Why Ducks go Broody and How they Act

The brood follows Ozzi

Why ducks go broody later in the season rather than as soon as the breeding season commences.

The simple answer is… they have to build up a nest of eggs first!

Their major problem with that is that I come along and take their eggs, so they have to keep on laying to have sufficient to sit on.

This is when they begin to become very devious with where they lay their eggs!  

At this present time I have:

  • Swiss who only this morning hatched out three little ducklings
  • Twinny 1 – has been sitting for a couple of weeks
  • Twinny 2 – has been sitting for a little less time
  • Khaki also went broody but I took all of her eggs.  I said, enough is enough!
  • Cheese – my chocolate coloured duck also has a nest somewhere which I’ll have to try to find later on today.

They’ve all gone crazy!

You can meet these girls here…

Of-course, it means the egg production goes right down.  That’s a lot of ducks no longer laying as instead, they are all dreaming of having babies!

I will have to take the eggs away from Cheese also unfortunately, otherwise the potential of being overrun with ducklings is too much.

How Ducks Camouflage their nests

Ducks are masters at camouflaging  their nests.  Sometimes I walk around the property looking in, under, through and around every bush, but still come back to the house without having found where the nest is.

This is where Khaki hid her nest…

Hidden duck nest
I looked into this bush… nothing there I decided!
Peeping through the leaves towards the nest
But on closer inspection, through the leaves… is that one?
Hidden under the leaves a nice pile of eggs
Reach in and remove some leaves… ahh… look at this!

I ended up collecting these and once Khaki saw they were gone she went off the brood virtually straight away.  So much easier than the hens… they can be very hard to break the cycle.

Why ducks go broody? Imagine them sitting on all these?
I thought my ducks had stopped laying, but look what I found!

Once, before I realised what my ducks were up to, I came across a nest and gathered all the eggs.  I forget the count, but there were a lot!

I tested all of them to see if they were still OK, and as the ground had been cold and they’d all been covered well, the eggs were fine. Of-course, they don’t look too good, but the stains are from the leaves.  A lot of it washes off.

Swiss puts up a real fight!

I’ve found in times previous that Swiss is a very, very feisty duck.  Once she sits on a nest you can hardly crowbar her off.  I had to do it once because where she was, the ducklings could not of hatched.  It was a real fight, I can tell you.

I really hate doing this, but sometimes you simply have too.  I don’t know how many ducks I’d have here if I didn’t… the cost of the feed would be enormous!

This time, she sat at the foot of a very large gum tree, in amongst some bushes.  I thought she would be fine there, so left her.  28 days later… this morning… there she was standing proudly outside the duck pen with her three little babies.

Why Ducks go Broody and how they Act

When the ducks are broody, some days they don’t bother to come out for feed, but most other days they come, loudly proclaiming they are hungry and need some tucker!  Lately I feed all the ducks together that show up for their feed.  I shut the door while I go and attend to the other birds before coming back.  The broody’s are all standing near the door, quack, quack, quacking as they wait to go back to their nests.

It’s quite fascinating to me that the other ducks all seem to understand that they are not to go out, but the broody ducks can.  I haven’t had any trouble organising this.

During this time, they run around with their bill wide open, with lots of quacking and squawking.  Only broody ducks act that way.

 

Why ducks go broody?  This is why!  Off to the dam they march!

Once the little ones hatch, within the first 12 hours or so, the mother takes them off down to the dam.

Off to the dam for the first time
Swiss – the new mother duck, marches her three little ducklings to the dam for the first time

She goes in and without a moment of hesitation, the ducklings follow her.

why ducks go broody Ducklings swimming with mum
Swiss with her day-old ducklings

I’m always so amazed at their ability.  They swim so fast, you’d think they’d been doing it forever.

The Challenge of Feeding when the others are around

Feeding them is more of a challenge, simply because when ever I put down some feed the other ducks think it’s for them.

This morning I took a little tray of feed over to the dam and was trying to allow just them to eat it.  The other ducks kept swimming up but I’d raise my hand and they’d turn away.  The ducks are far easier to train than the chickens in this way.  There is no way a raised hand would be taken notice of amongst the hens!

I managed to keep them at bay, at least for a time… as the video shows:

I went down their after lunch today and found her in the chook pen (chickens) having a rest with her little babies close by.  After shooing out all the rest of the birds I was able to lay a tray of food before her.  She was happy to receive it but her ducklings still didn’t comprehend that it contained food for them.

why ducks go broody Ducklings watch as mother duck feeds
Swiss – the new mother duck feeding as her three babies watch on. They don’t yet understand.

It’s OK for the first 24 hours or so for them to not eat much, but by tonight I hope they will manage to get themselves some tucker.

One more thing I’ve observed is that, when a duck has ducklings, she pretty much maintains that close relationship with them forever.  All my ducks naturally divide into their family relations, although they will also come together as a group.

During their first 6 – 8 weeks

When a hen has chickens, I always keep them locked in their own pen out on the grass until they are old enough to be let out amongst the others… and to protect them from predators above.  But, when a duck has ducklings, I have to allow them to go about their own business.

I really don’t know how I could do it in a different way because ducks prefer to lay their eggs in nests of their making.  In behind a group of ferns, or hidden away in some hidey-hole place where they feel safe from me, as much as anyone, or anything else!  To then move them to another place for the duration of their sitting, I think would be impossible.  I don’ t believe the duck would go back to the eggs if I moved them.

The only way would be to have them in a pen which contained a water trough, right from the start.  But how would I do that?  How would I know when one of them was about to go broody?  She has to set about laying all the eggs first.  No, I can’t see how that would work when they are used to be free-ranged.

Why do ducks go broody?  Well, it’s to ensure the future generations of little ones.  I’m happy to say that although their nature’s do change a little… become very loud, and huffy/puffy with me if I go near their nests, I don’t believe they would be like the hens and end up fighting each other.  Generally speaking, ducks have lovely natures and normally don’t cause any harm to each other.  The odd push with their chest is about as bad as it gets.

Amendment

Amendment!  Tonight when I went down to feed my birds and put them to bed, guess what?  I had directed Swiss and her three little ones into the pen first to feed them.  All was well.  Then I allowed the other ducks to go in.  As I was attending to the other birds I could hear a real ruckus going on.  There was Swiss hanging onto the tail of one of the broodies!  The broody was yelling for her life and took off out of there just as soon as she could get out the door!  I guess she got too close and mum was having none of it.

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2 Comments

  1. Does your drake try to hurt the babies when they hatch out. I have one hiding right now, it is a Mallard hen. There are 2 female Rouens in the rather large pen along with two other female mallards and one mallard drake. I am afraid he will kill the babies. I can’t even figure out where she is hiding to sit on the eggs. It is mid February and very cold here in Ohio. Thanks for your help

    • Hi Deborah!
      If I have understood your question correctly, you are saying that you think the hen is sitting on some eggs, but you’ve not been able to find her. You are worried that maybe she’s hiding away from the drake.
      In my experience, there has never been any problem with drakes killing young. I don’t think they would be game to try and the mother is fiercely protective!
      She is hiding because that’s what they like to do. They find a place they feel is safe for both them and their littlies when they hatch.
      I’ve had to search often for them but you will find her. She’ll hiss at you if you come too close.
      Also, she will come out for food so you can watch where she returns to.
      Hope this helps.

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