The other day, I was wandering around the duck yard, looking for two rascals who were late for bed, when I saw this: three lovely white eggs, snug under a wood pile.
Many ducks, particularly those who are often inclined to go broody, are notorious nest hiders. They think hiding their nest is their life’s duty.
Owners of ducks who like to play egg hide-and-seek frequently run into hidden treasure: a nest, sometimes with twenty or more eggs in it.
The only problem?
Sometimes the eggs are so old they’re rotten.
Sometimes the nest location is wonderfully chosen…but only to the duck. Duck owners have been known to find nests inside their car (if they left their windows down), in the neighbor’s yard, in places completely unreachable to us big humans.
Sometimes, the owner never finds the nest. A duck vanishes, and a month later, she reappears with a trail of ducklings waddling along behind her.
Or the foxes find the nest before the owner does.
So there is one big question facing all owners of the sneaky ducks who like to hide their nests:
How do I discourage my ducks from hiding their nests?
Simply, make your own nest boxes. BUT…there’s one big but here:
They have to be nests the ducks will actually want to use.
And there’s one key to an irresistible nest:
When I was younger and had my first flock of Muscovies, my dad made a gorgeous wooden nest condominium with three comfy nests. I filled them so full of dried grass clippings that I couldn’t imagine the ducks turning down such a cozy spot. Surely they’d love it.
Well, they NEVER laid in it. Not once.
It was such a pity. We even painted the nest boxes all pretty and white.
They thought it was nothing more than something to poop on.
Why did they reject it?
On the other hand, my entire flock of ducks all competed for nesting rights in a tiny, floorless nest made of scrap wood that was half-rotten and tattered at the edges.
Eventually I figured it out.
The fancy nest faced the feeding area and was completely open. You could see the inside of the nest standing up, or two hundred feet away. The scrap wood nest had a piece of plywood partially over the front so that the opening was so low that even the ducks had to put their heads down to get in. Even squatting, a human couldn’t see in.
There were two other problems with the fancy nest.
One, the white color didn’t help. It made the interior much brighter and more visible. The scrap wood nest was just the color of wood.
Two, they had removable wire screen bottoms with hay on top. Some ducks don’t mind artificial bottoms, but most ducks prefer to lay on the warm, humid, natural ground, perhaps with a little bit of straw or hay and some soft feathers plucked from mommy duck’s chest. The scrap wood nest had no bottom at all.
Most ducks will no sooner deposit their precious eggs in the open than most humans will take a shower naked in the middle of a street.
So, if you want your ducks to lay in your nest boxes, they have to be private. Some duck owners hang a piece of cloth in front. The opening should be no bigger than the duck.
Here’s a few other tips for creating compelling nests and discouraging ducks from laying who-knows-where:
If possible, they should touch the ground, so the ducks can scrape out a depression in the dirt. Many ducks prefer a natural floor.
Many people put fake eggs, such as golf balls, in the nests, with the intention of showing the hens that it’s a safe place to lay.
Also, try to minimize nesting areas in your ducks’ yard. Mow the grass, remove wood piles, and scout out all possible locations where a duck might choose to make her nest.
Anytime you find out your ducks have been laying outside the coop, you might try locking them in the coop for a few days to force them to lay there. This might convince them to get back in the habit of laying where they’re supposed to.
Try to let them out of their coop or pen after they have finished laying. Read What Time of Day Do Ducks Lay Eggs? for more.
If you let your ducks out early, or they seem to always lay late, try putting nest boxes in their yard. My ducks often have not laid by the time I let them out of their pen. I have several nest boxes scattered around their yard.
Also, they seem to pay more attention to new nesting areas, so I like to move these boxes around every once in a while. Recently, I moved a box under a cluster of thorny bushes and put a cinder block in front to make it even more private. Instantly, a gang of ducks came to check it out, and it wasn’t long before about five ducks were competing for nesting rights in that box. A few weeks later, no one paid attention to it anymore. So I moved it again. And they laid in it again.
But no matter what you do, there will still be the occasional rogue who just doesn’t like anything the humans provide and manages to hold her egg until she’s free from the coop. She wants to make her own hidden, secret nest where nobody will ever find her.
How do I find these hidden nests?
It’s fun when you run across a hidden nest with a treasure trove of eggs. But often, we would rather know about these nests, especially if they happen to be in a bad location.
If your ducks free-range over a large area, it’s especially difficult, because there may be almost no end to the possible nest areas, so it’s impossible to search them all.
But don’t lose hope. There’s one little secret.
They hide their nests well, but they can’t hide themselves when they head to their cubbyhole to lay.
When you let your ducks out, keep an eye out for any ducks that make a beeline in an unusual direction.
And then follow them.
They might lead you to their hoard.
- What to do if you find an old nest with a huge collection of eggs and are wondering whether they’re good to eat or not. There’s a surprisingly simple test to find out whether an egg is good or not.
- Nest box design ideas.
Why aren’t my ducks laying eggs?