Urban Mallards

A pair of mallards — where they belong
Photo by James Kenney

It is a common and somewhat harrowing sight to see a duck leading a string of ducklings across a busy road or through the middle of a highly urbanized area.

Many of the calls we receive during the spring and early summer are from people who want to know “Why are they here?” and “How can I help them?” The following are some answers to the most common spring waterfowl questions:

A duck is incubating eggs in my backyard, parking lot, porch, balcony, etc. How long will she be here?

Mallards incubate their eggs between 26-30 days. Males typically desert after the first week of incubation, and the female is left to complete the process and raise the young.

Mallard ducklings are precocial, meaning that they are able to feed and move about on their own within minutes of hatching. They are, however, dependant on the mother for guidance, protection and waterproofing. She will typically lead them to appropriate habit within a day of hatching, and they remain with her for 42-60 days.

Why do mallards sometimes nest far from water?

Mallards look for nesting locations away from likely predators. In urban environments this may include raccoons, coyotes, dogs and cats. Urban parks are typically over-populated with ducks, and females may also look for nesting locations away from drakes (male ducks) that may attempt to copulate with them even after egg laying. It is not uncommon for ducks to nest as far as a mile from water.

What should I do if I see a mallard with ducklings?

Once the young hatch, mallards will lead their young to water. Sometimes this requires traversing a hazardous route. It may require crossing roads. Although it is tempting to try and “rescue” the ducklings, it is important to allow the mother to continue to care for her own young.

Attempts to capture the young and transport them to “safer” locations frequently cause the mother to “spook” and fly away. Ducklings will often scatter and can be very difficult to catch. Although well meaning, attempts to interfere usually make a bad situation even worse.

What should I do if I find a lost or abandoned duckling?

Ducklings frequently become separated from their mothers. If the mother is believed to be nearby, it is best to leave the duckling alone. It will “peep” and alert the mother to its whereabouts.

If the mother has been spooked and has left her ducklings behind, they can be gathered and placed into a cardboard box with the top open to the sky. She will usually circle back shortly to relocate her ducklings.

If there are ducklings known to be orphaned, please contact an appropriate care center.

What should I do if I find an injured or malformed duckling?

Ducks typically have between 8-10 young. Most of those will not survive to adulthood. Birth defects and developmental problems are common in ducklings.

Those that are not thriving are left behind so that the mother can focus on those with the best chance. Injured ducklings can be brought to a wildlife care center. However, these types of problems are typically not “fixable” and deformed and badly injured ducklings are usually euthanized.

Why do the males attack the females?

“Drake Rape” is a common occurrence in urban parks. Several males may attempt to copulate with a single female at the same time. Oftentimes this leads to injuries along the neck, back and legs.

In extreme cases it can lead to death from either trauma or drowning. This behavior is associated with over-crowding and it is exacerbated by the fact that the large domestic ducks that are often found in parks are bred for food rather than for survival and are not built to escape.

Why is there so much color variation in our park mallards?

Many ducks found in parks are abandoned domestic ducks (and their offspring) that have been bought at pet and feed stores and then released into the wild.

Releasing domestic ducks into the wild is illegal and punishable by both fines and jail sentences. It is also inhumane as these ducks typically have a difficult time surviving and exacerbate the over-population problems that already exist in urban parks.

Wildlife Care Center Duck Intake Policy

If transported to a wildlife care center, ducks will be treated and placed in permanent captive situations as resources allow. It is possible that domestic ducks will also be euthanized.