2017 Mallards

Three years ago and also two years ago, a mallard hen successfully nested in the planter that is about 2 feet from our front door! Last year she laid just one egg but then abandoned it and we didn't see her again. This year she came back. She started to incubate 12 eggs on March 31, 2017 and ten ducklings left the nest with their mother on April 26th. There was one unhatched egg.

Event Log and Photos

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Hatching day Photos

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Hatching day Video

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2017 Mallard Log

Friday April 28, 2017
Mallard: I saw the mallard family later on the afternoon of Wednesday - all 10 were still together with the hen - but I have not seen them since then. That is not unusual. Whenever they enter Bassett Creek to find food it carries them downstream so although we typically see hens and ducklings in our yard and in the creek every spring, those are very likely to be some that hatched somewhere upstream.

It turns out that I do know how to count to 12 after all, but there is a mystery:
On Wednesday when the ten ducklings left there was one unhatched egg. As I've written I had assumed that my initial count was simply off back when I said there were 12 eggs because later there were only 11. As usual I removed the unhatched egg, put it into a ziploc bag, and put that into the freezer for a day. This is my humane way to avoid a worst case scenario: if I simply put that egg into the garbage it could be warm in there and a day or two later I could hear the desperate peeping of a little late-hatching duckling inside the garbage can! No. Don't want that.

There were no other eggs in the nest or anywhere around.

Yesterday, on Thursday, I found 3/4ths of a mallard egg with a developed but dead duckling in it. The egg was lying on the step of the porch, all by itself. It is the 12th egg. If a raccoon or fox had taken the egg it would be gone; they wouldn't bring it back. The missing 1/4th of the eggshell wasn't anywhere. Some of the duck down had blown away off of the nest, but it was otherwise undisturbed and also I'd checked the nest on Wednesday when I removed the unhatched egg so it didn't come from there.

The only unlikely clue was a hole in the dirt of the planter just above where I found the egg. Probably it's not related since the squirrels dig holes all of the time in the flower beds and yard and planters, and they don't deal in duck eggs. The egg also didn't quite fit in the hole.

I have no idea where the 12th egg was or how it got onto the porch step. But here it is, shown next to the now-frozen unhatched egg and the hole in the dirt.
Wednesday April 26, 2017
Mallard: After resting for a while this morning the mallard mama duck jumped from the planter down to the front porch and began calling. Three of her ducklings obeyed and jumped down to join her. But the rest (7 of them) stayed up near the nest. Over the next hour she alternated between calling from the ground and from the porch below the planter, and then jumping up onto the planter and returning to the nest to be with the 7 ducklings. Meanwhile the three that had jumped down huddled together in a corner of the porch, occasionally trying to make the impossible 2 foot jump back up onto the planter to be with mom.

After an hour of this the hen finally settled into the nest over the 7 that were with her, pulling down in around herself to wait for a while. Maybe the ducklings that jumped out would have been OK but she had to choose between either keeping 7 of them comfortable while waiting or continuing to do something that just wasn't working. If it had been a nicer day I would have let things take their course over the next minutes or hours but it was a cold morning: just a few degrees above freezing. The mortality rate for ducklings in their first days is very high due to predators, getting separated from their family [last year we saw a little day-old duckling peeping loudly and being carried downstream with no other ducks anywhere in sight! Oh no!] and other things ... including hypothermia.

So we decided I should try to put the 3 back up onto the planter even if she was disturbed somewhat. She let me put the first one up, but then she flew down to the ground nearby calling in alarm. Her sudden wing beats when she left swept a couple ducklings off the planter and some of the others jumped in response to her calls now that I had added the incentive of getting away from a huge and scary creature. (The fall doesn't hurt them: they're all fluff but don't weigh very much so they land about as hard as a dropped cotton ball.) When the dust settled all but 3 ducklings were down so I picked up each of the last three and put them on the ground too.

The good news: she then led them all away and they were last seen peacefully moving off through the grass in the back yard toward the creek. Both she and the ducklings were nibbling on the wet grass.

Best wishes little ducks!
Tuesday April 25, 2017

Mallard ducklings have hatched!

Mallard: The mallard ducklings hatched overnight or late on Monday 4/24. They were so vigorous at 7:45 this morning that I was sure they would leave the nest today. However they stayed all day and have now settled in for the night. They should leave tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.

