Ducks and Geese


Going Quackers with Ducks or Geese?


Oh no, there is a duck in my...

Yes, each year we receive calls from concerned individuals about ducks or geese that are found in swimming pools, sewer drains, courtyards, traffic or even fallen from chimneys into basements. In most instances young should not be separated from the live mother. It will involve a little know how on your part. We are not able to work with duckling or goslings due to inadequate facilities for them. Please refer to instructions below to assist them and transport to your next nearest rehabilitator. (We cannot care for domestics.)

highslide js required - click to enlarge
White ducklings are domestic birds; Bird Refuge only works with wild birds.
highslide js required - click to enlarge
Domestic adult ducks with ducklings.



Duck Basics 101...

Mallard ducks bond with a mate in the late fall and begin to scout together for a nest site with protection from predators in the early spring. This will usually be close to their main body of water. It will often be in enclosed areas such as courtyards or busy traffic areas. Why? Their nesting sites have become fragmented by building developments so they must adapt. They don't recognize cars as predators and while they can fly in and out of a site safely, they don't anticipate that their young can't wing it - they must toddle on foot. The hen will lay one pale buff to green egg a day then meet her mate at the water. This will go on daily until all the eggs (between 8 to 12) are laid. Then, she will begin "sitting tight" to incubate the eggs, taking only two short breaks at early morning and late evening to eat, drink, and visit her mate at the water site. This will continue for 23 hours daily for the next 24-28 day period. The ducklings will hatch at the same date within a 24 hour period which ensures they are the same age. The mother will stay with the young until they are able to fly (7-8 weeks), then leave them and return to her mate.

highslide js required - click to enlarge
Adult mallards.
highslide js required - click to enlarge
Juvenile mallards, now able to fly, on a swim.


Canada Geese? She will lay on average 5-7 pale creme eggs, one daily or every other day. The eggs hatch within 26-29 days. The male will remain with her during incubation, rearing, and with the young through the first migration or beyond.


highslide js required - click to enlarge
Canada goose male guarding nesting territory.
highslide js required - click to enlarge
Cream colored eggs of an inexperienced first time mother.
highslide js required - click to enlarge
Parent bird with goslings.


Due Date

It may be important to determine when duck or goose eggs will hatch under certain circumstances such as dangerous locations. You will need to calculate the range of time based on your observations. If the mallard has laid fewer than 8 eggs and is still not sitting, the nest is probably not finished. However, if she is seen sitting on the nest for long periods, when did this first begin? At this point, calculate that the eggs will hatch sometime within the next 24-28 days.

The same is done with the Canada goose. Begin your count from when she begins to stay on the eggs and calculate the hatch to occur within 26-29 days. (Warmer weather may accelerate and cooler weather slow down hatch dates.)

Take note of what body of water she uses during her nest rest break in the early morning or late afternoon. It is usually within 200 yards of her nest and she will fly toward it. (Don't assume. There may be multiple sites and you must know the correct one if an emergency develops.)


Left Behind: Orphaned Duckling or Gosling

highslide js required - click to enlarge
Ducklings and goslings covered in down depend on their parents for warmth and protection.

These birds are precocial, meaning they are more developed at hatch than altricial (naked, fully dependent) species but they take longer to become fully independent. Their bodies will be covered in fuzzy down (like a chicken chick). They are able to walk, drink, and peck food at hatch. However, they are still very fragile and depend on the parent to provide warmth, protection from predators, lead to feeding sites, etc. for an extended period of time.

Late hatch, straying, weakness or defects, human interference or injuries (cats and other predators), or parental death are usually the reason for orphans. It is crucial that they be immediately restored to parents if possible or placed immediately in the care of a rehabber to provide the proper care.  We are not able to provide care for ducklings and goslings due to facility limitations.

Return to Top


What can go wrong?

  • Improper diets can result in a condition known as "angel wing" or other disturbances. New hatches can die within 24 hours from hypoglycemia in which they will stagger about. In this life-threatening emergency, a small amount of sugar in just enough water to dissolve it should be smeared on the tongue. With early intervention, the bird should revive within half an hour. By this time contact arrangements should have been made with your rehabber so the diet and special needs can be corrected lest it worsen.
  •  
  • Imprinting will occur in new hatch birds held over just a short period of time by humans. This can be devastating because the bird, as it matures will not recognize others of its own kind and will lack the skills to survive in the wild. Overhandling may result in death. Their bodies are very delicate and can be easily bruised internally. They have a tendency to jump which can lead to an accidental drop resulting in fractures or death.
  • Drowning or hypothermia (cold): The mother provides them a specific feather oil when she preens them which helps to waterproof their down. Without her, they do not have this protection and can drown if placed in water until they grow in feathers to replace the down weeks later. Also, she provides them warmth even during warm weather. Like newborn humans, they cannot maintain their own temperature until they grow older.
  • Fostering attempts to other ducks should not be made. They are likely to be drowned or constantly battered by the ducks and ducklings until death. Each duck recognizes the specific call of their own young and will not accept outsiders.  If you can find their parents you can reunite them

So, make immediate arrangements to bring the duckling or gosling in. While you wait for a return call, do not attempt to force feed it or force water. See Transport in order to temporarily provide safe housing.

