When David got the following question last week, he asked around on Twitter for a bird person to tackle it and I ended up offering my services:
A wild duck (mallard?) has made a nest in our window flower box and is sitting on 4 eggs. We’re very concerned that if/when the ducklings hatch they will simply die because next to our window ledge, about 2 feet lower, is a flat asphalt roof. It has some standing water on it (currently a couple of inches), but that’s it. The roof also gets really hot in the summer (and then the water usually dries up). There is no other place to go from the roof, without flying.
What would be the most humane thing to do? Remove/destroy the eggs? Or “see what happens”?
While it's true that Mallards usually nest at ground level, exceptions definitely exist – a quick Google search yielded lots of stories of Mallards nesting on roofs, and years ago I stumbled across one in a more natural environment that had built a nest in a hollow tree (the photo I got of it isn't great quality but gives you the idea).
Another North American duck, the Wood Duck, always nests in hollow trees (or in nest boxes provided by people). Every single Wood Duck begins its life with a flying leap from its arboreal nest to the forest floor. This clip from the BBC's Planet Earth spectacularly documents this behavior in the Wood Duck's Asian cousin, the Mandarin Duck.
So, I emailed Zintis back to ask how high the roof in question is, thinking that if it was just a single story off the ground, the ducks might be fine where they were. He replied as follows:
The roof is between 15 and 18 feet off the ground, but there’s only concrete below, a very active parking lot. (The middle of a city.) There’s a small, seasonal stream a few blocks away (again all encased in cement), and I don’t know of any other nearby stream/pond. The other challenge of course is that this is the middle of a city with active streets.
All in all this does sound like a hazardous situation for a group of ducklings, despite the relatively low height of the roof. Based on this additional information, I advised Zintis that his best bet would be to contact a local wildlife rehabilitator and see if they would be willing to relocate the birds (assuming the cranky landlord would allow it); I was able to determine from the website of the New Jersey Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators that a rehabber one county from over him works with waterfowl. He spoke to them and they said that at this point, with the mother Mallard already sitting on a full clutch of eggs, the best thing to do is just wait and see what happens. Everyone, keep your fingers crossed.
If you are ever concerned about the health or safety of a wild animal you've found, just type “[your state here] wildlife rehabilitators” into Google and you should be able to find a list of licensed rehabbers in your area.
Although (as in this case) there's not always an easy answer about the best way to help, or if human intervention is even necessary, every wildlife rehabilitator I've met loves to help animals and is happy to advise concerned members of the public.
Have you ever found birds nesting in an unusual or unfortunate place? Did you do anything about it? If so, what? Let us know in the comments!