Live Ducks has limited but practical advice on how to handle basic nesting issues. Check with forums for more opinions if you are unsure about your own situation.
So your duck has started laying eggs or is nesting and you are nervous as any prospective parent would be. First, relax! Ducks have been hatching offspring successfully since the beginning of time. Most of the work is done by the duck, you need not directly interfere. Learning what to expect will ease your mind and let you know when your assistance is needed.
To hatch or not to hatch
You have a decision to make. If you have no intention of keeping ALL of the ducklings, do not hatch them. Remove the eggs as she lays them, do not wait until she has a full nest and is ready to incubate. If your city allows it, you have extra space, the resources including extra money for emergencies, and the willingness to care for a dozen or more additional ducks, read on.
Be sure your duck has a safe place to nest, away from your dog or cat. She will choose a setting where she feels safe, and will use whatever nesting materials are available. Before she has a full nest (about a dozen eggs), you can leave soft bedding like leaves or hay nearby so she can use that if she wants. Don't build the nest for her, it will discourage her from using the nest.
Keep pets, children and curious adults away. A nesting duck attracts predators, in the wild they can hide better than a domestic ducks in your yard so do what you can to keep her nesting area secure.
How many? How long?
The hen usually lays about a dozen or more eggs before she will start to incubate them. Although the eggs accumualate in the nest at the rate of about one per day, the incubation process begins at the same time, when the hen begins sitting.
It takes about a month for the eggs to start hatching. Once they start hatching the survivors will be hatched within 24 hours. See my links page for helping ducklings hatch if they are struggling.
When eggs are pushed out of the nest, it means they did not survive. The hen instinctively knows this and takes action by rolling the dead eggs away from the nest. Cracked or broken eggs may be a sign that something or someone is interfering with the nest.
Shhhhhhh! Mom's nesting!
It is not a good idea to disturb Mom while she's nesting. She may become very aggressive and agitated. She may abandon her nest if there is too much fussing going on around her. Keep outside visitors away. Ducks know who their primary caregivers are and will barely tolerate you during this time. She will probably not accept anyone unfamiliar coming close and may abandon her nest.
Leave a water reservoir a few feet away from her if she is nesting some distance from her everyday water supply. It's not smart to leave food out all day or all night because of pests and predators. Carefully putting some worms or food next to her water and removing it after a couple hours of undisturbed access is helpful.
Why Mom leaves her nest
1. The weather may be warm enough to continue the incubation process without her help. She's taking a break and will return.
2. She's getting food, water and a break and will return soon. Leave the nest alone.
3. She was disturbed or frightened away from her nest and has abandoned it. Wait a few days and remove the eggs if she isn't back.
4. The eggs died and she has left her nest permanently. After a couple days, dispose of the eggs if she has not returned. Extreme heat or cold is sometimes a cause. Your individual climate will vary.
Some hens do not have good nesting instincts and will try for a few days only to give up. Other hens hatch successfully every time. It differs from duck to duck.
Out of 14 eggs, only 10 hatched, is that normal? Yes, not all eggs hatch every time. After 48 hours, removed unhatched eggs, being careful not to break them. You do not need to know how bad the sulfur in rotten eggs smells. Rotten eggs can "explode" on your skin and clothing if you aren't careful.
The eggs have hatched, now what?
Congratulations! Be sure to separate Dad from Mom and her ducklings as soon as possible. In captivity and in crowded or stressful wild environments the males may kill their own young or the offspring of others.
It is not essential, but I recommend allowing Mom to spend at least a few days with her babies. She will keep them warm and teach them a few ducky skills. After about a week you can seperate them and keep them in a brooder.
See my Care & Feeding for proper care information. Links is a place to find more websites that can show you what a brooder is, what it does and how to make your own.
DO NOT dump any domestic duck or imprinted wild duck into your local pond or lake. Never hatch eggs for students or friends who promise to give them a good home. Most if not all will change their minds once the day arrives.
If you are a teacher with plans for hatching eggs in the classroom, arrange in advance for a no-kill farm to take the ducks off your hands when you are done with the lesson. Teach your students to respect wildlife and domestic animals alike, do not contribute to "Duck Dumping".
See my Care & Feeding page for information on caring for ducklings.
This page is intended as an overview of hatching and what is expected. For technical information on nesting and the intricacies of incubating and hatching visit my Links page and try the forums listed on my Chat page.