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Hatching Ducklings with a Broody Duck

Hatching Ducklings with a Broody Duck
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Do you have a broody duck?  Thinking of hatching out some ducklings?  Our experiences trying to hatch ducklings have been an emotional roller coaster with very mixed results and a storyline to rival any daytime soap opera; full of death, heartbreak, betrayal, and custody battles.

We have hatched several clutches of eggs with our chickens.  They all went very smoothly with excellent hatch rates and not a single causality.  The momma hen did all the work and the babies were healthy and made it safely to adulthood.  We went into hatching duck eggs with the sense that this would be just as easy.  We were so wrong.   Want to read more about hatching eggs with chickens?  Click here

Our first broody duck

In our second summer of keeping ducks, we were delighted when one of our ducks went broody!  While our chickens go broody all the time, ducks don’t go broody nearly as often.  We had read that many domestic ducks are not successful in sticking out the broody period and even if they do, are not good at mothering their young but wanted to give it a try.

The duck in question, Peggy, is a beautiful Cayuga.  She is sweet & shy and was young & healthy but born with a bad leg so was more often found sitting under trees rather than foraging around the yard.  She seemed like a good candidate for a duck that would stick it out.

Clutch 1:

Peggy dutifully gathered a clutch of about a dozen eggs from her and her sister ducks.  She seemed steadfast in her resolve.  She didn’t like it when we came near the nest and would hiss at us, but she didn’t mind when the other female ducks came by.

The other females would come in and sit with her on and off during the day and often for the entire night.  They seemed to have a passing interest in what was going on, but they were by no means ready to volunteer for motherhood.  Unfortunately, during their visits, they often left a new egg that the momma duck would scoop into her nest.

Before long she had way too many eggs and couldn’t comfortably sit on them all.  We knew we had to intervene or we would lose the entire clutch.  I carefully pulled the eggs out and candled them.  We kept a dozen eggs that were the furthest along and viable.

Mistake #1, messing with her nest

Messing with a mother duck’s nest can be risky.  She could decide to abandon the nest altogether when she finds some eggs missing and things askew.  Luckily, Peggy went right back to her nest like nothing was wrong.

Two days later though, she gave up on the nest, seemingly out of the blue.  She started spending more and more time away from the nest until it was clear she was just done with it.  The eggs were getting cold and we needed to do something.  Luckily, we had a chicken that was also broody.  We took the eggs and gave them to her.  Several days later, one tiny duckling emerged.  The other eggs never hatched, I think they had gotten too cold.

Mistake #2 – human interference

At this time, Peggy the duck had started building herself a new clutch and was sitting again.  We decided to interfere once again.  We thought that it was better for the single duckling to be raised by the ducks and since Peggy had been sitting for so long, we hoped she was ready for a baby.

The baby was gently slipped into the duck nest and Peggy took to it right away!  We gave the new family some food & water and things were going smoothly.  Unfortunately the next day, we found the duckling dead in the run.  Our main feed & water for the flock was on top of a pallet and the baby looked like it got trapped in the pallet.  Peggy was back on her nest.

I felt terrible.  We had good intentions, but the result was a bunch of eggs that only partially or didn’t develop at all, a dead duckling, and a very sad chicken mother. The chicken who hatched the duckling had been a devoted mom for a bit and frantically kept searching for her strange-looking new baby.  We got the chicken mom a couple of chicks from the feed store.  She was overjoyed and raised those babies without issue.

Clutch 2

What to do with Peggy?  We decided to let nature take its course without us interfering and let her keep her new clutch.  We didn’t intervene when it got too big.  She devotedly sat on her new clutch, only getting up when needed.

Hatch day came and out popped a single duckling!  We removed the pallet from the run and gave the new family easy access to feed & water.  Peggy seemed pretty proud of herself and was tending to the baby.  By the next day when no other eggs had hatched, we started to get concerned.  By day three we knew that the rest were unlikely to hatch.

The problem now was Peggy would not leave the nest and the baby was starting to get more adventurous.  By day 4 the baby was out wandering in the run alone and we knew we had to take the unhatched eggs away.  We pulled out about a dozen and a half eggs and candled them to confirm they weren’t viable.

