Mallard Duck Nesting Habits


mallard pair - mallard duck nesting habits

It’s a sign of spring for me when I see a pair of Mallards hanging around our pond.  You can see them paddling in the water together, feeding on the vegetation together, and taking walks together around the pond.  I am not sure if they have a nesting spot yet but it sure seems like they have decided on a place in my neighbor’s yard somewhere.  You see I have observed this couple waddling up the grass towards his house quite a few times.  I’m thinking that the nest may be under his bushes on the ground somewhere as that is the Mallard Duck nesting habit.  The female will build a shallow bowl type nest using the plant materials around her.  The nest is usually on the ground and hidden under vegetation so predators can’t find it.

That’s what Mallards like to do.  They will seek a good nesting spot which can be up to a hundred yards away from water.  Water as in a pond, a marsh, a stream, or lake.  In my case it is our pond which has been the breeding grounds for a number of Mallard pairs over the years as well as Canada Geese (but that’s another story).

It can be a lot of fun watching the ducklings as they follow their mama (hen) around in the water and in our yard too.  It can also be very painful to watch sometimes.    When my husband and I first see them we take a count of how many ducklings there are (can be up to 12) because as the days go by this number will probably drop quite a bit due to predators.  Predators such as raccoons, hawks, and snapping turtles who swallow them whole in the water.  I know, it sounds terrible but unfortunately it is a natural occurrence in nature.  As long as I do not witness it, I can handle it.  Don’t get me wrong, it is still sad to see the hen walking around looking lost when she loses one of her babies.

In the end there may be about four or five of the ducklings that survive.   Sometimes more, sometimes less.



Mallard ducklings - mallard duck nesting habit




Breeding Information

  • Males are called Drakes.
  • Drakes seek a mate in the Fall and will remain with them until breeding season which is usually early March into May.
  • Females are said to breed near the place where they were born.
  • Once incubation is under way males abandon the nest and join other males forming a flock.  We generally get a flock of males hanging around our pond in the summer months and make a joke of it saying “it must be the boy’s night out.”
  • When the males begin to mate in the Fall, their heads are a metallic green.  However once they start breeding that color is more purple/blue in appearance.
  • Females can lay up to 12 eggs.
  • It takes twenty eight to thirty days to incubate the eggs.
  • Once the eggs are incubated they will hatch within two days.
  • One day later after the eggs have hatched , the hen will take her ducklings to water to teach them to swim.
  • Ducklings will follow their mama for the next fifty to sixty days.
  • Both young males and females look alike until they shed their feathers (before winter) and grow new feathers revealing their respective gender.
  • Mallard Ducks are known to breed with a variety of domestic breeds of ducks.  These are called hybrids.
  • The young will fly approximately two months after hatching.


young mallard ducks - mallard duck nesting habits



Where Are Mallard Ducks?

Mallard Ducks can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere.  They are the most familiar and most populous one that you will see around.  Find them on ponds, lakes, rivers,  in parks, and in your own neighborhood.

You will be able to identify the wild Mallard Ducks over the domesticated Mallards by the way they react to your presence.  Wild Mallards will fly away almost immediately within a human’s presence while a domesticated one will walk right up to you looking for food.  For this reason, not all parks want you to feed them.  They want the birds to stay wild which is really as it should be because parks can become overpopulated with them.


Mallard Duck Diet

Mallard Ducks eat mostly aquatic vegetation.  You will see them duck their head underwater with their butts in the air as they feed on pond weed.  They will also eat  insects, worms, fish, grass seed, wheat and corn.


More Facts About Mallards

  • It is the female who makes the quacking sound.  The male has a raspy type sound.
  • Mallards shed all their flight feathers at the end of the breeding season and are flightless for 3–4 weeks.
  • They are the most heavily hunted duck in North America.
  • Their body length can be twenty to twenty-eight inches.  Their wingspan from thirty to forty inches.



In Conclusion

You may see Mallard Ducks in your own backyard, at your local park paddling in the lake, or just about anywhere.  This duck is the most well-known and abundant in the northern hemisphere.  Some are wild ducks, some are hybrids that have mated with other species, and some are domesticated…being very comfortable with humans.  You will know the wild ones as they do not let you get too close to them and fly off to another location.

Males and females get together in the Fall and stay together until breeding time in early March and up until late May.  The female is the only one who incubates the eggs and also raises the young.  The male leaves about ten days after incubation time and will gather with other males for the summer months.

