Hatching Ducklings with a Broody Duck

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Do you have a broody duck?  Thinking of hatching out some ducklings?  In our experience trying to hatch ducklings has been an emotional roller coaster with very mixed results and a story line 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 a sense that this would be just as easy breezy and before long we would have adorable ducklings.  We were so wrong.   Want to read more about hatching eggs with chickens?  Click here

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, we had read that ducks don’t go broody nearly as often.  We also 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. 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.  We carefully pulled the eggs out and candled them.  We kept a dozen eggs that were the furthest along and viable.  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.

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 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 in the morning, we found the duckling dead in the run.  Our main feed & water for the flock was on a pallet (to cut down on mud) 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 didn’t hatch, a dead duckling and a very sad chicken mother who had been a devoted mom for a bit and frantically kept searching for her strange looking baby.  We got the chicken mom a couple chicks from the feed store.  She was overjoyed and raised up those babies without issue.

Clutch 2

What to do with Peggy?  We decided to let nature take it’s course.  We 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 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.  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 half eggs and candled them to confirm they weren’t viable.  Thankfully, Peggy got up and tended 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 following 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 judgement 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 brooding 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.  They 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 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.  I 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.  One 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 in paradise.  Eliza, the Swedish duck, and our head duck hen, 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 would not 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 much and we didn’t have much hope for it.  So the duck mom toddled off to free range with the 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 past 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.

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!  We looked 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 good news is the surviving duckling thrived and is now a full grown beautiful bird.

Reflections

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).  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 weeks.  My chickens take their chicks out in the yard after a day or two, everyone stays close, mom takes great care of them.  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 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 weeks after this photo).  The sole survivor of our duck hatching experiments.

 


21 comments

  1. Beckett says:

    I have an Orpington Broody hen and the ducks lay their eggs in her nest. ThT works out for me because I take eggs out daily leaving only those I have marked. Candling shows no viable eggs, but I let her keep three of them. She has done this three or four times and will leave after 30 days, but broods again after two or three weeks. She’ll be a good mama when she gets a hatch ?

  2. Veronica Martinez says:

    Wow that was one heck of a roller coaster ride! I don’t have any ducks but even reading your experience has me feeling anxiety. Now I don’t know if I will ever want ducks. Broody ducks seem too complicated. Maybe with chickens they are much more nurturing and protective while the ducks solely rely on the fittest and strong. Anyways thank you for sharing!

  3. Darla Belue says:

    I will never use Siri again. We are trying to save 13 duck eggs. Long story short lady found the eggs and ducks in her yard chased the ducks away and wanted to throw away the eggs. We have had them in a Incubator for 3 weeks. We use a flashlight and they are looking ready to hatch but not sure. Any advice? Please

    • Liz says:

      How exciting! Sounds like you just need to be patient a bit longer. Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch, but can vary by a couple days on either end. If you have been incubating them for 3 weeks they must be getting close. Perhaps when the mother duck was shooed off she had just started to incubate. I would certainly give them another week. Do you have the humidity up high enough? Ducks eggs are designed to have a moist duck mother sitting on them and prefer more humidity (usually around 55%). The first signs of hatching will just be small pips (really tiny holes). Once the first one pips, you should have the majority of them hatch within 24 hours. Good luck!

  4. Willow says:

    My ducks are muscovies,I have 5 females 1 male, all the females went broody even a chicken. our duck we call ‘mama’ is amazing with layingon the eggs, hatching and taking care of them, but we’ve never had them reach adult hood because its either been to cold or the dogs got in to the pen and attacked them,ending with them passing away and that has happened twice ,so she has never had the best of luck.but we have 4 sister ducks, one is on her second thing of eggs, another has got 3 chicken eggs she stole so i let her keep them.but i have this one duck and i have problem , she had 8 eights,I candled them and saw one passed in the egg so we threw it. one I wasn’t sure whether it was a duckling so i gave it back. a couple weeks later she had hatched 6 little beautiful ducklings, 3 white and 3 black and white. but she was determined to hatch the last egg, i candled it and it wasn’t a baby i took it away but she still wouldn’t take them. eventually she did but she wont teach them to eat they are 3 days old and i don’t know how to get them to eat, any advice?

    • Liz says:

      You might need to take them from momma and brooder raise them. Another option would be to put the family in a pen together and put in feed and water, you can physically show each duckling how to dip their head in the feed and water and they should get the hang of it. Once you let them out of the pen if the mom still isn’t helping them find food when free ranging you will probably just have to keep the family in the pen until the babies are a little bigger

  5. Megan says:

    I had a Cayuga hen and two Khaki Campbell males. The hen disappeared for several weeks and I was SURE that she must have been eaten by an eagle. Well, she showed up out of the blue to eat at the feeder and then took off again. We followed her the next time she came down and found a nest with sixteen eggs in it! By this time they were close to three weeks and sure enough a few days later she showed up at the pond with eight black ducklings and eight khaki ducklings! Apparently a Cayuga hen with a Khaki Campbell male produce sex-link ducklings! All the black ducklings were male and all the khaki were female. She was an excellent mother. I heard her making an unusual cry one day and ran up to the pond only to see a bald eagle flying away. There were no ducklings in sight. I was upset and thought that somehow the eagle had killed them all, but the momma duck made an “all clear” sound and one by one all sixteen ducklings popped up from the pond where they had been hiding under the water! 🙂

  6. Nic says:

    we are very new to having ducks. We have a female sitting on about 7-8 eggs for over 2 weeks. We have never tried candling & TBH I’m a bit nervous about doing it. She has her own hut & my husband is making a small enclosed area with a roof & space to put a small tray of water. Beyond that , we haven’t a clue what to do other than watch & wait !!
    I wanted to experience rearing ducklings but now I’m really nervous. Any advice much appreciated

    • Liz says:

      It sounds like your girl is doing a great job!! Hopefully she will stick to it and you can just sit back and watch. As you read, I didn’t have much luck with hatching ducklings with our ducks, but I know lots of people that have ducks that are better mommas than mine. I think you are doing the right thing. With ducks doing less is probably the best course of action. Keeping her in her own space that is secure with food & water will help her feel safer and hopefully will encourage her to stick with it. You guys are almost there, I would say you are doing everything right, let momma duck handle it!

  7. Sadie says:

    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?

    • Liz says:

      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.

  8. Sadie says:

    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!

    • Liz says:

      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

  9. Carole says:

    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

  10. Jenna Gray-Shomler says:

    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!

    • Liz says:

      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.

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