The Question: I have a mallard hen laying eggs (11 so far) in a flower pot on the end of my dock and I’m loving it. The problem is we are getting a new dock in a few weeks. If I move the pot 20-25 yards away to the neighbor’s dock will Mama duck be able to find the new spot? Mama isn’t here during the days so she’s still laying but has to be done soon. Would it be better to do when she is incubating so she goes with the eggs at the same time??

Submitted by: Lizanne, Nebraska, USA

The Question: I took down a hanging plant to water it and there was a nest with 3 eggs in it. I accidentally dropped it when I went to rehang it and the eggs broke. I moved the plant to my porch floor so Mama could find it. Will she lay more eggs?

Submitted by: Betsy, Illinois, USA

(click on photos and graphics to expand)

Legal Warning: People and bird nests often collide. And caring people often wonder whether or not to move a nest that seems to be in danger. The first thing I have to say is that the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to tamper or move the nest of a bird while it has eggs or chicks. Both mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and American robins (Turdus migratorius) are covered by the act, which is both U.S. law and an international treaty. This site by a group of lawyers who offer to defend people charged with violating the act lists two cases where prosecutions occured. In both cases, the problems were with commercial firms disrupting nests in a fairly blatant way. One case involved cutting down a tree that held the nests of egrets and black-crowned night herons, and the other involved bridge repairs that disrupted nesting falcons. I doubt the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has any interest in prosecuting homeowners for moving nests of common birds such as mallards and robins, but if you are unsure, you should contact Fish and Wildlife to see whether you need a permit to move a nest. Not all birds are covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  Non-native birds such as starlings and house sparrows are not covered, for example.

On to my suggestions …

A Lesson from Pet Birds: When I used to raise pet finches and parakeets in large flight cages, I discovered that if I moved a nest several feet all at once, parent birds were often confused. It seems that at least some birds have a memory of where they nested. Even if the moved nest was clearly visible on the other side of the cage, they often ignored it. However, I found that if I moved a nest a few inches at a time, parents had no trouble recognizing it, and would follow it around the cage. If I moved a nest in small steps, I could pretty much move it wherever I wanted to, and the parents would continue to recognize the nest as their own.


mallard nest

Lizanne’s mallards: Mallard incubation takes about a month, and Lizanne’s dock construction was due to begin before that. The good news is that once mallard chicks hatch, they swim off to find food and don’t need the nest. I feared that if Lizanne moved the nest all at once to her neighbor’s dock, the mallard hen probably wouldn’t find it, so I suggested she move it a few feet at a time. And the nest should be moved while the hen was not sitting on it. Near the end of the egg-laying period, the hen would begin sitting on the eggs for most of the day, so it would be hard to move her. I also suggested building a floating platform and anchor it near where the original dock is, and letting the nest stay as close to its original location as possible.


robin nest

Betsy’s robins: I was sorry to hear of Betsy’s robin nest accident. I know she felt terrible about it. I suggested moving the flower pot a bit at a time, because the robin might not recognize the location of the nest on the floor. However, I wonder if the robin will abandon the nest no matter Betsy does. With all her eggs gone, the female robin’s instincts would tell her that a predator had found her nest. Although birds often renest if the first clutch of eggs/chicks is eaten, they may build the new nest in a new location. This makes sense, given that a predator has found the nest and would simply raid it again. A mother robin presumably wouldn’t recognize Betsy’s care and concern and its instincts would tell it that the nest was not in a safe location. Better to start over somewhere else.

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