The majority of waterfowl (Mallards, Goldeneyes, Teals) are raised by the female bird and the male is not part of the family unit. Typically, mallards, teal and other “Dabbling Ducks” will nest away from water and when the eggs hatch they will lead their ducklings to water.
Goldeneye and some other “Diving Ducks” nest in tree cavities. When the ducklings hatch they must climb out of the nest hole and jump to the ground. Since the ducklings are quite small, it is an incredible journey to leave the nest site and find the safety of a lake. If something startles the female, such as a predator, she has several techniques for protecting or diverting attention away from her vulnerable young.
One technique is the “broken wing” trick. She will very effectively, and noisily, attract attention to herself by limping and dragging a wing and walking away from where her ducklings are. When the predator attempts to catch an easy meal she will fly off. In the meantime, the ducklings instinctively know they must hide. The group will often scatter in tall grass or any hiding place. The family will regroup when the female feels safe enough to return to the area and will start gently calling the ducklings to her.
Another trick she has is to simply fly off, leaving the ducklings to scatter and hide. She is not abandoning them, she simply does what her instincts tell her to do depending on the situation. Unfortunately, ducklings fall prey to many predators, even our own dogs and cats. It is a perilous journey from hatching and becoming an adult duck – fewer than 20% make it to adulthood.
Ducklings become separated from their mothers for many reasons, if you find orphaned ducklings please call out wildlife hotline at (780) 914-4118. If you bring the ducklings to our shelter, please ensure that the ducklings are kept warm and stress free. They should not be given water as ducklings without their mother may not have adequate water proofing of their down and if they get too wet they can become chilled and/or hypothermic and often pass away.
We appreciate your care and concern; if you do find a duckling(s) please call our wildlife hotline at (780) 914-4118 for advice before you intervene.