The warm, mild weather has triggered the start of the nesting season, and we are already getting calls about ducks nesting in people’s gardens, and what, if anything, they can do. If the duck is already laying eggs, then there isn't anything you can do, as the nest and the eggs are fully protected by law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981). Ducks build their nests on the ground, which can be just a scrape in the ground, or in a hollow in a tree, but sometimes they line it with grass and other materials. A duck will lay an egg every day until she is ready to incubate them, and she won’t sit on them until she gets to that point. She will then, in order not to be seen, sit very still on the eggs for about twenty eight days when the ducklings should hatch. She will only leave the nest to find food and water but will return soon after. Many birds will adopt this behaviour as they want the chicks to hatch around the same time. This means that the adults are feeding the young birds at roughly the same age. This also ensures that the chicks or ducklings leave the nest at the same time. After a day or two, once all the ducklings have hatched, the female will want to lead her ducklings to open water. This is fine if you have a large pond and are happy for the ducklings to grow up there until they leave of their own accord. However, we do not advise that you feed them or they will be reluctant to leave and you may end up with fifteen adult ducks in permanent residence! If you need to move the duck and her ducklings to a more appropriate water body, this is what you need to do:

  • Start by feeding the female so you befriend her and you’ll stand a much better chance of catching her later. You can use ordinary bird food, but avoid too much bread as it’s not very nutritional and it won’t be good for your pond.
  • Try to feed her in the same place so she is happy feeding there, this will make her easier to catch when the time comes
  • Prepare two boxes that the duck and ducklings won’t be able to escape from. You can use pet carriers if they are suitable. Try to move the family in the morning to give them the best chance of settling to their new surroundings.
  • Catch the mother first. Ignore any sounds she may make and place her in one box. You can use an old towel or sheet thrown over her, which may stop her from flying off.
  • Catch all the ducklings (a quick head count is a good idea) and place them in the other box. This just ensures that the mother doesn't stand on any of the ducklings in transit.
  • Take both boxes down to a local pond, river, canal or any open water source. Find a quiet spot and release the ducklings first and then the mother in sight of her ducklings. Try to find a spot close to the water’s edge where the ducklings can get in and out of the water easily.
  • If the duck and ducklings are close to water, but have just nested in your garden, you can walk them to water. Again feed the female so she trusts you, and I suggest using bread at this point so it’s easy for her to see and then she should follow you.
  • Most motorists are reasonable and will stop to allow you and the ducks to cross, but some additional help may be a good idea if you are going for this option. Please take care of yourself, and if you have any concerns use the method above for moving the ducks.

Paul Chesterfield (rspb-images.com)

Ducks are known for nesting in unusual and unsuitable places, and if you feel that you can’t move your duck family safely, please contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 and take the option for injured and distressed animals, who may be able to help.

Anonymous