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The great escape: Helping out urban mallards

In the next few weeks, mallard ducklings across Michigan will be hatching and following their mothers to marshes, ponds and streams to be raised into big, strong ducks. For most mallard families, this process goes off without a hitch. But every year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources gets calls asking for help to relocate broods of ducklings from buildings and roofs to nearby wetlands.

According to Karen Cleveland, a DNR game biologist, it’s illegal to capture ducks and transport them to a new location, but when a bird is trapped in – or on – a building, it is legal to help move them outside so they can leave on their own. Fortunately, this is usually easy to do when a duck nests in an enclosed courtyard or on a flat roof, because mallard hens won’t easily abandon their ducklings, and ducklings will follow their mothers closely.

"Your first choice, if at all possible, should be to avoid trying to catch the ducks," Cleveland said. "Mallard families can be gently herded by one or two people following them and can be led into buildings, down hallways and outside. This often takes only a couple of minutes, and then they’ll be on their way."

When the nest is on a roof or other place that can’t safely be walked out of, collect the ducklings into a box or bag, take it outside and place it on the ground as close to the nest location as possible. Wait 40 to 50 feet away until you see the hen return to investigate the container the ducklings are in. Quietly approach and tip it over so the ducklings can get out, and then back off so the hen can come back and collect her brood.

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Questions? Contact the DNR Wildlife Division at 517-284-9453.