still low compared to naturally-reared birds, and now they have imprinted on man as well. Not a good scene! Downright ugly if they imprinted on your pet rottweiler.

Finally, waterfowl eggs and ducklings are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Their possession by unauthorized persons is a violation of federal law. Your state may also have laws governing possession of wild birds. In view of the legalities involved, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center will not provide information on incubation or captive rearing.

One novel approach that I've been questioned on along these lines is: "How about if I take the eggs and put them in another duck nest that I know of?" Assuming that your pet clutch is viable, this sounds reasonable. But as usual, it ain't that simple. If you don't overwhelm the foster hen by suddenly doubling the size of her clutch, the fostering will work only if the two clutches are at exactly the same stage of incubation. If not, Foster Ma will leave the nest with the first clutch that hatches, and leave the remaining eggs to perish. So you haven't gained a thing, except to put the foster nest at risk of abandonment.

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