Once the babies hatch the mama takes them to water to teach them to swim.  The new hatchlings will follow her for the next fifty or sixty days when they are able to take care of themselves.  Then they are on their own and will leave the area.  However, I have seen a family that we had return to our pond.  How do I know?  Well, I could be wrong but it was the fact that it was the same number of ducks that just left a few months prior and after observing them for a few months around the yard and pond you just know.  They are like family ;-).

Do you have Mallard Ducks where you live?  What is your experience with them?  Please feel free to make your comments below.


Happy Birding!



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Posted in Ducks, Geese, Shorebirds.


  1. How far south do mallard ducks live? I am not sure if I have ever seen one down in Florida. We do get ducks but they look different than the picture you showed. Where would be the closest place I need to go in order to see them?



    • Tony, thanks for your comment!  Mallard ducks can be found in Florida.  Many will migrate to Florida for the winter but some will stay.  I have seen them in spring, summer, and fall there.  I have never been to Florida during the winter months. 

      • I live in Jefferson county Kentucky and a mama has a nest under our dwarf maple bush. I felt bad for her so I washed a stainless steel bowl and put water in it and put some lettuce out, close but not to close. Happy to see her babies. There is a pond across the road on a farm.

  2. We have a male and female that came into our yard last year and I think the same ones just a few days ago. I’m worried about them cause we don’t have a pond close. Last year we didn’t see them with baby’s so cats or squirrels might have gotten them. I just hate it not knowing if they are going to be safe!!

    • Betty, female mallards may build their nests up to a mile or more away from water. The tricky part is when the young ducklings hatch as the mother will lead them fairly quickly to water that she knows where to find. If it is a longer trip it is more hazardous for them (i.e. cats, raccoons, etc. eating them). Unfortunately, there is nothing you can really do for them other than hope for the best. It’s better to let nature take its course than to intervene. Hopefully, you will get to see little ducklings this year and be able to watch them grow.

    • Betty,
      We had a female and male come to our house last year and I pretty much gave them the front yard and porch 🙂 I put out duck food, grubs and cracked corn. And I set up. Kiddie pool for them on the front porch. Unfortunately last year her eggs didn’t make it. She nested in someone else’s yard and came to our yard for food and swimming. Her eggs slowly disappeared. We didn’t find out it was happening until they were all gone because we were respecting the privacy of her nest!
      But she is back this year with what I am pretty sure is a different male ( because of a different personality) and we are hoping for better this year. We are also planting out an area in the front that she will hopefully find appealing for her nest next year!
      We would have done it already if we had realized that she would return!!
      She is so adorable 🥰

  3. I have a mallard duck that has made her nest at the back corner if my garage. Now it is near where me and my brother park our vehicles, on a paved area that is paved to the side of the garage. Also the nest is right by where I and my tenants walk to our garbage cans.
    The location this mallard chose to make its nest is odd do to the traffic of us people and vehicles.
    And my house is located over a mile away from lake Michigan and there is maybe a pond at an cemetery that maybe a mile away.
    The distance from a water source is hampered by a lot of houses and streets, I do not think the duck and its ducklings will be able to walk to either water source. But all I can do is hope for the best!! I do have pictures of both the male and female ducks.
    Thanks Patrick

    • Patrick, mallards sometimes nest in the oddest places. Their nests can be up to a mile or so away from water too so that is not unusual. The problem is when the ducklings are born and they try to travel to the water. It can be a little hazardous for them. You’re right, all you can do is hope for the best because you just never know. Keep me posted… I would love to know how it all works out. Thanks for your comments.

  4. We recently moved into a new home with a pond. A pair of mallards have been frequent visitors to the pond and yard. On Wednesday we saw them with 9 ducklings in the pond and yard. They seemed very happy there but by Thursday afternoon we do not see any sign of them. Our yard and pond is fenced and we don’t see any sign of predators. Any idea where they could have gone or if they’ll come back??? We have not seen them for two days.

    • Anne, mallards tend to move around to other nearby ponds I have found, and may or may not return. It depends on the momma and whether she finds it safe there for her ducklings. We have had a family visiting off and on too. Sometimes they stick around the whole time and sometimes they just move. Keep an eye out and let me know what happens. Thanks for your comments.

  5. We have had a nest under some bushes in the front of our house for 11 days. The mother was sitting on the six eggs yesterday.
    Today. All the eggs are gone and the mother is gone. No shells are around.
    We had food and water out for the mom.
    It is a mile to the reservoir .
    There is a very busy road to cross to get to the reservoir.

