Duckling season can be fun for people of all ages. In San Diego, ducklings start to hatch around late March or early April. The last ducklings will usually hatch around the middle of August. Most of San Diego’s lakes and reservoirs that have wild ducks will have ducklings during these time periods. The majority of the ducklings will be mallard or mallard hybrids. Sometimes, one might see a gadwall or a wood duck family, too.
Wild ducklings come into a rough world with a lot of woes and troubles. They are very popular food for many animals such as herons, fish, turtles, raccoons, possums, foxes, skunks, and many other animals. They also will fall victim to cats, crows, ravens, hawks and even geese will attack them, especially as hatchlings.
Ducks can have a dozen ducklings in one family. However, about 70% of them will not make it to their second or third week. Once they’ve made it to about three weeks old, their chances of survival are much higher. Not only do predators get them, they are also susceptible to hypothermia, starvation, exhaustion, drowning and illness. Mothers do their best to protect their babies by giving them warmth and defending them, but it’s hard to avoid all mishaps, especially with a very large brood. Males do not play any role in the ducklings’ care and can often cause problems for the mothers, especially when they first come out with their new brood.
Ducklings usually spend most of their day feeding, sleeping and keeping warm. They will peck at everything and chase bugs without paying attention to anything else. They peep and chatter to each other and their mother as they swim along seemingly without a care in the world. The mother duck rarely leaves their side, but may occasionally do so. Ducklings, when left alone, will continue on with whatever activity they were doing at the time the mother left. But, if they get cold or scared, they will begin to peep loudly and frantically look for her. After a while, the mother will start looking for them around the place she left them and start to call. Eventually, they find each other and are reunited. Another mother with ducklings the same age may adopt a lost duckling, but most unrelated females won’t accept them.
If you find a duckling by itself, it’s best to leave it alone. Stay at a distance and watch. The mother will probably come back to it, but it could take up to an hour for her to do so. If the mother fails to come back to her baby after a few hours and the duckling is peeping and running around frantically, it might be best to take it to a wildlife rescue agency. Also, be careful what you feed to wild ducklings as they choke easily. Be sure to feed things that are in small pieces, mashed, soaked or chopped. Mashed peas are often a favorite as are duckling crumbles if available. But, it’s best to let them eat their natural food.