How will the ducklings get down?

mallard in basket on balconyWe live in a town house on Lake Erie, in Buffalo, NY. There is a second floor deck and attached to the deck’s wrought iron railing is a flower box with a hay basket liner. On May 28 we discovered a mallard duck had made a nest in the flower box. She has laid eggs and has been sitting on the eggs since then. She leaves in the early evening, flying towards the lake, and returns to resume her place warming her eggs. We did some research and called our county wildlife association. We were informed to simply leave the nest alone. We read that the ducklings will not be able to fly for 60 days but can swim much sooner and that they will not stay in the nest beyond 24 hours.

Our problem is that this nest is about 5 meters (16 ft.) above the ground and a distance from the water and the nest is not very big.

Should we try to put a small child’s swimming pool below the nest in case the mother can get the ducklings down from the second floor nest? Should we try to get a small pool on the deck itself? We have not gone out on the deck when she is there and have not touched anything.

Any help you can give us is appreciated. The ducklings will probably hatch in a few days. Thank you, Virginia

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9 thoughts on “How will the ducklings get down?”

  1. puffin Hi Virginia! Mallards sometimes nest in tree stumps and even in live trees, and when the time comes, the ducklings jump or fall to the ground and then scamper after their mother on the way to water. They don’t do this as spectacularly as wood ducks or some mergansers. To see an impressive drop by merganser ducklings, check out this PBS Nature video.

    Mallard ducklings may not be as well adapted to falling as wood ducks and mergansers, but their small size, fuzzy coating of feathers, and functional, if tiny, wings means they don’t fall as fast or land as hard as you might think. When there is a bed of leaves or vegetation under them, they’re almost always just fine.

    However, it looks like your future ducklings will be landing on asphalt, so that might be a problem. If you could put down something to soften the landing — an air mattress or even a couple of old blankets or towels beneath where you think they might fall, that would help. They launch themselves somewhat, so the landing zone might be several feet out from the balcony.

    Once they land on the ground, mom will take over. You don’t need to feed them or give them water. They will march off to a suitable body of water. Mallard ducklings are able to feed themselves, so all they need is for mom to lead them to the right place. If you put a swimming pool out for them, you might just distract them, and since there won’t be any food for them in a kiddie pool, they’ll go hungry.

    Let me know how it goes. I know you said you discovered the nest on May 28, but do you know when the last egg was laid? Mallards hatch in 23-30 days, with an average of 28 days. Tom

  2. envelope We are placing a blanket below to help soften the ducklings’ landing. I will keep you posted. Thanks for your advice. Virginia
  3. puffin Good luck! If you can possibly get video of the ducklings getting down, I’d love to see it. Tom
  4. mallard hen on nest with raised head

    envelope Hi Tom, Here is updated photo of our mama Maillard. She is continuing to sit and today she has been moving her beak as to make constant noise but we cannot hear anything. She has been very still until today when she appears to be calling nonstop and shows some restlessness by checking beneath herself. Virginia
  5. envelope Our Mama Mallard is now sitting for 60 days. There is a lot of down all around the flower box nest. Is it possible that she is sitting on unfertilized eggs? She settles in and then appears agitated, still leaves the nest for an hour or two to go feed at the lake, then returns to sit. Best, Virginia

  6.   puffin Hmmm … It is always possible either she’s infertile or her mate is. Rare, but possible. That does sound like too long, but I’d give it another week or so. She’ll abandon them eventually.

    The other possibility would be to sneak in when she’s off the nest and “candle” an egg. You can shine a strong flashlight through it. Unfertilized eggs will be translucent, just like a store bought chicken egg. An egg with a growing chick will be dark, nearly solid looking, especially now when if the eggs are good at all, the chicks must be close to hatching.

    Don’t worry about getting your smell on the eggs. I don’t think that matters much. You could also use disposable gloves if you’re worried about that. Tom

  7. Was there any resolution to this situation with the mallard ducklings on the townhouse deck in Buffalo, NJ? There have been no more posts since July 27, 2018, as far as I can tell. T

    Thank you so much for this enthralling website!

  8. puffin     Hi Elaine, I emailed Virginia and asked for an update. Here it is:

    Dear Tom, It is good to hear from you. If you remember, our mama duck kept sitting well beyond the regular days of gestation etc. One day, after flying off at her regular time for feeding, she simply did not return. We waited a week before going near her nest in the flower box. We saw she’d laid 5 eggs. There were dark shadows inside 2 of the eggs and the other 3 showed no darkness or shape. We will watch for the return of the mother duck, but may do earlier planting in order that she might seek a “lower” delivery room. We were anxious about the ducklings’ leap from the second floor, as you may recall. Should she find her way back to our humble “maternity ward,” I will let you know. Many thanks for re-connecting. It had been my intent to let you know she’d fled her nest. Best, Virginia

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