East nest – 17 ducklings jumped on May 20th. All of the eggs produced a duckling.
West nest – 10 ducklings jumped on May 23rd. There were 2 unhatched eggs and one duckling who hatched late and was not able to go (see below). I was out of town so did not have an outside camera set up for this jump day.
South nest – The hooded merganser is incubating 1 wood duck and 10 merganser eggs that are due to hatch sometime between June 1st and 7th. I’ll start checking the eggs and will post when I know more about the date. I hope to have two outside cameras set up on their jump day, to cover the outside view from two different perspectives.
Round two? – Wood ducks are still visiting the East and West nest boxes each day. It’s very possible they will lay eggs and hatch them since this has occurred here many times in the past, as shown by the duckling count history on this site’s main page. If so l will turn the nest box cameras on again.
About late ducklings that cannot leave with the others:
Late ducklings often occur in wood duck nests. If you were watching the West nest camera on May 23rd you saw one that was left behind.
A late duckling can occur due to “dumping” which is the actual biologist’s term for when a duck lays an egg in another duck’s nest. When the one duck that “owns” the nest starts to keep all of eggs warm this starts their development. They are dormant as long as they remain cool, so even though the oldest egg was laid perhaps 2 weeks before the most recent one, they all start developing at the same time and they all hatch at the same time. This applies to both the dozen or so eggs laid by the duck that incubates and also to any other eggs laid by other ducks during the preceding weeks. The incubating duck will raise and care for all that hatch. Our record here is 31 eggs of which 25 hatched. Since one duck lays about a dozen, that’s the result of at least 3 ducks (probably more) providing eggs.
When an egg is dumped by another duck after incubation starts, it will develop too but will be behind the others. If the timing is just wrong the duckling will hatch while the others are still in the nest, but it will be too many hours later than the main group. So although it will be with the others in the nest for a while, the late duckling will not have had the necessary 20 or so hours out of the egg to become dry and strong and it won’t be ready when the others must leave.
What happens to late ducklings? They die. This is a harsh part of nature that occurs in many wood duck nests each spring. The difference here that makes it hard for us is the camera inside the nest box so we can see it. It is a sad experience. But when I’ve observed nature simply taking its course – and I did that this time, playing back the recordings after I got home again – I’ve seen that late ducklings do not seem to suffer. Shortly after the others leave they just shut down and stop moving. I like to think this is a nature-designed response; that is, if it’s impossible for a duckling to survive then it goes to sleep and dies peacefully. In the past I have taken late ducklings to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota – I made a video about that called “Little Woodie’s First Day“- but due to avian flu they are not accepting ducklings now so I could not have done that even if I was here.
The West nest ducklings are hatching! They will jump from the nest box tomorrow morning.
I usually have an outside camera view for you and I regret that I will not have that this time, but you can watch the inside-the-nest-box activity today, tonight, and tomorrow morning when the ducklings are called to leave the nest by their mother.
Ducklings in the East nest are looking dried out and fuzzy and very active. They will leave the nest box tomorrow by jumping from the doorway. When they decide to go, it typically is all over in just a few minutes. The earliest we’ve seen them leave is 7:00am CDT, and the latest 1:00pm, but usually they leave in the first couple of hours of that range.
I’ve set up an outside camera so that you can see them jump. Be sure to try the “two camera” view since I created it specifically for jump day. It has a divider you can move to change the relative size of the two images.
This button at the top of the camera page opens the two camera view.
What to expect:
In the morning the hen will typically leave the ducklings and go off alone to get some breakfast for a half hour or hour. When she returns they usually all settle in for a while. The ducklings alternate between lots of practice jumping and climbing activity, and resting. When the hen decides it might be time to go she will jump up into the doorway and stay there for a long time, typically many minutes. She’s watching for anything that might harm the ducklings. Usually the first time she will decide it’s not quite right and drop back into the nest box to rest again. Once in a while she will go after the first look-around, but typically she will repeat this several times … while we wait.
But at some point she will decide it’s time to go. She’ll then drop down below the nest box and start a special pulsing call that activates the ducklings. They peep loudly and jump and climb up to the door, and jump out. She keeps calling as long as she still hears peeping from the nest. Finally she’ll lead her ducklings down to the water and they swim off. They never return to the nest; they stay there for only their first night.
A duck does not feed her ducklings; she takes them to where food can be found and they feed themselves. She shelters them at night hiding in tall grass or brush near the water. She will stay with her ducklings for about 2 months.
Hatching is happening in the East nest. No ducklings are out yet, but yesterday all of the eggs were “pipped” (slightly broken in one place) which occurs 24 to 48 hours before hatching. This morning the duck was away from her nest so I was able to check again and some showed that the duckling is starting to break the shell all around. To get out, a duckling pecks at the shell while pushing with its little wings and feet to slowly (hours) twist around inside the egg. When the shell is broken all the way around it comes apart and the duckling pops out (well, sprawls out actually).
I also heard the little ducks peeping from inside their eggs, and was able to record it for you! Below. One reason that they pip the eggs is to let in air, plus there is already a pocket of air inside the egg too. All of the liquid parts of the original egg have been turned into baby duck except for some of the yolk: part of the yolk is in a pocket inside the ducklings body to give it a source for energy and growth during its first days.
Inside the egg the ducklings are breathing the air to make their little peeping sounds, but it’s a tiny bit of air and there isn’t good ventilation, so they don’t really use it to get oxygen; oxygen comes from the egg yolk just as it has throughout their growth. But they do use it to start breathing exercises and peeping exercises, to get ready to do those after hatching.
If you listen to the mother duck during this time you’ll hear lots of soft clucking – a pulsing sound – especially as she turns the eggs. She is responding to the peeping of her ducklings inside the eggs. She’s also teaching them the sound of her voice which they will need to know to follow her out of the nest the day after they hatch.
Yesterday – This egg is pipped. The ducklings do that 24 to 48 hours before they hatch.
11:00am today – This egg is hatching. The duckling has started to break it all around as it slowly turns inside.
Below is a screen shot from the nest box camera. I’m holding the microphone end of my phone close to the eggs as I turn them gently with the other hand, similar to what the mother duck does. The ducklings inside peep in response. It’s hard to hear this via the online cameras because they are too far away to pick up the tiny sounds. The rustling, swishing sounds are from me moving the eggs but the little peep-peep-peeps are the ducklings. Here’s the 10 second audio clip:
Today I checked the eggs in the East and West nests and removed eggs that were not developed. As I’ve mentioned, I have marked the eggs that were added late and except for one original egg (perhaps infertile) all of those removed were added later, after incubation started. There still will probably be some unhatched eggs since some that I did leave were marked as being late, but if there was any possibility that they would hatch – if a duckling had developed – then I left them in the nest.
The count now:
East nest: 17 eggs (removed one) hatching next week, between Sunday and Thursday
West nest: 13 eggs (removed 4) hatching between Thursday 6 days from now and Monday
South nest: 10 hooded merganser and 1 wood duck hatching in the first week of June
Checking eggs for development is called “candling” because in olden days a candle flame was used as a light source. I use a very bright LED flashlight.
There is a bracket beneath those two holes that holds the flashlight. It shines upwards and illuminates both holes equally.
It’s easy to see a difference. A growing duckling inside the top egg blocks the light. The bottom one is undeveloped.