Some of the most diligent mothers in the animal kingdom are birds. Female birds are well known for sitting on and brooding over their eggs through thick and thin, protecting them against predators, and keeping them warm and dry no matter how severe the weather conditions.
It’s pretty inspirational when you think about it! But if you keep ducks, and you don’t use an incubator, you might be wondering how long you can expect your females to stay on their eggs. So, how long do ducks typically sit on their eggs?
Ducks will sit on their eggs continuously until they hatch, a process that usually takes about 4 weeks. During this time, a mother duck might only leave her eggs for the briefest intervals to get water or food.
Talk about going the distance! Pretty much everyone knows that birds sit on their eggs in order to incubate them, keeping them just the right temperature so that they can develop and hatch normally.
But even among all the bird species out there, ducks are among the most dedicated and diligent. I’ll tell you a lot more about ducks’ brooding habits and other interesting facts down below…
Do Duck Eggs Always Hatch at the Same Time?
Yes, typically, usually within just a day or two of each other. Although most duck eggs take right around 4 weeks to hatch, some might hatch a little early or a little late depending on breed, conditions and other factors.
But in all cases, a female duck or hen will be sitting on them pretty much continuously for the duration. She’s in it to win it until her babies hatch!
What Does a Mother Duck Do Prior to Laying Her Eggs?
Prior to actually laying the eggs and settling down to the long business of sitting on them, a mother duck has a lot to do.
She will either locate and develop her nesting site, or else choose an abandoned nest or other suitable location to help her keep the eggs safe and warm. This all takes place prior to the first egg being laid…
Once the nest site is chosen, she will prepare it by getting anything that she doesn’t like out of the way, and creating a shallow bowl-shaped depression.
This will help keep the eggs in place, help keep her concealed to a degree and generally facilitate the incubation of the eggs. The last thing she will do prior to laying is to line the nest with materials that will provide insulation.
Dried grasses and other plant matter go inside, as well as feathers plucked from her own stomach.
This helps keep the eggs quite warm and dry, and also reveals a bear patch of skin on her underside that will provide direct heat to her eggs.
Will a Duck Hen Ever Leave the Eggs?
Only rarely, and only for the briefest intervals. As I mentioned above duck hens are extraordinarily diligent mothers, and they typically settle in for the long haul once they begin to sit.
Many will not get up off of their eggs at all except to rotate them or when they actually begin hatching.
To be perfectly clear, many ducks won’t even eat or drink during this time, except what they can snatch from immediately nearby.
Now, some mothers do get up and dash away for a quick sip or a quick nibble before returning immediately but this is relatively rare. No hen will be separated from her eggs for any length of time!
How Does a Hen Survive on Such Little Food and Water?
Hens are only able to survive this lengthy duration without food or water because they typically try to cram in calories prior to laying, and also hydrate themselves as much as they can. Still, it does take a terrible toll on them…
It’s virtually unheard of for a mother duck to not lose a ton of weight and for her overall condition to suffer while she is brooding over her eggs.
To say she comes out the other side of the experience looking pretty disheveled is not inaccurate.
However, if her own health and continued existence is a truly imperiled she will get up to get water or food in some cases, but most of the time the wonders of their biology is it sufficient to see them through.
How Long Can Duck Eggs Survive Without Mom on Them?
Not very long at all. Firstly, duck eggs are extremely vulnerable to damage or predation without their mother watching over them.
Second, all bird eggs have extremely precise requirements concerning temperature and humidity, two things that are regulated by the presence and direct contact of the hen.
The eggs will probably be fine when mom dashes off really quickly for a quick drink or bite, but even an hour’s worth of suboptimal conditions might spell disaster.
How Long Will Duck Eggs Survive Without Heat?
Not very long at all. As mentioned above, duck eggs are incredibly sensitive to temperature swings, either too hot or too cold; but cold is particularly devastating.
Any duck eggs that are laid and brooded over and colder environments must be in a highly insulated nest and have their mother over them pretty much continuously.
Does the Male Duck Help Incubate the Eggs?
No. Male ducks, called drakes, may hang around and help guard the nesting site for a couple of weeks or potentially even longer depending on the breed of duck but they do not help to incubate the eggs.
But when the male is hanging around, he typically will help protect the nest from predators and other intruders.
What Will Force a Hen to Abandon Her Eggs?
As we’ve learned, a mother duck is incredibly protective and diligent about staying with her eggs.
She will sit on them come hell or high water, and most females are not the least bit shy about defending their eggs from predators, large or small.
That said, it is possible that certain events might displace a hen and see her leave her eggs behind.
A determined predator attack is one such scenario, whether they attack the mother directly or poach her eggs while she is distracted or away.
Another potential cause of displacement is severe weather. High winds and floods can physically destroy the nest, and when that happens, the poor mother will usually give up and move on to try again next year.
Another instance is egg failure. If any given egg is taking too long to hatch, or if the mother perceives that the eggs are seriously overdue, she might abandon them.
Will a Mother Duck Move Her Nest if She Has To?
I’m sure she would, if she could, but she can’t. A duck’s nest takes considerable time to build, and duck eggs are quite fragile.
There’s enough that can go wrong and damage them during incidental moving in rotation. As such, for a mother duck to move her eggs any great distance to a new nest site, even if it was prepared properly already, is basically impossible.
So in the end, a mother duck must either stay and take her chances if her eggs are imperiled, or flee to save her own life: she cannot bring her eggs with her.
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.