In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to successfully hatch duck eggs, from A to Z!
*Scroll to the bottom of article for our printable Duck Egg Incubation Checklist!
Writing about how to hatch duck eggs has been on our to-do list for a few years now, ever since we originally hatched some of our own. So, we apologize for our tardiness in getting this article and information compiled to help you other duck parents out there.
Before we dive into the how-to’s of hatching duck eggs, we’d like to share our own story, er nightmare, that helped us learn a lot of the information included in this article…
Our duck egg hatching story
Years back, we had the tamest, smartest duck we’ve ever raised: Svetlana. She was inseparable from her best friend, Jackson, another Welsh Harlequin duck.
Svetlana was in the midst of battling an aspergillosis infection. She took a turn for the worse, and we brought her to the vet, who said her prognosis was not good. She’d been off medication and laying eggs, but the vet immediately suggested we start her on medication plus a Deslorelin implant to make her stop laying eggs so her body could put more energy into fighting infection, rather than reproduction.
The thought of losing Svetlana was heart-wrenching and we didn’t know how much time she had left.
It was mid-January and she was still laying eggs, which we knew were fertilized via our drake, Sir Winston Duckbill, aka Winnie the Screw. (Things get a little weird around here at times, don’t judge.)
Solution: let’s hatch Svetlana the duck’s eggs
Thus, a decision was made to let Svetlana hatch eggs and experience being a mom before she left this mortal coil. That way, we’d also be able to make sure we’d at least have her offspring if she didn’t make it. Svetlana (who was already an indoor duck by night), her best friend Jackson, Sir Winston, and four of Svetlana’s fertilized eggs moved inside our house, since hatching eggs outdoors in winter would be impossible.
Then things went sideways… The Deslorelin implant shifted Svetlana’s hormones, snapped her out of being broody, and made her start to molt.
She no longer had any interest in sitting on her nest, so Jackson became the surrogate mother of Svetlana’s eggs. Things settled down and Jackson was an excellent “egg mother” over the next few weeks. We were all on the path to victory.
Momma duck’s mothering instincts go awry
Then things went sideways, again… As the first egg began to make chirping noises and the tiny duckling inside began to tap the inside of the shell to “pip” a hole, Jackson started to panic.
Was something attacking her egg? Was the crazy chirping egg going to eat her other eggs?
That’s when the horror story started. Early in the morning, we found Jackson in the midst of attacking and crunching the hatching egg with her bill, which quickly led to the death of the soon-to-emerge duckling inside.
The other eggs weren’t far behind in development, but at this advanced stage, they’d require extra humidity to hatch, something we hadn’t planned on providing artificially since our ducks were supposed to do the work for us. (Ducks instinctively maintain ideal humidity/moisture levels in their feathers while sitting on eggs.)
Simple solution: get an incubator fast. Problem: it was February and we were in the midst of a rare South Carolina snowstorm that made driving impossible.
Nature finds a way (ha): incubating duck eggs on human dad’s chest
Less simple solution: one of us would have to become momma duck for the final three eggs until they hatched. The Tyrant volunteered me for the job. (In all seriousness, I’m a much lighter sleeper so it was logical for me to assume the task… At least that’s what I told myself to maintain my dignity.)
Over the next two nights, I slept upright on the couch with duck eggs wrapped in lightly dampened towels underneath my shirt and blanket.
Needless to say, when delicate ducklings are chirping and punching through their shells (hatching takes about 2 days to complete) on your chest, it’s not terribly conducive to a restful night of sleep. (For the record, payback came in 2019 when The Tyrant went through 9 months of grief incubating our human baby.)
Duckling hatch day and return of good duck momma
Soon, we had three happy, healthy ducklings chirping away in our home, which was now a duck sanctuary for all intents and purposes. We put the ducklings in a cage next to Jackson so she could see them and vice versa, without harming them. This allowed her brain to make the connection that she was now a mother to actual ducklings, not just eggs.
Soon, they were all smitten with each other and Jackson became a mom to Svetlana’s ducklings. Then things went sideways, again… We sexed the ducklings and realized that two of the three were males, ratios which would ultimately be problematic in a small flock.
A week later, we were able to get a sexed run of three new female Welsh Harlequin ducklings delivered from Metzer Farms, which Jackson happily took in as her own.