Thankfully, with the nest empty, Peggy got up and tended to her baby.  We saw her proudly lead the baby to the kiddie pool for her first swim.  Two days later, we found the baby dead with Peggy sitting nearby.  I have no idea what went wrong, the duckling seemed perfectly healthy and didn’t seem to have any sign of trauma.  The baby was out of the nest area and it was pretty chilly at night, so perhaps Peggy wasn’t providing enough warmth.

Our duck hatching experiment had gone terribly wrong and I didn’t have any intentions of ever doing it again.  Too many dead ducklings, too many partially developed, abandoned eggs.

Clutch 3

When Peggy went broody again the next spring I wasn’t going to let it happen.  We kept taking her eggs, kept shooing her off the nest.  She was so persistent though!

Finally, she started a clutch underneath the chicken coop that went unnoticed for almost 2 weeks!  By the time we found it, she had well over a dozen eggs.  I wanted to take them away but I just couldn’t do it.

So against my better judgment, we let her go again.  She started to attract attention and not just from us.  I have heard that broodiness can be “contagious” – when one hen sees another sitting on eggs she wants to do it too.  Before long, our Swedish duck Eliza joined her.

The two ducks were getting along nicely and then suddenly one of our chickens joined in!  It was the same chicken that hatched out the duckling last summer.  I think she knew those ducks were in over their heads.


And they probably were, they definitely were not the most devoted moms.  The ducks both took breaks that were far too long and far too frequent.  I am pretty positive not a single egg would have hatched had it been left to just the ducks.  Our chicken was a very devoted broody hen though and between the three, those eggs were very well-loved.

Because we were surprised by this clutch, we were not exactly sure when these babies were due.  We knew it would be soon so we were keeping a close eye on the little family and had the chick feed & waterer in the nest area ready to go.

Then one morning I went out for morning farm chores and found a dead duckling by the water bowl.  I was so upset, thinking of the horrible time we had last summer.  I checked the nest and no others had hatched or even pipped yet.  All the moms seemed calmly determined to keep sitting.

The next morning while going out for farm chores I was greeted by the happy sounds of peeping!  I was cautiously optimistic as I inspected the nest.  My heart sank as I found yet another dead duckling not too far from the nest.  Inside the nest however were three lovely, fluffy alive ducklings!

Checking over the other eggs, I found one more that was nearly hatched.  I was relieved at least so far this hatching was not a total disaster.  We left the new family alone, trying not to interfere.

I checked on them later in the day and found the half hatched duckling had passed away, I don’t know if he just wasn’t strong enough to get out or if he somehow got stuck, but he did not make it.  The three little ones were starting to explore a bit.

Three fluffy ducklings and three moms

One duckling seemed very healthy running between the three moms.  One looked like it was limping and the third was sitting very quietly next to the chicken mom.  The other 8 eggs showed no sign of hatching although the chicken mom was not giving up on them.

By the next day, trouble was starting to brew.  Eliza, the Swedish duck, decided she no longer wanted to share mothering duties and wanted sole custody.  She chased the other duck off, but the chicken was steadfast.  She refused to move off the nest.

Eliza ended up leaving and quacking for the babies to follow her.  Two of them did, but the smallest one stayed with the chicken.  This baby was not looking good, hardly moving, we didn’t have much hope for it.  The duck mom toddled off to free range with the healthy baby and the limping baby in tow.

Momma chicken stayed with the unhatched eggs and the sickly duckling.  Poor Peggy was left out, slowly trailing behind the duck mom and babies hoping to be included, her long days spent on the nest once again yielding no babies.

Overnight, the sickly duckling passed away, and the remaining eggs were not showing any sign of hatching so the chicken finally gave up the nest.  She wanted to reclaim the two healthy ducklings, who by now were both walking well and following duck momma Eliza all over the yard.

Interspecies Co-parenting

Chicken mom followed the family everywhere calling to the babies, finding food for them, and acting as a temporary babysitter.  The duck mom actually tolerated it all very well.  I think she was grateful for the help!

