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

Fences and Courtyards

Nests inside fences and courtyards offer special challenges. These nests are especially likely to hatch, since they are protected from predation, but now Ma is faced with the problem of leading her brood from the nest to the rearing pond.

Fences: If the fence is made of chain link or similar wire mesh, one would assume that Ma will fly over the fence and call the ducklings through. Unfortunately, studies have shown that it seldom works that way. In one study of predator exclosure fences, for instance, only 2 of 55 hens flew over the fence and coaxed the young through the mesh. Nature seems to have programmed the hen to lead them off on foot or not at all. In short, you need to provide an opening.

Wait until the nest hatches or is just about to hatch. Then, if you have a gate, open it. If it opens into the yard, consider taking it off of its hinges. Otherwise the open gate may deflect Ma and the brood back into the yard if they approach from the wrong direction If you don't have a gate, remove a couple of fence boards or loosen some of the bottom tie downs and lift the wire to create an opening approximately 10 inches high.

If you can predict which direction Ma is most likely to lead the brood, place the opening on that side of your yard...that is, if the likely brood pond is to the west, place the opening on the west side of your yard. With board fences, make the opening in a corner, again, closest to the predicted travel route. If you have made the exit on the side that you think she will use, but find that she is concentrating her search efforts somewhere else on the fence, give in and make an opening there....after all, it's her brood, and Ma knows best. Of course, you want to make sure that the opening will lead the brood to freedom, and not into the neighbor's fenced yard.

Finally, if all else fails and she still can't find her way out after half a day or so, enlist the kids or a few neighbors and see if you can gently haze her and the brood toward the opening.

Courtyards: Courtyards with gates are no different than a fenced yard, except that the higher walls of the buildings surrounding the courtyard may disorient the hen. Simply open the gate and give Ma a chance to lead the brood out. If she finds the gate on her own, fine. If not, gentle hazing may work.

The toughest of all situations are the ungated courtyards of hospitals, schools, and similar buildings. If the hen is highly habituated to humans, it may be possible to herd her and her brood into and through the building. Though ducklings can go down stairs easily enough, stairs may have to be covered with a plywood ramp to get the ducklings up into a building. Remember that the goal is to get Ma and the kids out as an intact family, so traffic in the building and courtyard will need to be controlled during the duckwalk.

If the hen is at all flighty, professional assistance will probably be needed to capture and remove the hen and her brood. Contact your state wildlife agency well in advance of the hatch date to see if they can offer any help or suggestions.

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