Last month Lola, our one-year old Mallard hen, started laying eggs at an tremendous rate! We first counted seven, then twelve, then a whopping 17! About four weeks ago she built a nest out of straw, rolled them all into it, and started sitting on them like she was on a mission.
Every day when I got home from work, I let Lola and Hank (the father) out of the duck coup so they could fly down to our pond and dabble around in the water. As the weeks passed, Lola was less and less inclined to get off her nest, but when she did decide to fly down to the pond she would stay for quite some time.
In my reading about hatching duck eggs, I learned that the hen should really not stay away from the nest for more than about thirty minuets. Since Lola has made repeated sorties lasting longer than a few hours, Courtney and I had all but given up on the prospect of this nest full of eggs hatching. As the book suggested, we would let her sit on the nest for the entire 28 day incubation period, but we were really starting to dread the task of removing the eggs and taking down her nest. Loosing a nest in this way is devastating for a brooding hen, but once you are sure the eggs are not viable, it must be done so that her health will not suffer.
Last Thursday, however, as I was bringing them fresh food and water I decided to check up on the nest. I gently nudged Lola’s wing out of the way to view the eggs, and much to my surprise I saw cracking shells and heard little “peeps” coming from the eggs. I put a small drinker full of fresh water near the nest, along with a little dish of starter crumble in case they hatched while we were away at work.
Friday, I came home from to a very confused looking Lola and a nest full of eggs that were in the process of hatching. Some ducklings were totally free from their shells, while others were just climbing out. All in all, we had 13 ducklings hatch and only four eggs that were not viable. Much to Lola’s dismay, I gently removed the broken egg shells from the nest, but left those that had not hatched in place. By Saturday afternoon she had pushed the four unhatched eggs out of her nest to make room for her sizable brood.
Most of her time is currently spent hovering over the baby ducks to keep them warm, but every hour or so she takes them to the drinker for some water and food.