Return to Bird Help

DUCKS, DUCKS, DUCKS! . . .  

~Contributed by Beverly Guthrie

 

Ducks are here, ducks are there, ducks are in my swimming pool!

One of the sure signs of spring is ducks pairing off and searching for a safe, pleasant, secluded oasis in which to court, mate and nest.  Unfortunately, many ducks think the backyard pool “fills the bill.”

Sometimes as early as February you will notice a pair of Mallard ducks investigating your pool and yard for a future nesting site.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure . . .
 

If ducks are visiting your backyard pool in the early spring, it is a sure sign that nesting is soon to follow.  Since it is against state and federal law to harm native birds, or disturb relocate or destroy nests or eggs, now is the time to take action to prevent unwanted nesting.  Since the birds are seeking a peaceful, safe place to nest, the best way to discourage them is by making your pool and yard seem to be just the opposite.  Try these tips:

  • Float a number of beach balls in the pool.

  • Use Mylar Balloons filled with helium. Attach a weight to the bottom of the string and place the balloons either around the outside of the pool or dancing just above the water level inside your pool.

  • Purchase "Scare Eye Balloons" at a wild bird store to float in your pool (see photo).

  • Use a pool cover until swim season begins and /or when you are away on vacation.

SO……I’ve missed the window of opportunity to discourage nesting.

WHAT DO I DO NOW?

If you discover that a duck is nesting in your yard, leave it alone.  It is against state and federal law to harm nesting ducks or ducklings or to move or destroy the nest or eggs.

A mother duck will lay an egg or two every day until all 7 to 15 eggs have been laid.  She wants all the eggs to hatch at the same time so the mother duck does not start sitting on the nest and incubating the eggs until all are laid.  Eggs hatch about 28 days after incubation (sitting on the eggs) begins.  The male will stay near until he is sure the nest is secure and then he will probably disappear and leave the care of the ducklings to the mother duck.

The best course of action for you to take at this point is to:

   Keep pets inside or on a leash when they are in the yard.

   Explain to children that the mother duck must not be disturbed because she has a special surprise they must wait to see.  If you as an adult role model show respect for wildlife, your example will build an attitude of tolerance and respect in children.   With small children, help them understand what an exciting event is about to happen.  Go to the library or bookstore and read age-appropriate duck stories with your children.  One of the best is Make Way for Ducklings by McCloskey, but there are many others available.  Ask your librarian for help.  What is about to happen is a priceless learning opportunity for your family!

   Prepare for the ducklings by building a brick stairway on your pool steps.  Baby ducks have no oils in their “down” when they hatch and they may become water-logged and drown if they cannot escape to dry land.  They will enter the pool and not be able to get out unless you give them a ramp (a board covered with a towel or other cloth to provide traction) or provide a stairway.  Be sure to tell the person who cleans the pool to leave the escape ramp or stairway in the pool.

   Keep the water level in your pool a little lower than usual.  If you leave it low enough so that water just barely enters the skimmer, the float will not block the babies from escaping the skimmer should they enter it.  The danger to baby ducks does not come from the pump circulation, but from the flapper that traps debris (and baby ducks) in the skimmer.  With the correct water level, you should be able to run your pump as usual without harming or trapping the ducklings.  Always leave the brick steps or ramp in place when you lower the water level or the ducklings will not be able to leave the pool.  Be sure to check the level often so that the water level does not drop below the bottom of the skimmer opening.  Tell the person who cleans your pool to leave the water at the appropriate level when hatching day approaches.

 

Hooray!  The ducklings have hatched!

We at DFW Wildlife Coalition understand that having a family of ducks in your swimming pool is a mixed blessing.  Ducks can be messy and you and your family might need --or want to refrain from swimming until the family is old enough to leave.  It is our firm belief, however, that most home owners want to do what they can to assure that the baby ducks have the best chance possible to grow up in safety.  It is with this goal in mind that we recommend the following:

Q.  Now that the ducklings have hatched, how long will they stay?

A.  If there is a way to escape the fence and/or your backyard habitat does not provide sufficient food for the family, the mother duck might march the babies out to a nearby stream or pond.  Unfortunately, there are many hazards facing the little family during their trip.  Many ducklings will fall prey to traffic accidents and to predators both along the road and at the pond or stream if they are lucky enough to make it there.