Ultimately, the ordeal helped us achieve our goal: Svetlana’s daughter, Pippa, is still with us today. Svetlana fought on and lived another two years after Pippa’s arrival before eventually passing. And we learned a heck of a lot about hatching duck eggs through our experience.
Don’t worry: hatching duck eggs isn’t nearly as difficult as our story might indicate. In fact, it can be downright easy, as you’ll come to find out in our how to hatch duck eggs guide below!
Incubating duck eggs: two methods
There are two general methods you can use to incubate duck eggs:
- Let your ducks hatch the eggs themselves;
- Use an incubator to hatch duck eggs yourself.
Both of these methods have their own pros and cons. It’s important to know what’s involved with both hatching methods BEFORE you decide which method you want to utilize.
Six duck egg hatching facts:
Regardless of which hatching method you ultimately decide to take, there are some universal duck eggs facts you should be aware of:
1. Egg viability
Under ideal conditions, a fertilized duck egg can remain viable for at least 14 days after laying and prior to being incubated (artificially or under momma duck). Beyond that point, fertility rates begin to decline precipitously. The general rates of viability decline are:
- 3% loss within one week of laying,
- 10% loss by two weeks.
However, as a general rule: the less time between laying and incubation the better.
If you need to store eggs prior to incubation, store them in a cool, slightly damp place (55°F and 75% humidity is ideal) with small end pointed down.
2. Days to hatch
How long does it take for duck eggs to hatch?
Once a fertilized duck egg begins incubation via momma duck or an incubator, it takes about 28 days to hatch. (*This is true of common Mallard-derived breeds, not Muscovies, a different species entirely, whose eggs take 35 days to hatch.)
Lower incubation temperatures and/or older eggs can cause longer hatching times.
3. Incubation temperature
Duck eggs incubate at 99.5°F. As the eggs begin to hatch, temperatures should be slightly decreased (more details below).
During days 1-25, duck eggs require a humidity level of 55-58%; Days 26-28 require 65% + humidity levels (more details below).
Once a duckling pips a hole in the egg to begin breathing external oxygen, it may take an additional 48 hours to finish “zipping” (cracking a line around the egg to emerge) and fully hatch.
Do NOT try to “help” the duckling remove its shell prematurely or you can very easily kill it by rupturing its chorioallantoic membrane where it is still attached to the inner membrane of the shell.
An exception to this rule is if a duckling has been stuck in the same position during hatching for 12+ hours and is showing signs of distress. If so, mist the egg and the exposed parts of the duckling with fresh water and wait for 15-30 minutes to see if the additional moisture helps the duckling to begin moving again. If not, you may need to start very carefully removing small pieces of the shell to help the duckling free itself.
6. Food & water after hatching
A duckling doesn’t have to have food or water immediately after hatching since it can live on the nutrition it took in from the yolk for about 48 hours.
Will they do better if food and water are immediately available? Probably so. This information is provided just to let you know there’s no need to panic and plunk your just-hatched ducklings in front of a food or water bowl.
Pros and cons of different hatching methods:
Now, let’s take a deeper dive into the two different duck egg hatching methods you can use:
Method 1: Let your ducks hatch eggs themselves
- Easy for humans — the ducks do all the work;
- Lowest cost — no incubator required.
- Ducklings raised exclusively by ducks may be more fearful of humans throughout their lives;
- Many duck breeds have poor mothering instincts so success rates will vary by breed (*see breed analysis below).
Method 2: Use an incubator to hatch duck eggs yourself
- Better hatch rates if you have ducks/duck breeds that don’t have good mothering instincts;
- More likely to result in tamer ducklings/adult ducks.
- You have to have an incubator — and one with settings that can accommodate duck eggs, not just chicken eggs;
- Relatively labor and time-intensive even with automated incubator.
If you have children at home, both methods can provide an excellent educational opportunity. However, using an incubator will allow a more up close and personal understanding of the developmental changes going on inside the eggs and allow you to see your ducklings hatch, something that’s quite magical.
After considering the pros and cons (and details) of both duck egg hatching methods, choose the method that best suits you.
6 steps to success if you let your ducks hatch eggs (method 1)
If you decide to let your ducks hatch their own eggs, here are six steps that will help increase your (and your duck’s) likelihood of success:
1. Consider mothering instincts of your duck breed(s)
Some duck breeds are better than others when it comes to maternal instincts.