    • Hi Brenda, I hate to say it but a predator such as a raccoon may have been the culprit since there is no sign of egg shells. A raccoon may have stolen the eggs to eat the contents somewhere else. Snakes will eat the eggs whole. It’s unfortunate but that is nature at its best? If you do end up seeing the mother again with babies I would be interested in hearing about it.

      Mallards will nest up to a mile or so away from water by the way. Why they do it especially with a busy road to cross with their young is beyond me. I guess it is all in the navigation. Thanks for your comments!

  6. How old do ducks have to be to lay eggs that will hatch? Last year we saved a bunch of ducklings that somehow ended up in a sewer by our home. This year, exactly a year later, we had a Mallard start a nest in our landscaping. We are hoping that she chose us because she’s one of those babies that we saved last year. Or maybe the same mama? Either way, there are now 9 eggs and she is here to stay for the next month now. She chose a high traffic area so we are doing our best to conceal her from neighbor kids and prey and to respect her privacy. I can’t wait for the babies!

    • Hi Carrie, mallards start their breeding at 1 year of age. It is highly possible that the one in your yard nesting is from last year’s babies. Mallards tend to return to their place of birth for breeding. Hopefully you will get to see babies very soon. It is so much fun watching them grow. Keep me posted on how they do. I would love to hear about it! Thanks for your comments!

  7. I have had a mallard couple visiting since early April and they are still together. Does this mean that they are having trouble producing eggs? Also, now they walk, they do not fly away anymore. They havent flown off for several weeks. I dont understand why they are not flying anymore. The enticement in my yard are black oil sunflower seeds and a nice spruce to lounge under!

    • Hi Sue, the female Mallard does not lay her eggs (up to 12) all at once. It takes a period of days to do this. Then once she has laid all of the eggs she will start incubating them which takes about 28 days. If both the male and female are walking around together that tells me that they may have a nest somewhere (based on observance around my pond). The female does not stay on the nest constantly and they may be out looking for food together. Once the eggs hatch the male goes his separate way leaving the female to raise the young. Keep an eye on them because you may see babies soon and keep me posted too! I appreciate your comments! Donna

  8. I had a female mallard lay her eggs near my condo,she finally started to incubate,two days later disappeared from her nest? Is there a chance she will return or has a predator done her in ? It has been two days she is gone.

    • Joanne, it is likely that a predator got her eggs so she left it. She could be starting another nest somewhere else in a safer spot. You never know. That has happened around my pond before. Thanks for your comments!

  9. I discovered mallard hen with a dozen eggs in the nest last week. The nest is under the side of a boxwood plant outside our dining room window. What my wife and I consider it a bit odd is that our home is at least 400-500 yards away from any source of water; in our case a rather small wetland pond. Is this fact surprising or not? BTW – we live in northwest Indiana about 20 miles south of Lake Michigan.

    • Kevin, while Mallards usually nest up to 100 yards from water they have been known to go farther. Are you sure there isn’t anything closer than the wetland. I am always surprised to find small ponds around my neighborhood that I never knew existed. Either way the mother and ducklings should be fine they just have to travel further to water once they hatch. Keep me posted on how it all goes. I would love to hear from you. Thanks for your post.

  10. I have a male n female mallard that have been coming to my birdfeeders for the past two springs. they show up in the evening. I have never seen any babies. would she leave them alone to come here? or maybe she is to old to breed? just wondering what u think.

    • Jennifer, The female lays eggs (about every 1 to 1 1/2 days) and won’t start incubating the eggs until all eggs have been laid. Until then she may be away from the nest for a good amount of time. Once she starts incubating the eggs she will not leave the nest or maybe only for a very brief time. Incubation takes 28 days. So she is either in the process of laying her eggs or maybe has lost them to predators. You never know. Keep an eye out to see where she goes during the day. Maybe you can locate a nest. I hope this helps. Keep me posted and thanks for your comment.

  11. We saw a mother mallard and 4 chicks that were only about a day old walking when it was about 98 degrees outside. Mother had been limping and looked like it was struggling. Afraid of predators for all, so captured them, and took to bird lady who said fractured hip and broken toe. Originally only going to keep till little ones could fly, but got attached. Then didn’t know if babies would leave mom who still limps. Then hurricane…(Florida). All in large screened in patio with kiddie pool. Now 4 months old, have 1 male, 3 female. Very exciting to watch growing (sooo quickly) and eating and general habits. Mother still limping but ok. Don’t mind keeping, but feel a little guilty…but wondering if they would know how to fend for themselves or did I ruin that ability by feeding store bought food? Also, is mom missing mating again? Would male baby mate with mother and sisters in a year? Would offspring be tainted from such close relatives mating like in humans? Would they fly away or come back for me to eat? They fly around a little in enclosure.

