I bought my 8 mallards when they were less then a week old from a local feed store. My thought was I would raise these ducks so I could give back to the earth what my husband (a avid duck hunter) has taken away. The store had only 8 left so I bought all 8 expecting some of them not to make it since in mid to late March it still gets rather chilly here in Arkansas. To my surprise they all did fine with a heat lamp and wood shavings in the homemade wood box on my back deck and grew as they should (as far as what I was able to find out from the Internet). I put a pie pan in the box for them to play in. All 8 could get in at one time and they thought it was great! After they were done playing in the water they would all return to underneath the heating lamp to dry off and warm up. As they grew so did their source of water to play in, first the pie pan with about a half an inch of water, on and into a cat's litter box, when they were to big for all of them to enjoy that I would take them out and let them play in a small kiddie pool for about 20 minutes while I cleaned their box everyday. Finally when they were big enough to escape the kiddie pool we built them a enclosure and put a larger kiddie pool in there, that has turned out to be the biggest headache to keep clean, but worth the extra effort when I see how much they enjoy it. I had a little bit off a hands off approach to raising them. I would care and provide for them, but I wouldn't handle or allow others to handle them much. My intent was for them to go to and live at my pond when they were mature and maybe only returning to the cage in the evening for safety from predators. We would walk behind them and guide them in the direction of the pond daily so they could learn the route. When we were able to coax them into the water they would swim a little while, but as soon as the first duck would feel the slightest fish nibble on it's feet they would all scurry across the water and back to the house to seek refuge. After a few weeks of this we gave up and allowed them to be the "yard ducks" they wanted to be. They haven't ever entered our swimming pool and don't seem interested in it at all. On the days when the temps would reach over 100 degrees we would turn on the sprinkler and they played under that.
Until recently they have stayed in the yard (the 3 acres with a barbed wire fence to keep the horses in the pasture), searched for bugs, and played in any little puddle they found. Their favorite spot is where the condensation from the air conditioner drips. In the last week or so I have seen them go under the fence and walk the path as if they were finally going to the pond. To my disappointment within 5-10 minutes they would all run (yes, I said run rather then fly) back to the yard. If they are to spot the hawk that has taken up residence out by the pond or the horses they will fly back and huddle together in front of the enclosure until they are certain the coast is clear.
All of them got their feathers and begin to fly at the time expected. The learning to land was very entertaining for me, but I suspect wasn't very pleasant for them. After a week or so of crash landings (into the side of the house or a few head over tail tumbles) they finally got it perfected. In the mornings we open the door and feed them outside of their cage. After they get a little feed in their tummies they take a morning flight that I would guess doesn't exceed a mile radius. The rest of the day they remain in the yard and spend a lot of time under the vehicles to get shade. In the evenings just before the sun starts to set they will set out on what we have named their "evening flight", then back home to enjoy a little more feed, and then they will happily waddle into the cage to be kept up for the night.
Where I certainly do not consider these ducks to be wild I don't consider them to be tame either. They always keep a 4' to 5' distance from us, but they do talk to us and when we walk in the direction of where the feed is kept it gets their attention. More then wild or tame, I refer to them as rebellious teenagers. They would rather be left alone, only seek us out when they want something, and if they don't want to do what we want or need them to they know we can't make them.
About 6-8 weeks ago they paired up. As luck would have it out of the 8 total, we ended up with 4 hens and 4 drakes. They started with the head bobbing and the drakes chasing each other aggressively. What we suspected was confirmed when they began to mate. In the last couple of weeks the hens started laying eggs in random places around the yard. The first one was a few feet from our back deck, then one beside the swimming pool, and in the taller weeds left from what was the garden. When I found the one in the tall weeds it looked like she had burrowed out a hole and I was happy that it seemed at least one of them had a clue of what to do. In fear of the eggs being stolen by raccoons or anything else I took them into the enclosure and gave the hens some hay to nest in, but they continued to lay in the yard where ever they stood. It became a everyday type of Easter egg hunt. They wouldn't attend to the eggs if they were left in the yard or if I placed them in the enclosure. I decided to keep them up a couple of days and as a result a nest was made. The next day after pinning them up I went out to feed them and found 5 new eggs and 2 more the day after. I let them out to spend some time in the yard and found another egg along the fence line the same day so I pinned them up again. I put the egg from the fence line with the others I had found. There has been 2 new eggs a day since. The eggs I had found in the yard were left laying where I had placed them and the new eggs were in the nest. My original thought was that all 4 hens must be sharing the same nest when the 5 seemed to appear overnight, but now I think that it is only 2 of them, each laying a egg a day. After a week of seeing that the 8 eggs from the yard were being ignored completely I decided to throw out the 7 older ones and attempt to incubate the last one. I am on day 2 so I will have to get back with you on the results. Although I am not very optimistic, it would be a delight if it were to hatch. The count of eggs this morning in the nest is at 12.
Seeking some advice I called the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission and spoke with a biologist that maintains the wild life habitats and he wasn't helpful at all. He said it was completely unheard of for mallards to be laying eggs in the fall and after I told him that the feed store has ducklings for sale now so it has to be possible that other ducks were laying too, he told me that "normal" mallards have just now started to migrate south and won't pair up until they arrive. Then they return back north to nest and hatch the clutch in the spring. He told me that my ducks must "think they are chickens" and implied I had done something to have caused this unnatural occurrence. I am sure now after talking with a woman at a duck hatchery in California I am not responsible and that my ducks aren't crazy, nor are they running around thinking they are chickens.
I am concerned though about when a hen may lay claim to the nest and brood. I feel terrible keeping them confined, but to cut out the egg hunting and the hens ignoring the ones left in the yard, I can't come up with any other solution. I don't want all of my worrying to be in vain and my husband has suggested scrambling them several times. I am a animal lover of most breeds and if new life can come from any of these eggs then I am willing to give it a shot. However, if it isn't likely and if they are only going to continue to lay the eggs but never brood them I think maybe my husband's suggestion of eating them should be considered. "Waste not, want not",right? It wouldn't make any sense to just keep throwing them out. I don't want to give in to early, but I don't want to let them to go to waste. The nest has only been going for about 4 days now, but I'm not sure of (or if) the clutch was effected by the eggs that were neglected. Ducks, like children, should come with a instruction manual!
Another suggestion made by the guy at the game & fish was clipping them so none of them would fly off with the wild migrating ducks, but I don't really want to. I don't want them to be "sitting ducks" (excuse the pun) for the coyotes, dogs, or other critters that might want a snack. They are such home bodies I don't see much of a threat that they would decide one day to just up and leave. If that should happen I would be a little disappointed, but until then I will continue to enjoy watching them.