7:38 AM
There are several fragments of eggshell around the mallard nest this morning. You can see one of them in the camera in the left foreground. I reached out and grabbed a piece when the hen was not looking and it was definitely a small piece of shell and membrane.

7:45 AM
Just saw some of the mallard ducklings - they look ready and may leave the nest this morning!

12:20 PM
We didn't see any signs of hatching until early this morning but by then the ducklings were dry and fluffy and vigorous. So my best guess is they hatched in the late evening yesterday or overnight. When they hatch during the day they spend about 12 to 20 hours in the nest overnight and leave the next day. If they hatched overnight it could be late today when they leave. Or they could be on their way now, as I write this.

8:39 PM
The ducklings looked so vigorous this morning that I thought they were sure to leave today. But it is completely dark now and ducks are daytime critters that rely on their eyes to detect predators. Usually they won't leave in the gray of dawn but will wait until it is full daylight, which still could be quite early at this time of year.

(However once again this year I have noted that I really should limit my duck behavior predictions to statements such as "Oh, did you see that?" and "Now let's all watch and see if anything happens.")

Wednesday April 24, 2017
We were surprised to find only 11 eggs, not 12. Earlier pictures also show 11 so I think I simply mis-counted once and then perpetuated that error.

The mallard ducklings should hatch this week sometime between Wednesday and Saturday. Like wood ducks, mallard ducklings stay in the nest only for one night getting dry, fluffy, strong and bouncy, and very hungry! Then they leave the nest on the morning of the day after they hatch. The mother duck does not feed her ducklings, either in the nest or thereafter. She only takes them to where the food is and they feed themselves. Once they leave the nest they do not return. They sleep under their mother's wings at whatever location she chooses each night, hidden in low brush on the bank of a lake or stream.
Photo taken on Tuesday 4/23

Wednesday April 5, 2017
Here's a picture of the mallard nest when she was away, showing how much down she has plucked to feather the nest and also to expose her breast to the eggs (it must be kind of cold to fly around like that).

Monday April 3, 2017
The mallard hen has now mixed lots of soft down into the wood chips of the nest. It's a thick blanket when she covers the eggs and leaves to find food. Beneath it the eggs stay very warm.

Friday March 31, 2017

Mallard ducklings are due on April 27th!

Our mallard hen has been busy during the past few days, laying one egg per day, resting on the nest during the morning and into the early afternoon, and then covering the eggs and leaving for the afternoon and night. But tonight she is staying on the nest so incubation has started. I've turned on the night-time lights. The incubation period for mallards and wood ducks is the same: 28 days. However this can vary based on weather and the behavior of the mother duck too. If the eggs are cool for a while then development slows.
It is the start of incubation that starts development. An egg that was laid 2 weeks ago will hatch at the same time, within hours, of an egg laid today because they all started to stay warm continually at the same time. Part of the hens job is to turn and rearrange the eggs so that they all get the same warmth.

Tuesday March 28, 2017
There are now 9 eggs and the hen has started to mix down into the nest. She's been there into the early afternoon lately, but is still not on the nest overnight so incubation timing has not yet started.

Thursday March 23, 2017
The mallard hen was on the nest during the first half of the morning and laid a fifth egg. Because of the low camera angle and that she was facing away, we actually saw the event. Not much drama though: just a bit of shifting around, and then suddenly an egg popped out. First time I've seen that.

Wednesday March 22, 2017
As far as we can tell the mallard did not visit the nest today. Still four eggs that are all covered up. It was a cold breezy day.

Tuesday March 21, 2017
She was on the nest in the morning again, and another egg. There are now four of them. She used ALL of the wood chips from yesterday to build up the nest and to cover the eggs when she left so I put some more wood chips nearby again. I set up the camera.

Monday March 20, 2017
The hen was on the nest in the morning. Another egg. In the afternoon I put two big handfuls of wood chips about a foot away from the nest.

Sunday March 19, 2017
Three years ago and also two years ago, a mallard hen successfully nested in the planter that is about 2 feet from our front door Last year she laid just one egg but then abandoned it and we didn't see her again. This year she's back! Today when I got the newspaper I startled a duck. She ran to the end of the planter and I saw that there was a depression dug into the top layer of dirt (it is still frozen further down) where she had gathered leftover wood chips from the mulch in the planter and lined the dirt with these. There were two eggs that must have been laid over the past couple of days. We hope she stays.