Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

It’s spring break, and you know what that means…

Mother duck + ten very fluffy ducklings swimming in a pool.

Mama Duck takes her 10 ducklings out for a swim. (Photo: Michael Howell)

It’s time for another Caterpickles Central update.

I am not going to lie. I am so tired. 2022, like 2021, 2020, and 2019 before it, has been a lot. Between Omicron, the war in Ukraine, the worrying trend toward book banning sweeping various states, some difficult events in our extended circle of family and friends, and how much has been going on at school lately, I am just tired. Fine, more or less, thankfully. But emotionally exhausted and in the market for a distraction. You may be too. So in that spirit, and not intending to downplay anything you may be feeling in response to events in your own life, I offer this update from the mini-wildlife refuge we call a backyard.

Fortunately, because it’s spring, we have quite a lot of breaking news happening out there. My daughter reports that we have another opossum, the backyard smells as if the skunk has finally moved away (or simply gotten used to us wandering about), the rabbit family has had another set of kits, and Mama Duck has hatched ten fluffy new ducklings in a nest under our palm tree. The ducks and the ducklings are getting the most attention, as Mama Duck is very busy right now teaching her ducklings how to swim and forage. Also, she tends to do this in the daytime, when we’re able to see her.

I know I ought to care about the mess this is going to create, but those ducklings are so flipping cute all the time the mess just doesn’t feel important. I expect in about six weeks when I’ve got eleven basically full-grown ducks in my backyard, I’ll have a different opinion.

But I’ll also feel much less bad about chasing them off when those ducklings are able to fly and stand a reasonable chance of surviving without Mama Duck. For now, I’m just going to bask in the cuteness.

Which is why this spring break, you’ll find me spending most of my time sitting by a window where I can watch the baby ducks learn to swim and dive and waddle about in a Line of Exceptional Cuteness.

Mama Duck and her ten little ducklings waddle in a line around the perimeter of our backyard.
Make way for ducklings. (Photo: Michael Howell)

Those ducklings have a lot to learn in two months, and Mama Duck isn’t wasting a moment of it.

It’s been fascinating watching the lessons (and skills) progress.

Sunday’s lesson was simply “Getting in and out of the Pool.” Getting in worked great. Getting out was clearly a problem. Mama Duck can simply hop out. Her ducklings tried, but were simply too small to do it Mama’s way. I’ve since learned that the first thing a Mama Duck does after her ducklings have dried off from hatching is lead them to water. It’s entirely possible that Sunday’s swim was their first field trip on their very first day. No wonder they couldn’t just hop out Mama-style.

Fortunately, we already had a Frog Log Critter Escape Ramp installed in our pool to help critters that fall in climb out before they drown. Eventually Mama Duck remembered that and led her ducklings to it. Thank goodness she did. I shudder to think how that lesson would have ended if she hadn’t.

Ducklings climb and hop up a blue escape ramp out of our pool and back to their nest under a palm tree in our side garden.
The ducklings took a little while to figure out how to use the ramp, but now they charge up it like champs. (Photo: Michael Howell)

Monday’s lesson was “Diving off Relatively High Places.” We have two levels of pool edge, the low one that you see in the photo above, and a higher retaining wall by the side garden. The ledge on top of that retaining wall was the relatively high place Mama Duck picked for Monday’s lesson. That was absolutely adorable. Most of the ducklings were very brave. A few needed extra encouragement from Mama and their siblings.

Yesterday, the ducklings appear to be learning the timeless classics “Sleeping while Floating” and “Sleeping on Land While Other Ducks Are Floating.”

I cannot wait to see what the lesson is today.

Ducks are surprisingly fascinating creatures.

Did you know that when it’s time for a land nap, Mama Duck gathers all the ducklings underneath her? Look closely at this photo and you’ll see the some of her ducklings carefully tucked under her belly.

Brown mallard sitting up on her legs a bit, wings down creating a little nursery for the ten little ducklings tucked under her belly.
Mama Mallard sitting on a ledge in our back garden, with all ten ducklings safely tucked away for a mid-afternoon nap. (Photo: Michael Howell)

Apparently, Mama Duck broods like this because while all that yellow fluff is cute, it’s not waterproof or particularly warm. For the first few days of life, the ducklings huddle up under Mama to get (and stay) warm.

There is also a fair bit of family drama

Yesterday, Mama Duck flew off for a bit, which was pretty worrisome for everyone in the house, except for our cat, who lobbied loudly to be allowed to take advantage of this rare opportunity (don’t worry, he’s still an indoor only cat).

Eventually Mama Duck came home, with a male mallard close behind her. At first I thought, “Ah, how cute, Papa Duck is here to help out.” And then I noticed how very upset and full of duck curses Mama Duck was.

That’s how I learned that male mallards may help with the nest choosing, but they most definitely do not help with the duck raising. Mama Duck does that all on her own. In fact, Mama Duck was pretty upset when Papa Duck started poking about because (as I’ve since learned) male ducks can be dangerous for her ducklings. They don’t eat them, as far as I can tell, but they will kill them.


Mama Duck chased off Mr. Mallard on her own yesterday, but he came back with two of his drinking buddies this morning. Mama Duck defended her nest ably, but after she’d forced Mr. Mallard and his buddies to retreat to the pool to regroup, I strolled out casually with my morning coffee. Thankfully, that was enough to get those rogues to fly off and leave Mama Duck and her brood in peace.

Since then, I’ve done the odd bit of reading about how to deal with a duck family in your backyard. While I don’t regret chasing off those rogue mallards this morning, I have since learned that it’s a very lucky thing that I didn’t chase off Mama Duck as well. Mama Ducks have been known to abandon their young in the presence of sufficiently alarming humans.

Mama Duck walks along the outside of a pool fence. A team of baby ducks are grouped on the sidewalk inside the fence near her.
We have a fence around our pool, and Mama Duck spends a lot of time patrolling its perimeter while her ducklings are on the inside. Michael was trying to think what this reminded him of, and then it struck him: “It’s the duck version of a Pack-n-Play, Shala.” (Photo: Michael Howell)

So, what do you do if you find a family of ducks in your backyard?

According to this Mercury News article, if you find yourself with a family of ducks in your backyard, your best bet is to leave them alone, don’t feed them, and only interfere if an especially dangerous predator comes along. Presumably, the category of “exceptionally dangerous predators” does not include Mr. Mallard, as Mama Duck appears to be quite capable of dealing with rogue ducks on her own. It does, however, include your pool drain and pool sweep. So keep an eye on that stuff. It’s also a good idea to install a critter escape ramp in your pool, if you don’t already have one and if you can do it without freaking Mama Duck out. We use the Frog Log Critter Escape Ramp, but there are lots of similar products available on Amazon, and I imagine, at your local pool supply store.

When the ducklings are grown (in about two months), the entire family ought to move away. So I guess we’ll just sit tight and enjoy the show until then (and plan to clean up after).

I had been hoping to do a little light gardening over Spring Break, but I really don’t want to end up nursing a paddling of baby ducks for two months if Mama Duck moves out in a panic, so I guess this spring’s herb garden and cactus refresh will just have to wait. Although truthfully, if despite our best efforts to be non-threatening, we end up scaring Mama Duck away, we’ll just call a local wildlife rehabilitator. Raising wild ducklings is just simply not a thing I’m equipped to do. Still, probably best for everyone if I let the garden wait.

So, how are things where you are? Any news from your backyard?

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2 Responses to “It’s spring break, and you know what that means…”

    • Shala Howell

      Ha! Thank you. I am still in the dark about today’s lesson because Mama Duck has taken them off on a field trip somewhere.

      I have learned today that the duckling survival rate in the wild is not great. If the mother is experienced, 30-70% survive. If the mother is a relative newbie only 10-30% make it. I’m a bit worried these adventures are going to take a dark turn very soon.



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