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How Long Can Duck Eggs Survive Without Their Mother On Them?

Although a small number of people actually keep ducks as pets, we have noticed more and more people “duck watching” any nesting ducks in their local area recently with this hobby becoming increasingly popular with each year that goes by.

With more and more people keeping and eye on duck nests and often sharing the activity of the nest on social media with other people watching the same nest, it is becoming much easier to notice if the mother abandon the nest.

This has resulted in a spike in the number of people reaching out and asking various questions about what they can do to help duck eggs that have been abandoned.

More recently, we have seen people specifically reaching out and asking how long duck eggs can survive without their mother on them due to being worried about a nest being abandoned.

It is nice to see so many people caring about the duck nests and eggs in their local area but please keep in mind that getting close to a duck nest may actually be forcing the mother to keep away and put the eggs at risk.

Although ducks that live in public parks are usually used to people, wild ducks that are in more remote areas may stay away from their nests simply due to a human being close to it.

How Long Can Duck Eggs Survive Without Their Mother On Them?

Although it will depend on the specific species of duck, most duck eggs can be left for an hour or two without their mother sitting on them and not having any problems.

The ambient temperature of their location and age of the embryo in the egg will also come into play but most female ducks will only leave her nest to find food and quickly return.

More experienced female ducks will often stay very close to the nest when they do go looking for food too so they are able to quickly return to the nest if they notice a predator.

Although the male duck in some species will also help to protect the nest from potential predators, not all duck species do this and the male duck next sits on their eggs, even if the female is off looking for food.

Some duck species will specifically only nest in warmer climates helping to keep the egg warm even when the mother duck is not sitting on the egg.

Although the mother duck could potentially leave her eggs in the nest for longer than an hour or two due to the warmer ambient temperatures, this still tends to be rare with most mothers returning within an hour or two at most.

Will Abandoned Duck Eggs Hatch?

Although there are some very specific situations where an abandoned duck egg can hatch without its mother sitting on it to keep it warm, it is very rare.

In the wild, it is likely that the egg will become too cold for the embryo to survive within a couple of hours and there is also a high chance of a predator finding the egg and eating it too without the mother duck there to protect it.

The odds really are stacked against an abandoned duck egg when it comes to survival and although you would think that warmer temperatures increase the chances of the egg surviving, it still gets very cold at night.

In addition to that, there also tends to be a much larger snake population in warmer areas with snakes being one of the main predators for duck eggs meaning that the egg will often become part of the food chain within a day or two.

Depending on where you live, there are various charities and some government agencies that may be able to help abandoned duck eggs.

They can have their own incubators to keep the egg in while also keeping it away from predators too.

This will drastically increase the odds of survival for the duckling inside of the abandoned egg but please don’t presume that a duck egg is abandoned just because you can’t see its mother as the mother may be gone in search of food for as long as two hours before returning.

How Do You Know If An Abandoned Duck Egg Is Alive?

The easiest way to check if an abandoned duck egg is alive is to use a process called candling.

This involves using a bright light to shine through the egg to allow you to observe the embryo and check for vein development, growth, or movement. The candling process does not harm the embryo and is widely used for birds of all types without issue.

Although the term is called candling, you don’t use a candle to check the egg, most people just use a bright torch with the flash of most modern smartphones often being bright enough to candle an abandoned duck egg if you turn the main lights off in the room.

You can also pick up a specialist Egg Candler for around $15 that makes the process much easier.

If you see strong vein development in the egg when candling it there is a good chance that the embryo has been developing.

Until around day 12 of development, it can be difficult to see the movement of the embryo though so younger eggs can be harder to check if they are still alive.

The easiest way in our opinion is to take a photograph of the egg during the candling process from the same angle each day and compare vein growth.

Drawing a little line on the shell of the duck egg to point towards your camera each day helps to ensure you are always taking a photograph of the same side of the egg too.

How To Tell If A Duck Nest Is Abandoned?

Observing a duck nest for an extended period of time of two to three hours is usually the best way to be able to see if the nest has been abandoned or not.

Even then though, it mother ducks can leave their nests for longer than this on occasion and still return without there being any problems with her eggs.

As we touched on earlier in the article, a common mistake that we have noticed people making multiple times when trying to check if a duck nest is abandoned or not is to stay way too close to the nest.

This can result in the mother being scared off and never returning to the nest even if she was on her way back after going out to find food.

Another common problem that we have seen reported is people will have their dogs out with them for a walk when they find a ducks nest that they think is abandoned.

Although you may have good intentions of staying close to the nest to try and work out if the mother duck has abandoned the nest or not, a dog can be enough to scare the mother duck off and keep her away from the nest for longer than she otherwise would be, especially if your dog is barking or running around.

Can I Hatch Duck Eggs Without An Incubator?

Although it is possible to hatch an abandoned duck egg without the use of an incubator, it is much harder than most people think and has a high failure rate.

This is why it is usually better to contact a local bird charity to see if they have a space in their incubator available for the abandoned duck egg. Homemade, DIY incubators are not ideal and can sometimes even present a fire risk so we don’t recommend them.

You are able to purchase an entry-level incubator for around $50 that will easily be able to incubate abandoned duck eggs for you though.

This is usually the best option and once you are done with the incubator, you can donate it to your local bird charity as they are usually in need for incubators.

We have seen DIY incubators ranging from putting the abandoned duck egg in an electric blanket to placing it in a cardboard box in a warm area of your home but the majority of these are a waste of time even if they mean well.

Not only do some of them present a fire risk to your home but it can be very difficult to keep the duck egg at the correct temperature for the embryo to thrive so an actual egg incubator be it a cheap entry-level incubator or an incubator that a bird charity owns will always be the best option.


That brings our article going over how long duck eggs can survive without their mother on them to an end. We hope that we have been able to help you better understand how long a mother duck will leave her nest when looking for food as well as how you are able to potentially help any abandoned duck eggs that you do fine while on your travels.