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What to do if you find a lost duckling

Mallard duckling
Mallard duckling
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Yesterday, a day-old mallard duckling was found wandering around alone at Lake Murray. He was rescued and, later, returned to his mother as soon as she was found. This time of year, lost and wandering ducklings are frequently seen. Most of these lost ducklings are usually less than a few days old.

Ducks nest in a way that most of her babies will hatch at the same time. When the entire brood is ready, she will take them to a nearby water source. Sometimes a couple ducklings will hatch a few hours earlier than the others and wander away early. This may have been the case with this duckling. Or, they get left behind when the group moves out. Some ducklings maybe be grabbed by children or separated by pets. Here are a few tips on what to do when you come across a lost or abandoned duckling.

First, determine if the duckling is wild or domestic. During spring, especially after Easter, people abandon pet ducklings. Wild ducklings are usually brown and yellow or brown and silver with a blotched or striped pattern. Domestic ducks come in solid colors like black, yellow, or brown. Feral Muscovy ducklings will also often have solid colors.

Keep the duckling warm and search for the mother. The mother will be nearby, but may still be on the nest. If she is not found, return to the area every hour or two. If you see a mother with ducklings, be sure that they are they are the same age and size as the duckling you found. Most wild ducks do not accept ducklings that are not their own. Sometimes, a mother with day-old ducklings will accept a new day-old duckling. If you hold out the duckling, the mother duck should act interested, at least for a second or two. If she doesn't, don’t release the duckling to her. After you release the duckling, watch and make sure that he is accepted before leaving.

If the mother can’t be found after a few hours, put the duckling in a small box with holes for air and take it to a rehabilitation center. In San Diego, Project Wildlife is the main wildlife rehabilitator at 619-225-9453. Domestic ducklings go to the Humane Society at 619-299-7012.