Orphaned Wildlife:  Ducks

Q: I’m afraid the duckling I see is orphaned.

A: If you know where the duckling came from, then it’s best to take the duckling to that pond for release. The duckling will soon rejoin his family. Sometimes other ducks will even foster-parent the young duckling. If the duckling was left behind for a while and his origin is unknown (i.e. fished out of storm drain or spillway), you can contain the duckling with an upside down laundry basket and monitor to see if the mother returns. The mother will see the duckling through the lattice sides of the basket and make contact.  If she returns, slowly approach and overturn the basket so she can collect her young.

If the mother doesn't come back after 4 ‑8 hours, call a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. These are tough judgment calls.  If you need to hold the duckling(s) in captivity for a few hours, DO NOT give them water to swim in because ducklings are not waterproof until they’re older. They may become chilled and die. Just give them a shallow pan of water (to drink) and some crushed, non-sugared cereal like Cheerios.


Q: Ducklings were separated from their mother. Is there a way to reunite them?

A: If the mother was seen recently, wait it out for an hour and see if she comes back. If the ducklings are beginning to scatter, or you’re not sure how long they’ve been alone, put a plastic laundry basket over them, upside down, to contain them while waiting for the mother to  return. She will see them through the lattice sides of the basket and make contact. If she returns, slowly approach and overturn the basket so she can collect her young.


Q: There’s a duckling stuck in my pool! How do I get him out?

 A: Most ducklings get stuck in pools because the water level is too low. The solution is to either raise the water level (simplest approach),  fish them out with a net, or create a ramp angled <45 degrees, with a wet towel attached to it for traction.


Q: Ducklings fell through a sewer grate! How do I get them out?

A: These are tricky situations. Often you’ll have to contact your town’s Public Works Department for assistance with removing the grate. The police can be a valuable resource in terms of helping you contact the right town employee. You’ll need a fishing net, carrier or other container to catch the ducklings. You may have to be creative in terms of capture strategies, depending on the logistics of where they’re stuck. Once you catch them, make sure they are dry (or use a hair dryer set on low) before setting them back outside for the mother to retrieve. Put an upside down laundry basket over them until the mother comes (so they don’t scatter), and then slowly lift it when she reappears. If she doesn’t return by nightfall, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator.