What You Need To Know About Hatching Duck Eggs

If you have a flock of ducks that is made up of hens and a drake, from time to time one or more of your hens may decide to guard her eggs, sit on them and hatch them. When this happens, there’s really not a lot you need to do if you want ducklings. If the nest is in a safe place, you can typically just leave the hen alone and let nature take its course. But what if you don’t want ducklings, or what if the nest needs to be moved?

In this article we discuss some of the challenges you may face if your duck hen is setting, and we offer advice to help you face those challenges. Read on to learn more about hatching duck eggs, including how to tell if duck eggs are fertile & how to candle duck eggs.

Should You Let Your Hen Hatch Those Eggs?

how to candle duck eggs

If you don’t want a full clutch of ducklings (up to 15) don’t let your hen start setting. She won’t stop until she has the number she has somehow targeted, and you can’t just take away some and leave others. If you don’t want a full brood of ducklings, remove the eggs promptly, no matter how much the hen complains.

On the other hand, if you have the space and the resources, and you want the ducklings, just make sure the hen is safely situated and then leave her alone. Just remember that before you know it, may have significantly more ducks to care for, so make sure you have the space, housing and feed you will need.

How Do You Know The Nest Is Safe?

Your duck hen will pick a place to lay her eggs that she feels is safe. Check to make sure that it is secure from predators and sheltered from the elements. You may need to construct fencing and shelter around it to ensure safety.

Once your hen has chosen her spot, you can make soft bedding (e.g. leaves and/or straw) available to her, but don’t put it in the nest. Just leave it nearby and let her build the nest as she sees fit.

Once your hen has settled in, laid her clutch of eggs and begun the incubation process, it will take about a month for the eggs to begin hatching.

Don’t be surprised if the hen pushes some of the eggs out of the nest. She will do this if the egg is a dud and will not hatch. Just pick up these discards and dispose of them. Don’t put them back in the nest.

If you see damaged eggs, it’s a clue that some predator is tampering with the nest. Check your security, and be sure to pick up uneaten feed before nightfall. Loose grain can attract rats and mice, which will eat eggs if they have the chance.

Be Sure The Duck Hen Is Not Disturbed

Take steps to keep the nesting area peaceful. Don’t let kids, pets or visitors bother the nesting duck. Keep the drake and other ducks away, as well.

Just do the bare minimum to keep things tidy and make sure the hen has plenty of feed and water. Too much attention will distress the hen and cause her to become anxious and aggressive. Too much disturbance will cause the hen to abandon the nest.

If something does frighten the hen off her nest, give her a couple of days to return. If more than three days pass, gather up the eggs and clean up the nest. She has abandoned it. This may also happen if the eggs go bad/die or if the hen is just immature or doesn’t have good nesting instincts.

Not Every Absence Is Abandonment

Keep in mind that your duck hen may not sit on the nest every minute. Naturally, she will need to take breaks for feed and water. Don’t bother the nest while she’s gone. Just leave it alone.

During very warm weather, she may take longer breaks because the eggs may not be in need of her warmth. Don’t worry if she does a bit of strolling about on a hot day.

What Should You Do About Eggs That Don’t Hatch?

It’s normal for quite a few eggs not to hatch. After most have hatched, if there are still some left after a couple of days, wait until the hen and ducklings are off the nest and remove them.

Be very careful with these eggs because if they are rotten, they may be under quite a bit of pressure from internal gases. If they explode, you will be very sorry as they smell extremely terrible.

Can The Hen And Ducklings Join The Flock?

It’s wise to keep the hen and her new ducklings separate from the flock for a couple of weeks. Drakes can be aggressive toward ducklings, and tiny ducklings can easily be trampled underfoot.

Even if you plan to raise the ducklings separately from the hen, let her care for them for at least a week before you move them into a brooder. This is a good way to give them a strong start and to give them a chance to learn a bit about being a duck.

What If You Don’t Have A Hen?

what if you don’t have a hen

Some people like to hatch duck eggs in an incubator and raise the ducklings by hand. This is a possibility if you are starting from scratch and don’t have access to adult ducks. It’s also a possibility if you just want pet ducks and want to be able to handle them quite a bit as babies.

Be careful, though. Even if you plan to keep these ducklings as pets, you don’t want them so strongly imprinted on you that they stay wholly dependent on you even as adults. Even pet ducks should be allowed to enjoy the sheer “duckness” of being a duck.

Using an incubator is also a good idea if you want ducklings but have a breed that is not especially good at sitting. For example, Pekins lay lots of eggs, but they do not tend to set well. If you want to raise more Pekin ducklings, you may need to gather the eggs, check them for fertility and incubate them to increase your flock.

How Can You Tell If Duck Eggs Are Fertile Or Viable?

hatching duck eggs

You can tell whether or not duck eggs are fertile by a process known as candling. This is an ages old process that involves applying strong backlighting (e.g. a candle) to the egg so that you can get an idea of what’s going on inside. In the old days, candles were used. Today, duck breeders tend to use a strong flashlight.

How Do You Incubate Duck Eggs?

In all likelihood, you’ll need to use an incubator that is designed for chicken eggs. Because duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs, if you have a model that has individual holders for the eggs, you may need to only use every other space to have enough room. You don’t want the eggs rubbing against each other as this may cause damage.

It is possible to get an incubator that is equipped with open trays and adjustable dividers. If you can get this sort of incubator, it is better for duck eggs and other large eggs. Whatever you do, don’t crowd the eggs, and don’t mix types of eggs (e.g. chickens and ducks) because different types of fowl have different incubation requirements.

