Ducklings – When to help them and when to leave them alone

Mallard duckling nested in a persons hand © RSPCAThe sight of a mother duck with her brood of ducklings in tow is one that is synonymous with spring in Britain. Unfortunately, as with any wild animals that share space with humans, they can occasionally get in trouble and may need your help.

Many people get concerned when ducks have nested on a high ledge or balcony. This is not uncommon; in the wild, ducks will often nest up in trees. Ducklings are light with a fluffy down, which protects them when jumping from heights like this.

Nests built up to about four meters (the first floor of a normal house) should be safe for ducklings but if the floor surface is hard (e.g. concrete); pile some soft material (straw, leaves, grass, etc) under the nest to cushion their fall. But, if the nest is higher than four meters, there is a risk to the duckling’s safety and we would recommend you call our cruelty line on 0300 1234 999.

If you see ducklings on their own, don’t panic; the mother is likely nearby and will return to her young. If you can, monitor the ducklings for about two hours. If the mother has not returned after then, carefully collect the ducklings up into a box and call our cruelty line on 0300 1234 999. If you can see a dead adult bird nearby, only monitor the ducklings for an hour before calling us. If you can see more than one, call us straight away.

Duckling care

RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre have over 140 ducklings in at the moment; Centre Manager Alison Charles takes us through their journey in our care:

Admission:

  • The ducklings need a good checking over by our vet; we regularly see ducklings that have been orphaned, abandoned or have fallen down drains etc.

Mallard duckling at Mallydams © RSPCAThe duckling’s first stop is the Orphan Room:

  • Cardboard pet carriers are great for keeping the ducklings in; not only are they warm and cosy they can easily be replaced with a new, clean box when needed.
  • Mum isn’t there to keep the ducklings warm so we use a heat lamp and heat mat to keep them toasty. We also put a towel over the newspaper on the floor for comfort and extra warmth.
  • Ducklings do better with company so we always try and group them with similarly sized ducklings that have come in.

Once they’ve gained a little strength and are eating well they move on to the Duckling Room:

  • Ducklings huddled together © RSPCAThere are eight bays in here and they all hold a similar sized group of ducklings.
  • Keeping them warm, dry and cosy is still really important as hyperthermia is always a risk, so as well as a heat lamp they have under floor heating and a bed of wood shavings (which also helps absorb the droppings).
  • Although they’re given water to drink, we can’t let them get into the water for swim just yet due to the risk of hyperthermia, a common mistake made by people who rescue ducklings.
  • At this stage the ducklings are fed on duck crumb and chopped grass. Once they reach 200g in weight we change their feed from duck crumb to growers pellets, which they will continue to be fed until their release.

Now the ducklings are ready to really start stretching their legs and having a swim and are moved to the Outside Pool and Paddock:

  • Mum would normally protect the ducklings from predators (rats, weasels, stoats, corvids etc) so we need to make sure the pool and paddock are barricaded/protected from all sides as well as the roof.
  • They are herded into the loose box overnight to keep them warm and let out in the morning so they can eat the grass and do normal duckling things like chase flies.

Ducklings swimming together in a large pool © RSPCA

Once the ducklings have almost fully developed their flight feathers we move them again to a Larger Pool and Paddock Area with swans and geese.

Once they have their flight feathers and can fly we release them in family size groups on nearby waterways with suitable habitat.

It’s crucial to keep these ducklings wild and not get them imprinted on their carers, which is why we keep them with other ducks and do not talk to them or make a fuss over them.

- Llewelyn Lowen – RSPCA Scientific Officer

Our website provides further information on what to do if you find an orphaned bird and your nearest wildlife rehabilitation centre.

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