Mallard Ducklings Present Unique Bird Flu Challenges

A dozen orphaned Mallard ducklings who arrived at International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles wildlife center on March 28 are receiving care in the quarantine area of the facility. Photo by Kadi Erickson – International Bird Rescue

Surprise – it’s a clutch! A dozen orphaned Mallard ducklings arrived at International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center on March 28, kickstarting the beginning of the busy baby bird season. Every year, over 1,000 chicks are cared for during the spring and summer. However, due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza AKA bird flu, this year additional costly adjustments must be made to ensure the safety of all patients. The same virus that is making eggs expensive is also making caring for wild orphans more challenging.

How Can You Help?

Mallard ducklings spend time in an incubator equipped with food, water, and a feather duster for comfort. Photo by Kelly Beffa – International Bird Rescue 4/5/2020

Bird Rescue is prepared to take on the extra challenges of their care and raise ducklings, but we cannot do it alone. We need supporters to help cover additional costs. Both California centers have developed online wish lists that will deliver items directly to them. The Los Angeles Wildlife Center has listed items on Chewy, and the San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center has listed items on Amazon.

Additionally, bird lovers can also symbolically adopt a duckling or a whole clutch to help provide financial aid, especially needed this year for bird flu testing. Each test costs $75 plus shipping and supplies.

It can be difficult for our team to know who has donated through external sites like Chewy and Amazon. If you have donated, please email us at, so we can acknowledge your gift (and so we know to expect its arrival).

Bird Flu Screening of Ducklings is Tricky

Mallards are less likely than many other waterfowl species to show signs of disease and can be infected without appearing sick, according to Dr. Rebecca Duerr, Director of Research and Veterinary Science. Unfortunately, this makes the screening process during intake much more difficult for staff and volunteers in that there is no way other than expensive testing to know which chicks might be carrying the disease. Thus far, the protocols Bird Rescue has put into place have prevented an outbreak of bird flu in its centers; however, the true test lies ahead. The sheer numbers of animals cared for during the breeding season may be more challenging than anything we’ve seen.

“Because there is no current point-of-care test for this disease and it can be deadly for other species we admit, we have to keep ducklings away from our other patients,” Dr. Duerr said. “I have hopes that over the next few years our research collaborations will result in an affordable rapid test for this disease, but it is going to take time.”

The complexity of preventing the spread of bird flu is also causing uncertainty in the rehabilitation community. Fewer wildlife organizations may be able to admit orphaned ducklings without jeopardizing other patients, leaving Bird Rescue with higher volumes.

To provide appropriate environments for numerous clutches of orphans during the influx of baby bird season, Bird Rescue’s wildlife centers need to double (at minimum!) our orphan care supplies. Equipment dedicated to quarantined patients such as incubators, heat lamps, and feeding dishes, as well as duckling food, will not be shared with patients stationed in other areas of the clinics. With your support, our goal is to give every duckling who comes into our centers a chance to survive.

What if You Find Stranded Ducklings?

To help members of the public who find stranded Mallard ducklings, we encourage following the necessary steps in this infographic before taking action. If a bird needs help, it is strongly recommended to call your local animal control or wildlife center before any type of intervention. Please note that not all animal controls are prepared to respond to wildlife challenges, so you may need to make several calls if your first call is not successful. Our Bird HelpLine is also available to support you if local options fail.

Download the full graphic. Design by Claire Bush

We will continue to do our best to care for our patients despite whatever challenges come our way. Thank you for supporting our ongoing efforts to help birds in a changing world!