Domesticated duck breeds, to varying degrees, have lost their maternal/egg hatching instincts. They’ve been hatched via incubators for generations, so perhaps their epigenetic “how to hatch eggs” guidebook is being broken in the process.
Which duck breeds make the best mothers? According to Metzer Farms’ analysis, duck breeds can be broken down as follows based on their mothering instincts:
- Excellent: Muscovy (different species than common duck breeds)
- Very good: Mallard, Silver Appleyard
- Good: Khaki Campbell, Rouen, *Welsh Harlequin (*the breed of duck we have)
- Fair: White Layer, Golden 300 Hybrid Layer, Cayuga, Buff, Blue Swedish, Black Swedish
- Poor-Fair: Black Runner, Blue Runner, Chocolate Runner, Fawn and White Runner, White Crested
- Poor: Pekin, Grimaud Hybrid Pekin, Jumbo Pekin
There’s no hard-and-fast rule here, but if your ducks are a breed that fall below the “good” level on the scale above, you may want to opt to use an incubator (method 2) instead of letting them hatch their own eggs. As related in our opening story, our Welsh Harlequin’s mothering instincts were a little rusty even though the breed falls in the “good” range.
What’s the most eggs you should expect your duck to be able to hatch? Wild Mallards can hatch 13 eggs at once, so you probably don’t want to exceed that number.
2. Only allow your ducks to hatch in the warm months from spring through summer.
Domesticated ducks lay far more eggs for far longer than wild ducks. Just because your duck is laying eggs in fall or winter doesn’t mean that’s a good time of year for her to raise ducklings.
Even a duck with excellent mothering instincts isn’t likely to be able to successfully hatch eggs or keep her ducklings alive outdoors when temperatures are cold. So, only allow your ducks to hatch eggs in seasons that overlap with wild duck hatching season, from spring through summer.
3. Provide a safe, predator-proof environment.
A broody duck on a nest of eggs is, well, a “sitting duck” in the eyes of a predator. If your mother duck is outside on a nest, make certain she’s in a predator-proof coop and/or run.
Read our article: 17 tips to keep your ducks safe from predators.
4. Provide a clean water source for bathing (plus food and drinking water).
Duck eggs have to be kept at very specific humidity levels to hatch, and those levels vary depending on the stage of egg development. Momma duck instinctively knows this information, and her feathers are ideal for providing just the right levels of moisture — so long as she has access to swimming water.
A broody duck will come off the nest several times per day to stretch, eat, drink, take a [gigantic] poop, and swim/bathe. So make sure food and drinking water are available.
Also, make sure your momma duck has clean water to swim and preen in otherwise she may not be able to maintain adequate moisture levels on her feathers for her developing eggs.
5. Keep an eye out for bad eggs.
Momma duck may roll an egg out of her nest. If so, this likely means there’s something wrong with the egg, e.g. it’s not developing properly or at all.
By removing the bad egg, she’s protecting her other eggs from potential contamination. If the bad egg spoils and explodes, the bacteria can contaminate her other eggs, potentially killing the developing ducklings inside.
If you find an egg that your duck has rolled out of the nest, resist the urge to put it back. There is a chance the egg was accidentally removed from the nest while momma duck was turning her eggs, but it’s more likely the egg is bad.
If you have any doubts, testing for viability involves: 1) smelling the egg to detect foul odors (you’ll know a really bad egg when you smell one), and b) using a flashlight in a dark room to “candle” the egg to detect normal development.
6. Keep a very close eye on momma duck & eggs from Days 24+.
Even if your duck has done an excellent job of tending her eggs for the first few weeks of incubation, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear, as we related in our opening story. Be prepared to have to separate momma duck from her eggs if she begins to show aggression towards her soon-to-hatch eggs.
Unfortunately, if this happens, it likely means you’ll have to quickly find an incubator to finish out the hatching process. (Assuming you don’t want to spend a few sleepless nights on your couch with ducklings hatching on your chest.)
To get your timing right, set a calendar alert for 21 days after your duck first starts sitting on her eggs so you can start being more vigilant a bit in advance.
6 steps to success if you use an incubator to hatch duck eggs (method 2)
If you decide to hatch your own duck eggs using an incubator, here are six tips to increase your odds of success (*and be sure to get our printable checklist at the bottom of the article!):
1. Get a good incubator and check it regularly.
There is a LOT that goes into maintaining ideal conditions for duck egg development and hatching.