    • Joan, it is better for the mallards if they can learn to eat and live on their own. Otherwise they will have a hard time out in the wild. I admire your concern for them for your information Mallards are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It is illegal for any person to take, possess, transport, sell, or purchase them or their parts, such as feathers, nests, or eggs, without a permit. I hope that this helps. Thanks for your comments.

  12. Hello. I have a female that made a nest under a fern in my front flowerbed and she has 15 eggs at last count yesterday! We have had a lot of rain and had noticed her and 2 males hanging out on a puddle in a vacant lot across the street that I guess they thought was their personal pond. The female is now staying on the nest and the 2 males seem to have disappeared today. Once we get through this rainy spell this week, the water across the street will completely dry up. Should I try and put water out for the mama duck or just let nature take its course? I also worry about how the mama will get her babies safely to ponds that are in the area but about a half a mile away. Thanks for any advise.

    • Kerri, just leave well enough alone. The mama duck will take care of them. Yes, sometimes she looses one or two from other predators but for the most part they should be fine. Thanks for your comments.

      • Last June, a skunk attacked a mallard’s nest near my home, only 6 eggs left and the mother returned for 2hrs to collect her remaining eggs, then left for good.

        After a day, I got an incubator and 5 of the eggs hatched. Did my best to not let them imprint on me, never held them, etc. They did imprint on my voice. They left in the Fall.

        In April, as soon as the ice started to go, a female appeared with a male. One of the females I raised as it begged for food by walking back and forth in the yard. The male, obviously hung back. It proceeded to lay 20! eggs in a small A-frame I built by the water for the ducklings from last year. It’s now Day 3 of incubating. It was interesting to see her slowly increase her incubating time. 5hrs, then 7hrs, 9hrs, 15hrs, then 22hrs.

        Strangely, a 2nd female showed up the other day in my yard begging or good like the first, with a male in tow. A sister of the first! Anyhow, she and her male have now disappeared to start a nest probably a cove over.

        I’m very interested to see how many of the 20 eggs will hatch. Sorry for the typos.

        • Wow, that is very interesting. You will have to keep me posted on how many do hatch. I love to watch the young ducklings with their mama. Thanks for your comment.

  13. Hi Donna! About 4 weeks ago in early April, a beautiful pair of mallards showed up under our bird feeders. They love bird seed and corn and visit us just about every day. We have a backyard retention pond and they are spending lots of time there but may fly off and disappear for a day or two. We have seen no sign whatsoever of nesting or ducklings and I was wondering if that might have taken place very early in the year here in Florida or possibly yet to come even though it is early May here. We so enjoy your writings and others comments. Best wishes, Gary and Mary Anne

    • Gary and Mary Anne, Mallards will nest from about March up until July. They may have had a nest already but there is still possibility that they could nest there. They will nest wherever they feel safe enough from predators. So you never know. Good luck and thanks for your comments. Donna

      • A male and female showed up in our fenced backyard a few weeks ago and she made a nest in my flower pot which sits on top of a 3ft pedestal. We have a pool and she swims in it daily. I assume the eggs will hatch any day now and as I have read the first thing she will do is head to our pool. Should we try to cushion around this pedestal as I’m sure they will all fall out or be pushed out. Should we discourage them from getting in the pool (chlorine) if so how do we keep them out. If it’s ok for them to swim in the pool, we will have to build a ramp so they can get out. Thank you for any advice. These are our first ‘grand ducklings’

        • Carol, I think that the ducklings will be fine making it out of the nest when it is time. As for the pool, I have read that a swimming pool doesn’t have enough chlorine in it to hurt the ducks but I am not certain. I would do some more research on it to make sure. Good luck!

  14. Three Mallard ducklings just showed up in our backyard pond! They have been here for four days. No Mama in sight. ?
    Our two connecting ponds, with a small island in the middle, has lots of of plants and grasses for the ducklings to hide. ?
    We watch them and make sure no predators are in sight. They are so cute. I have fourteen week old chickens so I am a always around. I hope these little birds make it ❤️

  15. Good morning Donna,

    I stumbled upon your blog this morning as I was searching the Internet for information on how to discourage Mallard ducks from my back yard. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the ducks but they are eating my fescue grass that was sodded just a few months ago.

    I have read all the entries on your blog and have found the comments to be very interesting.

