Mother Duck adopts duckling from another species

by Angela van Breemen, photos by Annette Bays

One of our readers and supporters of Procyon Wildlife, Annette Bays, recently contacted us with a question about the ducks nesting on her property.

Hooded Mergansers have been nesting on their pond for the last several years, as well as a pair of Wood Ducks. In early April of this year, she saw the Wood Ducks, but not since then.

Happily, the Mergansers have stayed and had a brood. In May the proud Mama was seen with her ducklings in tow. There were six babies, but only three are left now. The interesting thing is that one of the babies is a Wood Duck!

Our reader said that she had heard of animal mothers taking on orphans before, but had never seen it with ducks and wondered how this could have happened.

This piqued my interest as well, so I decided to do a little bit of research online. It turns out that this phenomenon is not as uncommon as one might think. Sure made me think of the children’s story story, The Ugly Duckling.

I came across an interesting article written on July 13, 2018, by Jilian Mock for the Audubon which explained that ducks commonly lay their eggs in the nests of other ducks of the same species. Once in a while, they have been known to lay their eggs in the nests of other duck species.

One can only wonder if the Mama Merganser laid some of her eggs in the Wood Duck’s nest, and subsequently “adopted” the little Wood duckling. The article goes on to explain that scientists suspect that laying eggs in different nests is a type of reproductive insurance. If one of the nests is raided by a predator, then other caches of eggs remain safe and can continue to be incubated.

Sort of the theory of “not putting your eggs all in one basket.” Oh, I mean nest!

Mother Duck adopts duckling from another species
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