Having a really good incubator that automates as many of these processes as possible will make your life a lot easier and your hatch rates a lot higher. Depending on your budget and the number of duck eggs you intend to hatch, we’d recommend you pick the highest rated duck egg incubator currently available on Amazon that matches your needs.
Keep in mind that duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs, so just because an incubator says it will hold a certain number of chicken eggs, doesn’t mean it will hold the same number of duck eggs – try to find duck-specific specifications. Also, depending on your incubator’s features, you may need to get an extra gadget or two, such as a humidity reader.
Be sure to carefully read and follow the specific operating instructions that come with the model of incubator you choose. If your incubator has any official instructional videos on their website or YouTube, watch those as well.
No matter how good your incubator is, glitches and accidents happen. Place your incubator in:
- a low-traffic spot,
- out of the sun,
- a spot in your home where kids and pets aren’t likely to knock into it,
- a spot that’s not drafty or prone to temperature fluctuations.
Even then, check your incubator at least a few times per day to make sure everything is working ok – especially temperature and humidity levels in addition to egg turning (see below).
2. Don’t clean your eggs, but choose non-soiled eggs.
If you’re using your own duck eggs, make sure you’re keeping the bedding topped up in your duck coop each night. That way, you’re more likely to get clean eggs that aren’t covered with poo.
Use the least soiled eggs possible for incubation. No matter what, do NOT wash your eggs prior to incubation. Eggs have a protective coating on them called a “bloom” which helps prevent bacteria from entering the egg, even if there’s a bit of poo on the shells. If you wash off the bloom, your eggs will lose their defensive coating and be more likely to get infected by pathogenic bacteria or other contagions.
It should go without saying, but be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect your incubator before and after each use.
3. Follow these general duck egg hatching guidelines:
Some general guidelines to have handy for your duck egg incubation:
a. Egg placement:
Place eggs on their sides in a pre-warmed and humidified incubator. If the eggs are slightly raised, the large end with the air sac should be facing upward.
- Day 1-Day 25: Maintain temperature at 99.5°F;
- Day 26-28: Drop temperature to 98.5°F;
- ~Day 28: As ducklings begin to fully hatch, slowly drop temps to 97°F.
- Day 1-Day 25: Maintain humidity levels at 55-58%;
- Day 26: Increase humidity to 65%;
- ~Day 26-28: As duckling(s) begin to pip (punch hole in shell), increase humidity to between 70-80% while also increasing ventilation by 50%.
- Hatch: Once ducklings have fully hatched, humidity levels should be 70% with full ventilation so ducklings can easily breathe and dry themselves.
*If you’re measuring “wet bulb” humidity, it should be 86% from Days 1-25 and 94% from Days 26-28.
d. Cooling & Spraying
Momma duck does not stay on her nest every minute of the day for 28 days. As mentioned previously, they leave the nest to eat, drink, swim, poop, and take a break.
Thus, duck eggs are presumably adapted to deal with these breaks, wherein the eggs cool off prior to being re-warmed by a warm and newly-wet momma duck. That’s why many duck breeders recommend mimicking this cooling cycle, which can purportedly even increase hatching rates.
Here’s how to cool your duck eggs:
- Starting around Day 10 after setting your eggs, open the incubator and carefully remove the eggs, placing them on a towel or soft surface so they won’t roll. (Keep the incubator on so it’s warm and humid when you put the eggs back.)
- Let the eggs cool to around 86°F, which feels neutral to the human touch (not warm, not cool). You can use an infrared laser thermometer if you have one handy and want a precise temperature reading. Option B, is to just let the eggs cool about 10 minutes.
- Once the eggs have cooled down, spritz them with water and return them to the incubator.
- Repeat this cycle once per day up until around Day 25, after which you should no longer do it.
Do you have to cool and spray your duck eggs for success? No, but the technique has the potential to increase hatch rates, so we’d recommend it if you have a few extra minutes to spare
Days 1- 25:
The eggs should be regularly (and precisely) turned for the first 25 days to aid in proper development. A good incubator should automatically do this for you, usually hourly.
If not, you’ll need to plan to turn your eggs at least four times at regular intervals over a 24 hour period. Turning is especially important during the first 1-2 weeks of development. Ideally, you can turn your eggs at least 7 times per day during this period. Turn the egg about 50% rotation in the same direction each time.