    We live in Oklahoma City on a man-made lake and enjoy many various types of birds including Mallard ducks and Canadian geese. Between our house and the lake are River Birch trees which we have hung several birds feeders. We attract many different types off birds. We purchase No-Mess bird seed from Wild Birds Unlimited and have no issues with weeds but the seeds dropped by the birds definitely attract the Mallard ducks.

    Are you aware of any product that is available that would deter the ducks from the grass while not keeping the other birds away from the feeders in the trees?

    On another subject, we have had a good experience in the past with Mallard ducks. Last spring, a duck laid her eggs in a flower planter we have mounted on the back of our house. It is mounted about five feet above the ground. We first noticed her in the planter the last week of March. The first week of April we noticed she had laid her eggs and began to sit on them. On May 1 the eggs hatched and within a very short time the ducklings jumped out and followed the mama duck to the lake. I have a video of one of them jumping out.

    • Paul, I don’t know of anything that you can use to deter the mallards from getting into the grasses. There is something for geese that we spray on our lawn (doesn’t hurt the environment, animals, etc) that works but the mallards don’t seem to mind it. If you have seeds the mallards will come. Sorry I cannot help you with that.

  16. Hi, I apologize if you’ve already answered this question, but last year, a pair of mallards showed up and spent their afternoons relaxing in the water that had accumulated a top our winterized pool, and snacking on food that spilled from the bird feeder.
    It’s a new year and another pair of Mallards showed up a few days ago. My question: Is it possible that I am seeing the same pair of Mallards as last year, or is it more likely that one has returned but with a new mate? And yes… it was a hot stinky mess when it came time to actually reopen the pool, but oh well it’s not like I’m gonna kick them out 🙂 Thank you for your time!

    • Brian, it could be the mallard from last year with a new mate. Mallards do not mate for life but will return to the same area where they hatched. You never know.

  17. I found, by accident , a female mallard nesting in my front yard but there is no evidence of a male
    anywhere around. what to do?

  18. April 29,2022 @ 5:35 am

    I have a mallard hen that has a nest in the flowerbed right by my front porch. She started incubating a lttle over a week ago. She has 12 eggs in her clutch. Earlier this morning, she was attacked by a raccoon. I believe she got way, and none of her eggs were harmed. Will she return to her nest after this? I read online not to bother the nest or the eggs. And, what can I do, if anythihg, to protect her and her nest from any more attacks?

    • The female will return. There is really nothing you can do to protect them from more attacks. It is just nature playing out. Not fun to hear but it happens.

  19. We have a mallard duck nesting by our back fence. It is suppose to rain/thunderstorm on and off all week. Will she be ok or should we try and place some shelter above her?

    • Maggie, this is kind of late but it should be OK. You don’t need to shelter them. They know what to do. Let me know how it all came out. Did the eggs hatch and how are they doing?

  20. We have a mallard duck nest along our backyard fence. It is suppose to rain/thunderstorm on and off all week. Should we try and place shelter about her?

  21. I live near a pond. Every year woodland ducks, mallards and maybe a pair of Canadian geese come early spring. This year (2/23) they are here now. However, it’s only a few weeks later maybe a month there are no signs of the ducks! They seem to mate then immediately leave to go nest somewhere else. Is that a thing with wild ducks??? Why don’t we ever see them and their babies once we see them early spring? I tho’t they mated and then nested in the same pond. Apparently not she guys. We call out pond Honeymoon Pond because it appears they come swim for awhile, but leave before nesting. It’s quite disappointing to be honest. I really enjoy seeing them. The pond is across the road from me and I can see them from my kitchen.

    • Nancy, mallards can nest up to a mile away from a pond. Once the eggs hatch the mama takes them to the nearest pond. Happens all of the time at our place.

  22. A male and female Mallard flew into my pool four days ago and the male Mallard has not been able to fly away, but the female does, but comes back every morning. The male has attempted to fly, but only gets about a foot above the water and only travels a few feet before coming back down. I have read about Angel Wing, but his wings appear to be tight to his body and in good shape. Could he have been injured upon landing or fighting with another male? Eventually I will have to do something if he cannot fly away, but I need to understand all reasons for his sudden flightlessness. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Randy, he made be a crossover meaning a wild mallard mixed with a domestic. A lot of times they cannot fly. We happened to have one last summer that hung around up until a bad freeze where he could not survive it. Very sad to watch because we couldn’t do anything about it.

  23. Hi,
    A couple of weeks ago a drake and hen were in my backyard. I have a pond. I checked on them every day.
    About 4 days ago they left – today the drake was in my yard but not the hen. I think I hear quacking in the distance. I’m worried about her. Will she come back?

    I love having them here so much and now also worry

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