This is the time of year that many wild families increase their numbers, hatching or giving birth to a new generation. For goose and duck families, this is a perilous time for their young ducklings and goslings as they help their newly-hatched babies make their way from their nest site to nearby ponds and streams.
Ducks and geese tend to choose their nesting sites based on criteria that doesn’t always make sense to our human minds. Particularly in urban areas, they often select areas like cement islands in the middle of parking lots, or enclosed school courtyards, that may seem like less-than-ideal choices from our perspective. However, these areas often have features that meet the needs of the nesting waterfowl – a wide, unobstructed view of approaching predators for a nesting goose pair, or a camouflaged nest site for a single female mallard.
In most cases, once the babies hatch the newly-formed family will make its way to a nearby water source with little difficulty. However, there are some situations where intervention may be required to help the new family get to safety. These challenging situations can include:
- Duck or goose families attempting to cross busy roadways
- Ducks or geese nesting on high buildings (more than two storeys) where a fall could injure babies as they attempt to make their way from the area
- Nest sites in enclosed areas (solid-fenced balconies, walled courtyards) where babies will be unable to leave once they have hatched
- Ducks or geese nesting near pools, where babies could hop into the water and not be able to get out
Whenever possible, these potentially problematic situations should be addressed by or with the help of an experienced wildlife handler. The BC SPCA Animal Help Line (1-855-622-7722) can help assess these situations and direct callers on how best to assist these web-footed families. BC SPCA Wild ARC has also compiled a few tips and tricks to keep in mind to help determine whether duck or goose families might need help during hatching season.
Once families have made it safely to their chosen water source, young birds will remain with their mother (in the case of mallards) or in larger groups of adults and other babies (in the case of geese) for several months, learning all of the survival skills and social behaviours they will need to survive in the wild. Because geese and ducks move together in groups from their nest site to nearby lakes or ponds, and remain there rather than returning to their nest site, ducklings and goslings found on their own with no adult in site are very likely orphaned and in need of help. If you spot a baby goose or duck on its own, contact the BC SPCA Animal Help Line (1-855-622-7722) for advice right away.
Ever wonder how to tell ducklings and goslings apart? At first glance these downy yellow babies can seem very similar, but they have distinct differences in size and colour that can help distinguish them. Mallard ducklings are much smaller than their gosling counterparts, and they have dark chocolate brown and yellow markings with a distinct dark line through their eye – almost as if it was drawn on with eyeliner! In contrast, goslings are an olive-green and yellow colour, and they lack the distinct line through their eye. The picture below shows several mallard ducklings in care, next to two Canada Goose goslings. This time of year is prime time for spotting duck and goose families, so next time you spot a family group, see if you can use these tips to tell which babies are which – without relying on the nearby adult birds for help!