Q.  Is there a way I can help the ducklings?

A.  If you are willing and able to allow the ducklings to stay in your yard for at least a few weeks, that scenario would be ideal.  Baby ducks grow very quickly and every day of growth will make them safer from predators once they reach the pond.  If you reach the point that the ducklings must leave, simply map out the safest route to a nearby pond or stream.  Take bed sheets or large sheets of cardboard and “herd” the family to the pond.  Be sure you have enough people to keep the duck family together if they scatter.  Mom must stay with the babies.  DO NOT put the ducklings in a box and drive them to the water.  Mom will not know where the ducklings are and they will not survive without her care.

Q.  I am willing to let the ducks stay for awhile, but what kind of help will they need from me?

A.  Ducks are omnivorous, meaning that they eat both plants and animals.  In the wild, they eat grasses, bugs, pond plants and aquatic invertebrates.  Your backyard might not have the variety of foods baby ducks need to support their rapid growth.  Even if you do have a pond and sufficient vegetation, additional nutrition will hasten the day when the ducklings will be large enough to relocate in safety.

Q.  So what do I feed them?

A.  Mazuri Waterfowl Starter by Purina is the best food available for baby ducks.  Go to www.mazuri.com to find a dealer near you.  Improper nutrition can cause deformity in ducks, so to be sure your ducks are receiving all the nutrients they need to grow strong, please feed only the recommended Mazuri Waterfowl Starter.  Foods such as crumbles designed to meet the needs of other species like chickens are harmful to baby ducks.

If you have a pond, you can throw a small amount of food on the water.  It floats and softens in water and the ducklings—and mom—will soon be eating regularly.  Feed small amounts (only what the family eats quickly) twice a day.  If you do not have a pond in your backyard, use a large shallow saucer meant to go under a large potted plant.  Fill the saucer with fresh clean tap water and float a little food in the water.  The ducks will appreciate the fresh water—not chlorinated, but be sure to keep the saucer clean and filled with fresh tap water.

Q.  My family and I love watching the duck family.  We would like to keep them until they fly away, but how long will that take?

A.  Ducklings grow quickly and soon reach the size of the mother.  Even though they look like adult ducks, they are unable to fly.  It will be about 2 months from the time of hatching until the ducks fly off with mother to find a new home.  Yes, they always fly away.  You are not going to have ducks forever.  Even if you have extended a warm welcome to the family and have fed them for months, these are still wild ducks and their instincts will take over and urge them to leave your yard.

Q.  We love the ducks, but we want to reclaim the pool and we are not happy about all the duck droppings in the pool and on the decking.  What can we do?

A.  Give them the best chance for survival that you can, and then walk them to the nearest water.  Be sure to keep the little group together and be sure mom comes along so she will know where her family is. 

 Q.  How do I care for the pool while the ducks are here and will there be any damage to the pool from having the ducks stay with us?

A.  While the ducklings are in your backyard, use as few chemicals as possible.  You can keep chlorine in the water, but try not to “shock” or “super-chlorinate” the water.  If you supply a saucer of fresh water, the ducks will take in less chlorine.  Please caution whoever cares for your pool to be sure there are never granules of chlorine left on the decking.  Little ducklings peck at anything and ingesting granular chlorine could cause serious harm.

When the duck family is gone, a thorough clean-up and shock should restore your pool to its sparkling best.

We know you will feel a great sense of satisfaction that you have helped these precious ducklings have a good start in life.  You have done your part in coexisting with our urban wildlife, and, hopefully, enjoyed the experience!

Thank you!

Additional Information on Ducks