The ducklings definitely preferred their duck mom, but they trusted the chicken mom and would occasionally follow her about.  Things had settled down and we thought we were in the clear until one morning when the ducklings were about 2 weeks old.  We went to close up the birds at night and one of the ducklings had disappeared!

I searched in every corner of the yard and listened for peeping everywhere but there was no sign of her.  We never found any remains, so I don’t know if a predator got her or she got stuck somewhere, or if she escaped under the fence and wandered off.   The only good news in this story is the surviving duckling thrived and is now a full-grown beautiful bird.

Reflections on our duck hatching experiences

So for those keeping score that is 3 separate clutches, approximately 40 eggs that either didn’t develop or only partially developed but didn’t hatch, 7 ducklings that died, and one single duckling that made it to adulthood.

Those are terrible odds, and I would definitely not consider any part of it successful, just an emotional and frustrating experience.  I don’t know that I would want to try letting my ducks hatch any more clutches.  If I want to hatch duck eggs in the future, I will likely just let the chickens do it!  But a few lessons I have taken away to share with you:

Give ducks a separate pen for brooding/raising young

I always let my chickens just hatch eggs in the nest box and raise the babies in with the flock and have great results.  I think the ducks need a smaller, less distracting environment.  They are already prone to wandering off instead of sitting and were not great about watching newly hatched ducklings (at least my ducks weren’t).  So a safe, small pen would be helpful.  Keeping her separate will also ensure other ducks aren’t adding to her clutch, making it unmanageable.

Don’t interfere

Again, my chickens don’t mind me touching the eggs, candling them, reducing numbers, or generally being in their business while hatching and raising young.  The ducks were more likely to bolt and abandon the nest than defend it when I come near.

Don’t let the new family out to free range for a couple of weeks

My chickens take their chicks out in the yard after a day or two, everyone stays close, mom takes great care of them.  The mother ducks were all over the place.  The duck mom would waddle away and if the babies kept up, great, if not they could be halfway across the yard alone and peeping.  Give them a couple of weeks in their private brooding pen to bond and get a little bigger before letting them free range.

Here is Phillip, full grown and quite handsome (his drake curl came in a couple of weeks after this photo).  The sole survivor of our duck-hatching experiments.
Hatching Ducklings with a Broody Duck

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Julie Hart

Tuesday 29th of September 2020

HI , I am hoping I am going to be a duckling mum early October , I adopted a crested duck about 2 months ago , I have a cayuga and 2 Pekins ducks too . Powder puff as she is called has so far been perfect she unfortunately does not swim , I have never seen her wet so each morning and night I spray the eggs , she happily gets off the eggs for me to spray . , I am removing her duck room mates tomorrow so she will be on her own . if she hatches a duckling will she show it how / where to swim if she doesn't or will I be teaching them !!!!!!!!any help appreciated . julie


Wednesday 30th of September 2020

Very exciting! Ducks don't really need anyone to teach them how to swim, it's instinctual. Even ducks raised by humans don't need swimming lessons, they just do it. The only difference is that ducklings under 2 months don't produce oil in the preening gland. This oil is spread around their feathers to make them "waterproof". It's what helps them float so easily and keeps their underfeathers dry so their skin isn't constantly wet. For ducklings raised by their mom, she will use her oil to spread on them so they can swim from day one without worries. For ducklings with no mother duck, you will want to supervise them while swimming so they don't get too deep and also dry them off afterwards. Good luck!

Jenna Gray-Shomler

Friday 4th of September 2020

Hi Liz!

I have searched everywhere for some feedback on our duck situation, but have found nothing. Hoping you can help give some advice!

We have Indian Runners who went broody and we're successful in hatching and raising 10 ducklings! We have away 6, and kept 4.

They are now fledged at 9weeks and we are seeing some big changes with the flock.

We have a Drake, and that has been a bit of a challenge as he struggles to accept them. But now we suddenly have an issue with the Mama hen. She is specifically chasing and biting one of her own ducklings! The duckling is a Drake (3 of the 4 that we kept are drakes), and it is so strange and sad. The young Drake is gentle and doesn't seem to act any different than the other fledglings. But for some reason the mother is constantly chasing and separating it from the flock.