Return to Top


What Were They Thinking?e


Poor Nest Locations or enclosed courtyards

Since nest sites are scouted "after hours" what may appear to be an oasis may actually result in a nightmare with curious people who invade the nesting site that stresses the mother or the danger of "predator cars". Enclosed courtyards or fenced in areas keep predators out and seem ideal until it's time for the young to follow the mother out, only she discovers they can't wing it!

Please note that she is likely to abandon the nest if attempts are made to move the nest even a few feet away to a safer location. It is illegal to take possession of the eggs or nest without proper authority. Placing food or water at her nest site will not aid her in anyway. She must take those breaks for her health and to keep up the bond with the male. The food may attract predators that will endanger her and her eggs.

So, what can you do? Interfere as little as possible. You do not want to cause an abandonment situation that is totally avoidable. Ducks and geese will lead the new hatches away from the nest when the eggs finish hatching on the same day within a 24 hour period. Ducks will lead their ducklings to the same water location where her mate is. This is where it is handy to know the due date and what body of water she uses. See the following guidelines for specific situations:


Enclosed Courtyards

If an entrance cannot be opened for her to lead her young out, the young will have to be gathered quickly. This must be done when you know the mother is on location. Here's the plan. Have an easy to carry container 18-24" deep that they cannot escape from (they are great jumpers, especially when they pile on top of one another). It is best if this is deep enough so that it can be left open from the top so the mother will be able to see inside. When you enter the enclosure you must use slow, deliberate movements and keep silent. The mother will try to stay with her young unless she feels threatened. If you spook her, she'll fly away but should circle back. Collect all the young by herding (slow, big shooing movements, arms down) them up against a wall or corner. Take along a lightweight towel to gently toss over them if needed. Once they are scooped up, remove them from the towel and place them in the container. Proceed to the outside of the enclosure in the safest, most strategic location for the mother to hear the distress calls and see her young. Back away and observe from a distance her arrival. Give them time to identify one another (one or two minutes) and then tip the container so they can return to her. She'll lead them away.


Parade Time at Rush Hour

If they are already on the move and headed for danger, remember, she's leading them to her water source. One person will be needed who can safely (without danger to self or to the motorists) stop the traffic so that she can cross the road to get to the other side. Can you safely redirect her around the danger (sewer drains, moving vehicles, etc.) a slightly different way? If so, using slow deliberate movements as described above will be helpful.


Pre-planned Moving Day

See due date to calculate the period of time the eggs may hatch. These measures should be taken only if her nest site can be monitored daily once they are put in place. The young will need to be moved on hatch day to prevent her from moving them into direct danger. The move must be done on the day they hatch (all on the same day over a 23 hr. period) so that they will not die from hunger or predation.

  • A barrier should be placed all around the perimeter of the nesting site one week before they are expected to hatch based on the earliest calculated day. It needs to be large enough for the mother to fly in and out from the top. (Weed barrier cloth, garden netting, sheeting, etc. may be used but any mesh openings should be no larger than 1" to prevent escapes.)
  • Once they have hatched, use an easy- to- carry container 18-24"deep that they cannot escape from (they are great jumpers, especially when they pile on top of one another). It is best if this is deep enough so that it can be left open from the top so the mother will be able to see inside. When you enter the enclosure you must use slow, deliberate movements and keep silent. The mother will try to stay with her young unless she feels threatened. If you spook her, she'll fly away but should circle back.
  • Collect all the young by herding (slow, big shooing movements, arms down) them up against the barrier. Take along a lightweight towel to gently toss over them if needed. Once they are scooped up, remove them from the towel and place them in the container.
  • Proceed to the outside of the enclosure in the safest, most strategic location for the mother to hear the distress calls and see her young. Now, begin your walk toward that body of water. Attempt to carry out this walk solo as often a crowd of people will only distract and threaten the mother. Some volunteers may be helpful to keep back crowds or monitor traffic. Small children may be seen as predators.
  • If she flies off, set the container down, back away and observe from a distance her arrival in a couple of minutes. Then, proceed again, stopping as necessary.
  • Once you arrive within several feet of the water, set the container down. Give them time to identify one another (one or two minutes) and then tip the container so they can return to her. She'll lead them away. Well done!

Keep in mind that you cannot prevent them from all the dangers of this world. Since many nest in urbanized locations they may take their young on foraging walks through the parking lots which will continue to put them at risk. But, their instinct is to be at that location and you will not be able to "change their minds." It's the chosen territory they know. Many of their chosen sites were once undeveloped land with unobscured waterways that are now inhabited by housing or shopping developments.

