It happens. Just when the mid-summer weather sends the family out to the backyard pool, another family arrives hoping to duck in. This exchange took place last summer between a good neighbour and a biologist. It has been edited for length.
Dear Ducks Unlimited:
Thank you in advance for your advice. An adult female mallard brought five juveniles to my swimming pool last evening. I have not had any luck in convincing them to relocate.
I did make some commotion in the water very early this morning which resulted in the young birds scurrying in distress to my neighbour’s yard on foot. The young birds were trapped in the yard while the parent paced frantically on the opposite side of the fence. I was so anxious about the situation that I had created that I herded the young ducks back to the relative safety of my pool. The young birds seem to be able to fly short distances but do not seem to get a lot of height.
How can I help these birds find a new home without causing undue stress to all of us? As I write, the young birds are resting comfortably on the deck. Please, help!
Thank you for contacting Ducks Unlimited Canada. Sorry to hear of your recent duck problems. Since the ducklings are nearly fully fledged, a plan could be to feed the ducks some commercial duck food for a few days. They may just need a few days of feeding in a safe environment to have the stamina to be fully free-flying, when they will be okay on their own.
You have much of what the ducks need already. Your yard is fenced and has a water supply (your pool) which provides two of the ducks’ primary three needs: security from predators and access to water. Missing is the third component—food.
Putting a floating board in the pool for the ducks to rest, preen and sleep would be a good idea as well. But this is all contingent on whether the ducks want to stay and you want to give up your pool for a few days. Your pool vacuum and chlorine treatment of your pool water will deal with any mess the ducks make.
Best wishes with your duck adventure.
Should you feed ducks?
DUC doesn’t recommend that you feed wild waterfowl outside of special situations like this one. Waterfowl are excellent survivors and usually don’t need to be fed. Indeed, hand-fed birds may get themselves into trouble by hanging around when they should be migrating, or coming too close to pets or other hazards. Have faith in their ability to find their own way.
Thank you for the suggestions for supporting the ducks in my backyard. I learned from a neighbour that the mother duck actually walked the ducklings to my house. They were seen on Friday evening crossing rather busy streets.
On Sunday, the mother made some attempt to encourage the young ones to fly but was successful with only two of them. The mother and these two ducks were absent from my yard for approximately half an hour on Sunday evening.
I started feeding with Duck Grower at noon on Monday; and, since then, the mother has spent most of each day with them, as far as my observations indicate. The young ones are getting stronger, especially with skills in and on the water. Fascinating and joyful to watch!
It sounds like our plan is working out. Ducks’ natural urges have them wanting to fly free and explore and move to larger wetlands with other ducks. When they are ready, they will move on with encouragement from the hen. Feed them for another five days and then start cutting back on the food. No need to make them extra lazy and fat! Hopefully, they will start doing little flights around the neighbourhood and come back to the safety of your yard at night. And then they will move on to their normal wetland and pond habitats.
I am so very grateful to inform you of a happy ending to this duck adventure. I fed the ducks for another five days. On the sixth day, two of the ducklings were obviously anxious to fly free. With the hen’s encouragement, they flew off early one morning.
The three remaining ducklings took a little more patient instruction on the part of the hen. After another five days of flying lessons and feeding on a gradually reduced schedule, these three were flying free.
At 8:52 p.m., with a great flourish, the last duckling took off from the water and flew over the house in tandem with her mom. I confess that I was overwhelmed by a complicated sense of relief, joy and sadness.
I tried to find a way to step lightly into this situation, without causing harm or disruption to a natural process. With your help, I was able to do so.