During the final (about) three days as the hatching process initiates, the eggs should not be turned. This allows the duckling to settle in on a spot to pip. (This setting is also automated on some incubators or you can manually turn the mechanism off.)
4. Mark your eggs
Even if you have a good incubator that automatically turns your duck eggs for you, how can you tell if the eggs are turning? Answer: you can’t unless you mark your eggs.
When you first put your eggs in your incubator, draw a mark on the exposed side, such as a dot, a line, or an X and another mark on the other side. (Or you can put a number on one side corresponding with the number of eggs and an X on the other side.) That way, you’ll have no doubt as to whether your incubator is working properly or an egg is stuck and not turning.
In the photos for this article, we used colored pens, but that’s probably not a great idea since ducks breathe through their shells and use the calcium in the shell to calcify their bones. Use a pencil instead!
It’s not essential, but we candled and marked the air sacks on our eggs so we could follow the air cell expansion which corresponds with the development. By 25 days after setting (when the hatching process is about to start), the air cell has increased to about 1/3 of the space inside the egg.
It’s also interesting to note that due to water loss during development, the egg will actually lose about 14% of its weight over the same time period.
5. Remove any bad eggs and candle eggs regularly starting one week after setting.
“Setting your eggs” means initiating incubation. Before setting your eggs, remove any eggs that are:
- double yolked,
- oversized or undersized, or
- coated in duck poo.
One week after setting, you’ll want to “candle” your eggs at least every couple days to check on their development and to make sure there are no bad eggs in your incubator. An egg that turns bad can grow bacteria that could infect other eggs in the incubator, so they need to be removed sooner rather than later.
“Candling” simply means holding a bright light (like a flashlight) on one side of the egg so you get something akin to an x-ray look inside the developing egg.
In a normally developing egg, you should see veining after 5-7 days. Seven days after setting, if there is no veining and an egg is clear, that means it’s infertile; cloudy means something went wrong and development has terminated.
*Important note: If your duck eggs still haven’t hatched after 28 days but candling reveals normal development, continue on with incubation. Some breeds and/or some individual eggs may take longer than average.
What hatch rate should you expect with your duck eggs? Under ideal conditions, plan for 50-75% success rates.
Eggs purchased from large hatcheries like Metzer Farms start with a 85-93% fertility rate. Metzer Farms also guarantees an 80% fertility rate by first candling (one week after setting).
6. Remove newly hatched ducklings from incubator and place them under brooder lamp.
It’s impossible to say exactly when you should remove a newly hatched duckling from the incubator. You’ll need to be the judge.
However, you don’t want to leave a hatched duckling in the incubator too long or they can injure themselves or even the other eggs. Once the duckling has come out of their shell and dried themselves, we’d recommend removing them from the incubator and placing them in clean, dry bedding underneath a brooder lamp to provide warmth. Position the brooder lamp so the duckling(s) have plenty of room to get out from underneath if they get too warm.
For reference, a newly hatched duckling’s wet egg feathers should be dry, fuzzy, and adorable within about one hour after hatching.
Where do you get fertilized duck eggs?
Ready to get duck eggs? First, see if there are any local, reputable breeders or hatcheries near you.
If not, you can order duck eggs in the spring and summer from well-known national hatcheries/breeders such as:
Keep in mind that:
a) there’s no way to sex eggs prior to hatching so you don’t know what ratio of male-to-female you’ll end up with, which can cause problems down the road, and
b) despite excellent safety packaging, there’s no 100% sure way to prevent the eggs from getting damaged in the mail.
Tyrant Farms’ Printable Duck Egg Incubation Checklist
If you’re using an incubator to hatch duck eggs, you’ll want to print and use our helpful duck egg incubation checklist shown below. Here’s the link to download and print the 8.5 x 11″ PDF version.
Now you know how to hatch duck eggs! If this sounds like more work than you want to take on, not to worry. You can still get ducklings or adopt mature ducks from a rescue.
Learn more about which hatcheries we recommend for ducklings and all about how to raise ducklings after hatch in our detailed How to raise ducklings guide! And be sure to browse our other duck articles for answers to other duck questions you may have.
We hope this how to hatch duck eggs guide was helpful! Have questions? Ask away in the comments below…