How ducklings hatch

Our second batch of duck eggs is busy hatching. The process is fascinating to me, so I thought I’d share some progressive pictures of the hatch here.

Here are the eggs, lined up in an egg carton in the incubator. Two things are happening here: The good news is that several eggs have little teeny dents called “pips”–that’s the first little punch the duckling puts in the shell, in order to let in enough oxygen to continue the process. The pips are located just inside the concentric circles on the tops of the eggs, on the left side of those circles. The circles represent the growth of the air cell, so the pips occurred on the left side of the air cell (not all the eggs in this picture are pipped).

The sad thing that has happened is that one egg has a huge dent in the back from when I crushed it with a glass of water a couple days before this picture. I felt sick afterward, but several people told me to leave it be and see what would happen, so it’s still sitting there in this picture, bottom right.


After pipping, the duckling rests and absorbs the remainder of the yolk sac. This can take more than 24 hours. Having done that, the baby then begins to “zip”–it moves the hole outward from the pip, and basically draws a line around the bottom of the air cell, essentially creating a “cap” on the top of the egg. Here’s one just beginning to expand the pip:


And then, fully zipped:


Once the zipping is done, the baby begins to push upwards on the cap (this pic actually shows a time lapse of approximately 20 minutes from the above picture–the first few pushes don’t look as impressive):


This process goes on for another 10-20 minutes, with the hatchling expanding and contracting:


Finally, it pushes part way out. Hello, world!!!


When hatching eggs on their sides in the incubator, the baby tends to just “pop” out of the egg as soon as the cap comes off, and it then stumbles and slides all over the incubator until it is coordinated enough to control its muscles. When hatching in cartons as I did this time, the “popping” portion takes longer. It struggles one direction:


And then another. It stretches, and struggles against gravity, and finally–finally–makes its way out of the bottom portion of the shell. Although the struggle looks painful and difficult, the benefit of doing it this way is that by the time the duckling frees itself, it is already strong & coordinated enough not to injure itself or the other eggs in a frenzied stumble around the incubator. Instead, it’s ready for a little break:


Followed by some climbing exercise (and improved upon by another nap):


You may notice that Harry–our new duckling, named by Eli–is resting atop the sad little crushed egg. 😦

A sad little crushed egg that–oh miracle–has pipped! Look closely–you can just see it–again, in the middle left portion of the air cell circles. And then look! Crushed egg zipped:DSC_0307

Crushed egg waiting… for Harry to finish his mama duck act:


Crushed egg accepting help. Harry is reaching around to offer encouragement and a little helpful peck or two. This kind of behavior is well documented–it’s clear that the first ducks out nearly always help the others. Notice also that some of the crushed egg duckling’s feathers are sticking out–that’s because she’s been pushing and contracting regularly for some time at this point. But the dramatic moment won’t come until Harry gets up and moves!DSC_0320

And, there she is!


Proof that crushing an egg doesn’t necessarily kill the duckling. And the vacant premises, after 29 days of housing a growing duckling:


And the miracle duckling, named Shining Pearl (by Monty), ten minutes or so after hatching:


Since then, we’ve had one more duckling hatch (a little yellow one, as yet unnamed), and several more working on zips. I’ll post as they arrive!

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