Any advise on this? Or understanding as to why she would do this? She was a good mother and always protected them. So this behavior is very unusual. He has red marks from where she is biting him when she catches him! We are already realizing that we will need to re-home two of the 3 new drakes in order to have a good ratio with the rest of the flock.

Any advice or thoughts are appreciated!


Saturday 5th of September 2020

It is strange that she has singled out that one baby to pick on, but usually around 8-9 weeks the mom will start to tell her babies it's time to leave the "nest". She will usually start by just chasing them off and will start hanging out more with her old friends. Sometimes she will attack the babies if they don't get the hint. Perhaps this little guy is just a momma's boy and just is not taking the hint that it's time to go off on his own? Are the other 3 babies a bit more self sufficient, hanging out more with each other rather than sticking close to mom? Poor little guy, growing up is hard! Anytime there are changes, there can be disharmony among the flock. Everyone needs to figure out their place in the flock now as the babies transition to full flock members and the mom stops acting like a mom. It's also normal for the dad to be a bit of jerk, especially where 3 of the babies are male. They might still be growing, but they are full grown enough to enter the pecking order and dad needs everyone to know that he is the alpha drake. Hopefully in a couple weeks they will have worked out everyone's place and things will be better.


Friday 7th of August 2020

Wow, thanks for all your help. I am just the opposite. I had issues with hens and baby chicks. My Millie sat on 12 eggs and 11 ducklings are now 8 weeks old. I did just that, put them in their own small section..enough room for a small pool, feed pans and walking around. The drake is on the outside of the pen able to look in, chat with everyone, and get acquainted. I am letting the 11 ducklings and Millie out at 10 weeks. I think they are ready now, but want to give them a couple of weeks to get adjusted. My ducks live with my chickens and my pig in a very large enclosure. I have coyotes so we are not free ranch any more. I am currently walking the larger pen to see if there is anything I need to adjust, any holes or issues that could come up. Thank you for all your information and I hope I didn't end up with all drakes. LOL


Sunday 9th of August 2020

That is so awesome! Millie sounds like a great mom! :)


Saturday 11th of July 2020

Okay! If I find a duck that really is devoted to being broody, do you have any advice on getting her to take to a gosling? Thanks!


Saturday 11th of July 2020

You will want to have her be broody for at least 3 weeks (4 weeks is better because that is how long it naturally takes for them to hatch an egg). You can put some golf balls or ceramic eggs in the nest for her to sit on to keep her broody. Then you just pull the fake egg out and slip the baby in and cross your fingers. Definitely stay out there and watch her to make sure she doesn't attack the baby thinking it is an intruder, but if she has been a devoted broody she will likely just take to the new baby


Friday 10th of July 2020

Hello! I have one broody duck and she sits on her eggs in the morning but when I go to check on her she bolts and does not come back until the next morning. We are currently trying to introduce 6 other adult female ducks, and I really wanted her to take to them when they were babies, but for some reason she was absolutely afraid of them and they were afraid of her. I have a big predator problem, so I am thinking about introducing a goose to my flock too, and Im wondering if my broody duck will take to it. Do you have any advice on how to get her to take to the goose? I am sort of new to ducks so i don't really know what to do. I'm pretty sure that she sits on her nest at night so should I sneak the gosling under her like with chickens? It is always really hot at night here so i'm pretty sure the gosling could survive the night. Any advice?


Friday 10th of July 2020

Well she certainly isn't going to be hatching anything if she is only sitting on her eggs in the morning. They would need her to sit on them pretty much all the time, only taking a few short breaks. So you might as well toss those eggs before they start to rot. So is she a solo duck living on her own and you are currently trying to introduce a flock of 6 adults to her? If she is used to living on her own, I can see why she might be a little spooked with a bunch of new ducks. She honestly doesn't seem that committed to being broody so it would be better if you discouraged the broodiness and encouraged her to hang out outside with her new duck friends. I would be nervous giving her a baby to take care of the way she so easily abandons her nest, even if it stayed warm enough, it will be defenseless and you wouldn't want her to abandon the baby at the first sign of trouble.

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