I set up my scope and, from across the yard, I could see well enough into the nest to see four or five young ducklings. They were yellow in color with some dark stripes on their heads. The nest was lined with down feathers. As I was watching, the female duck flew back in. It was a female mallard! She moved around the nest a bit, appearing to be tidying up, and then sat on the nest to keep the young, unhatched eggs, warm.
I have never seen, nor even heard of, a mallard nesting in a tree — only on the ground. So I was concerned if the fledglings would make it out of the tree alright without assistance. I called Steve Haydock to ask if he had ever heard of a mallard nesting so high in a tree. Steve is a former field naturalist with the Parker River Refuge and he teaches a course in ornithology.
Steve said that he had heard of it, but that it was very rare and he had never witnessed it himself. He felt that the young would make their way down the tree just fine. Also, because mallards are precocial, that is, they are ready to move out of the nest soon after hatching, Steve predicted that this exodus could take place within a few hours, depending on how many eggs were left to hatch.
I didn’t stay around to see if this would take place that evening, though I suspected an early morning exit was more likely for the ducklings. The mother duck seemed content to just sit on the nest. As it turned out, I was right. Barbara called and relayed the rest of the story. She found the mother duck with 7 ducklings in her yard the next morning. They started to make their way out of her yard and she felt compelled to follow them, and follow them she did.