Help keep ducklings and goslings safe this spring
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Help keep ducklings and goslings safe this spring

May 1, 2024

Families of geese and ducks with their babies in tow is an awww-inspiring sight. For the new parents, springtime can be perilous as they help their newly-hatched babies make their way from their nest site to nearby streams, ponds and lakes.

For Canada geese, both the male and female parents will care for the goslings. You will often see them co-parenting together or in larger groups of adults with other goslings. This means it may be possible to incorporate orphaned goslings into new wild families.

Group of wild canada geese with a parent and four cute goslings by water on the grass
Photo credit: Heather Marie Toews

Mallard ducklings are only cared for by their mom. She is very protective of her babies, and is much less likely to accept babies that aren’t hers. Orphaned ducklings typically need to go to a wildlife rehabilitation centre until they’re grown and ready for release.

Female mallard swimming with three ducklings in tow
Photo credit: Claire Bemben

Weird nest spots?

Ducks and geese choose nesting sites that don’t always make sense to us. Particularly in urban areas, they often select areas like cement islands in the middle of parking lots, or enclosed school courtyards, which may seem like less-than-ideal choices from our perspective. These unusual 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.

If they choose to nest in a busy area, you may want to set up cones or warning tape to let people know to stay away from the nesting parents. Once the eggs have hatched, the whole family will very quickly leave and make their way to a nearby water source.

Canada goose nesting in cement basin in a park

Common dangers for ducklings and goslings

Ducks and geese are “precocial” species, which means ducklings and goslings are able to go straight from hatching to swimming and self-feeding. Once the babies hatch, the newly-formed family will leave the nest and make their way as a group to a nearby water source. In most cases, they can do this with little difficulty. However, in some situations, they may need help to get their new family to safety.

These challenging situations can include:

Contact your local wildlife rehabilitator to help assess the situation or call the BC SPCA Animal Helpline at 1-855-622-7722 for advice on how best to assist these web-footed families.

Mallard duck and ducklings in a line on a log - one duckling shaking water off
Photo credit: Adam Wang

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 skills they will need to survive in the wild.

Ways you can help

Baby duck or baby goose?

Ever wonder how to tell ducklings and goslings apart? At first glance these downy yellow babies can look very similar, but they have distinct differences in size and colour to distinguish them. Mallard ducklings are much smaller than Canada Goose goslings, and they have dark chocolate brown and yellow markings with a dark line through their eye. In contrast, goslings are an olive-green and yellow colour, and they lack the distinct line through their eye.

Spot the difference in the photo below of two Canada Goose goslings next to several mallard ducklings in care at BC SPCA Wild ARC. This time of year is prime time for duck and goose families, so next time you spot a family group, see if you can use these tips to tell who’s who!

canada geese and mallard ducklings together
Spot the difference – Canada goose goslings on the left, mallard ducklings on the right

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