In fact, different breeds of ducks have different incubation requirements. Some types may have a 28 day incubation period, while others may need as long as 35 days to hatch. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the breed you are hatching to be certain of providing the right timing and conditions.

If your eggs have not hatched in the time you’ve allotted, don’t toss them immediately. Give them two or three more days and then check for signs of damage or decay. Candle them to determine whether the inhabitants are viable.

How To Candle Duck Eggs

To candle duck eggs, you’ll need a very dark room and a very bright light. Hold the light behind the egg, and cup it with your hand to focus all the light on the back of the egg. This will also prevent shining the light into your own eyes and making it hard to see.

You’ll be looking for veins in the eggs. When you see veins, you can be pretty sure a baby duck is developing. If you see indistinct veining, the embryo may not be alive. If you see very clear veins, it probably is.

You won’t see movement until the 12th day. When you shine the light on the egg, the baby duck inside will react and move a bit.

If all goes well, the embryo will keep developing and filling up the shell, so much so that by the 22nd day, you won’t be able to see detail. You’ll just see a solid mass and the air sac surrounding the duckling.

By the 26th or 27th day, just before hatching, you may be able to see the duckling’s bill moving about inside the egg.

Candling Duck Eggs

Here is a very clear pictorial sequence that shows the results of candling chronologically. There are also clear images of infertile and dead eggs.

When Do Eggs Begin Incubation?

As soon as your hen lays an egg, the incubation period begins, so eggs may hatch over a period of several days. If you are going to incubate eggs, you should gather them from the hen every day rather than letting her sit on them until you are ready to start incubation. If you leave the eggs in the nest, they may be subject to exposure to heat or cold that will affect their viability.

Do Incubators Just Keep Eggs Warm?

Incubators provide just the right conditions for successful egg hatching.

A good incubator should have automatic turning arms to adjust the position of the eggs during incubation. Without these arms, you will need to open and close the incubator multiple times (at least 4) daily to perform this function by hand. This will negatively impact the humidity levels inside the incubator and could negatively impact your success rate.

Maintaining a consistent temperature and humidity levels is crucial with duck eggs. Ideally, you should maintain a consistent temperature of 85-88 degrees Fahrenheit. The humidity levels should stay at 55-65%. It’s easiest to keep track of this if your incubator has a wet bulb thermometer.

In an incubator that does not have a wet bulb thermometer, you should strive to keep a temperature reading of 99.3-99.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep a close eye on the temperature because as the ducklings mature, they will give off more heat, and you will need to adjust your settings.

Whether you turn the eggs by hand or have it done automatically, when you put the egg into the incubator, be sure to lightly mark (X) one side of the egg. In this way, you will be able to verify/remember when the egg is turned.

In an incubator that does not have a wet bulb thermometer, you should strive to keep a temperature reading of 99.3-99.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep a close eye on the temperature because as the ducklings mature, they will give off more heat, and you will need to adjust your settings.

Also, keep in mind that high humidity can lead to a lot of bacterial growth. While it may seem counterintuitive, this means that you should not clean duck eggs before placing them in the incubator. If the eggs are very dirty, wipe them lightly, but never wash them. Doing so removes their protective coating and makes them subject to bacterial invasion.

Steps To Take When Incubating Duck Eggs

  1. Be sure your incubator is on a strong, level surface in a draft-free area that is free of extremes in temperature.
  2. Pre-heat the interior of the incubator to 98 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour.
  3. Mark the side of each egg with an X, and put the eggs in the incubator with the pointy end down.
  4. Follow manufacturer’s directions to fill the incubator well with water. Consult the owner’s manual to determine how often you’ll need to refill the reservoir.
  5. Be sure that the eggs are rotated side-to-side, manually or automatically at least four times daily. Take care to always keep the pointy end of the egg in the downward position. Eggs should just be shifted or rocked from one side to the other.
  6. You can stop shifting the eggs in the last 5 incubation days. The ducklings will need this stillness as they get ready to break out of the egg.
  7. Check on the incubator several times daily and carefully monitor humidity and temperature.
  8. Watch for the pip holes the ducklings will make when they are ready to leave the eggs. Don’t be in a rush. Complete exit may take as long as a couple of days. Resist your urge to help. The ducklings can do it on their own. If a full 2 days (48 hours) have passed, and the duckling is still not out, you can gently remove some bits of shell to make the opening bigger and the struggle easier.
  9. As soon as each duckling is free and its body fuzz is dry, move it into a prepared, warm brooder. Ducklings should not stay in the incubator longer than an hour after hatching because they are big and ungainly (unlike chicks) and can be injured by the automatic turning arms and the rotation of the trays.
  10. After all the ducklings have been moved to the brooder, disassemble the incubator as much as is possible and clean all components with a disinfectant solution. Allow the parts to sit in the open air to dry completely before reassembling and storing.

Time + Experience = Success

Don’t be disappointed if all of your duck eggs do not hatch. In fact, that’s to be expected. Even very motherly duck hens will typically have a 50% rate of success with their first clutch, and you should not expect to do any better.

Ducks are a bit harder to incubate than chicks, but with practice, you’ll enjoy more success. Generally speaking, a success rate of about 75% is to be expected.

Incubating Duck Eggs From Start To Finish

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Farm & Animals since 2019. Farm animals have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.