Return to Top


Transport

For young waterfowl such as ducklings or goslings, place the bird in a container that you do not mind leaving with the rehabbers. Choose a container that can be set-up quickly; not too large as you will want to provide warmth but deep enough (18-24") that your rescued bird cannot jump out. A cardboard box or a clean plastic container such as a bucket will do.

  • Place a heavy duty layer of paper towels on the bottom to absorb droppings and to provide traction.
  • Wad up a tee-shirt for it to snuggle in. (It may be placed in the dryer for a couple of minutes to provide extra warmth.
  • Now cover the container with a towel and place in a dark, quiet, warm area of your home away from intrusion.
  • If you have not done so, now place that call to your rehabber and leave a voice mail. While you wait a call back you may proceed with the following help.

If you are not able to bring the bird to a rehabilitator right away provide supplemental heat.

  • Place half of the container on a heating pad, enabling the bird to move away from heat if it becomes too warm.
  • A small plastic jar lid filled marbles (to keep the bird dry), then filled with a small amount of water and chopped lettuce may be placed in one corner while you wait for further instructions. (Remove this before transport)

Remember, this is only for temporary emergency housing for a few hours. They require a special diet and proper conditions to prevent developmental problems.

For capture and transport of older or adult injured waterfowl:

highslide js required - click to enlarge
Remove the towel after the placement of the bird in a box slightly larger than the bird's size.
highslide js required - click to enlarge
Well padded box and generous layers of shredded newspaper provides protection and traction during transport. This can reduce further injuries by birds that, in state of panic or attempt to elude their captors, begin slamming against the walls of the container.


Return to Top


Drowning Prevention 101 (Pool, Sewer)

If young ducklings are found in the pool with the mother, they may find it difficult to exit, tire quickly and drown. To assist in a rescue:

  • Approach silently and slowly so as not to scare off the mother.
  • Overfill the pool with the garden hose and cut off filtration system. Or -
  • Add pool floats or a Styrofoam cooler lid near the step exit and cover it with half of a large wet towel. Extend the other half of the towel over the edge of the pool so that the ducklings can catch a lift. Add large stones or bricks to the steps to provide a booster step.

If you note that they are still in the pool and seem to be struggling:

  • Use a pool skim net to lift them out of the water.
  • Collect them in a container deep enough that they can't jump out.
  • Carry them to a safe location in the yard a good distance from the pool.
  • Most likely the mother will be temporarily scared off. She will return to their separation calls. As you wait her return, attach a string to the container and move to where you can observe from a distance. When she gets close to the container, pull the string to tip over the box so the ducklings can exit. They will follow her. Do not let them out if she is out of your sight.

To prevent a reoccurrence, consider covering the pool temporarily. When scouting the area, she felt it was a safe location. Chasing them away only teaches them not to come when humans are around. You will have to outsmart them. Did you notice what times she visits? That may be the time of day to spend more family time outdoors by the pool or to turn the pet dog loose for several days to persuade her not to return. Mylar balloons and strips that move in the wind can help to unsettle them if placed in and around the pool. Adding different animal floats to the pool may also help detract them. Be sure that you don't put food out for them to encourage their return.

And, their "fowl play" should not foul up your pool if it is chlorine treated.

For a fall in the sewer drain, you must call the local fire/police department or other public works to receive permission and assistance in removing the grate. (They will need to replace it to prevent further accidents). Safety First! Once this is done, block off tunnels with cardboard to prevent escape. Then follow the above measures for capture rescue. Wait a few minutes for the mother to return. If she returns and her water source is nearby, you can escort them. See Moving Day.

Return to Top


Please Do Not Feed the Ducks or Geese or Gulls

Domestic or inbred ducks can quickly overpopulate local ponds when fed hand-outs by well-intentioned people. This can result in a decline in the native bird population and increase the risk of disease.

Yearly, avian botulism kills large numbers of ducks, geese and many other types of birds such as songbirds that use the crowded sites. It's an organism that thrives in polluted, warm water. Duck plague is another example of a disease that claims lives including geese and swans. Bread provides no nutritional benefit and can become deadly when it molds.

You can enjoy watching birds carry out their natural activities without feeding. They do not need the handouts that provide them only poor nutrition. Do not create junk food junkies that result in nuisance problems and habituation to people. Instead, they will feed on natural vegetation, insects, invertebrates that will keep them healthier and keep the water cleaner and better balanced.

highslide js required - click to enlarge
highslide js required - click to enlarge
Notice the fishing line trailing from the beak of mallard duck. Birds often are unable to untangle themselves from the fishing line and hooks which can cut into their bodies and limbs and cause severe injuries; to include being unable to fly or move properly and hence unable to forage and elude predators.


Return to Top



Those Rascally Critters - Waterfowl Management

For assistance with nuisance problems please see Wildliferehabber.com and click on the management and nuisance links for advice.

Return to Top