Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is in the first year of a four-year effort to better understand mallard movements and how they affect their breeding success.
More than 250 female mallards were fitted with transmitters and DEC and partners are monitoring their nesting attempts and success. Mallards are one of the most adaptable duck species in the world. Although most people associate waterfowl with nesting near water, mallards and most dabbling ducks are actually upland nesting birds.
In the central part of the country, they commonly nest in short grass prairie near small potholes. In the east, we don’t have a lot of that type of habitat, therefore they have to be more adaptable. They will commonly nest in everything from flower beds to hay fields, to a hollowed-out tree.
When ducks or other birds end up in front yards or gardens, DEC often gets phone calls from concerned people about what to do with the nest. As protected migratory birds, the best course of action is usually to leave the bird alone until she finishes nesting. Ducks take about 25-29 days for their eggs to hatch, so the hen shouldn’t be there for more than a few weeks.
Unlike song birds that stay in the nest for several weeks until the young birds can fly, ducks leave the nest within about 24 hours and will walk their brood to a nearby waterbody. Sometimes a hen will move her brood up to 4 or 5 miles across land.
For more information on the eastern mallard research project, or to follow along with migration, visit the Atlantic Flyway Waterfowl Tracking Studies website.
Photo of duck eggs courtesy DEC.