Ducklings dying in shell -- PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE HELP


9 Years
Jun 13, 2014
I have two first-time Welsh Harlequins moms who have been sitting side-by-side (now more like one large) nests of about a dozen eggs each and are around day 38. I have four live ducklings, four found dead in the nest (fully formed, feathered and out of shell), one found in the nest dead with membrane around it but no egg and three that looked rotten and were cold and I opened them and found fully formed dead ducklings inside. I noted that one of those last three had egg tooth marks on the air pocket end of the shell before I opened it.

The hens have had full access throughout the day (at least 14 hours a day) to fresh water pans and a circulating and filtered pond.

There are still eggs in the nest and I would love to have more ducklings (who wouldn't). Please help. What can I do to improve the odds for any that are still alive and in the shell. I haven't candled any of the remaining, so don't know if any are still alive.

I have thought one of the hens swam in the pond more than the other during the brooding period.

Anyone have an ideas on why they have died and how the save any of the rest.

They are both being fabulous moms to the four alive.

My thanks in advance !!!
You're going to want to take any remaining eggs and put them in an incubator, because the moms are going to abandon them in short order to take care of the ducklings.

Then you're going to need to candle them to see if any are still alive. I'm assuming the hatch must be very staggered to have them have started sitting 38 days ago and you're just now getting eggs to hatch, so that's going to be a hurdle to overcome.

As to why they were dying, could be a lot of things. From the sounds of it you might have a predator menacing the hens and the nest. With that many eggs, it's also very possible they weren't able to keep them all warm and so some were dying after not being warmed for an extended length of time. Especially if one hen was covering a lot of the eggs or trying to cover all of them while the other got up for the day, etc.
... Especially if one hen was covering a lot of the eggs or trying to cover all of them while the other got up for the day, etc.
Many thanks ! I do know there are no predators menacing them. Their house faces their yard, the latter of which is the duck equivalent of fort knox -- horse fencing encased with hardware cloth with aviary netting over the top. It's quite extensively and over-designed for predator protection and peacefulness. Any reason I shouldn't keep them under the hens while they are still sitting on them ? Any idea why the ducklings wouldn't have been able to get out of their shell, particularly the one that appeared to have the tooth marks on the end ?
By tooth marks I thought you meant tooth marks, as in something had been biting at it. But from your new post I think you meant it was pipped or zipping? Could have been that it got shrink wrapped on its way out, meaning it got too dry and got stuck and couldn't get farther out.

There's no harm in leaving the eggs under them for as long as they are sitting, but the trouble comes from if they get off the nest when you don't catch it and the eggs sit there not covered for a long time. Better to take them now so that doesn't happen.

And whether you take them or leave them, I would still candle to check them and discard the bad ones.
<<<--- Obvious newbie to anything hatching. I so appreciate your most gracious patience with and deciphering of my "tooth" comment.

Thank you again for the follow up. Is there any way for me to prevent any future shrink wrapped ducklings ? Can I mist them with water if I see they are hatching ?
When I went out to open the houses this morning, I carefully collected the remaining eggs to candle them and one was peeping with a little beak peaking out. (Carefully and quickly returned to a welcoming hen.) Four other eggs looked very close and still had capillaries visible. I returned them to the nest as moms are still sitting on the eggs and caring for the four hatchlings. I am able to keep a close eye on them, so if they abandon the remaining eggs, can put them in an incubator.

I did realize they had WAY more eggs in the nest than I thought. I didn't believe the other hens could get to the nest to deposit their daily eggs. I can only assume at least one of them had been clearing the low divider fence, at least early on in the brooding process.

I am assuming that perhaps with so many eggs they weren't able to keep them all properly moistened, though they were warm enough to develop -- thus the high percentage that died shrink wrapped in their shells. Perhaps the four fully hatched and dead that were in the nest were the first and the hens killed them out of fear, since this is their first time. Do those two thoughts make sense ?

These are quality hens (from Holderreads) and I've read Mr. Holderreads' books, though nothing went into this level of analysis. I want to do my best not to have this high a loss ratio next time -- for my and the hens mental health. We were all very sad to see all the dead ducklings.

So many thanks in advance for thoughts and any other suggestions!
I have been keeping a close eye on the hens and one has been taking the ducklings to eat and walking about their house. The duckling that hatched this morning was fine at 10am and dead in the nest at noon. Anyone have any other ideas for me ? Please and thanks!
Sorry you lost that one. Was it dead in the nest or away from the nest? Any marks on it or signs of injuries?

Your ideas about the hens not being able to cover the eggs are correct, that is most likely where all the trouble came from.
The dead duckling was in the nest. I didn't see any marks on it nor signs of injury -- and I had seen it moving around in the nest after it hatched, when the still sitting hen got up to reposition.

I so greatly appreciate your continued input. Many, many thanks!
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The only thing i can think of is that it got chilled or crushed. How many eggs are the hens still on? Is there a chance that the duckling wasn't able to get properly under the hens for warmth because of the eggs?

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