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Hen mallard hatches her ducklings on a lively nesting site on preschool playground in Alexandria

The duck was undisturbed by all the energy around her as she incubated her nine eggs while children played on the Community Preschool playground at First Lutheran Church in Alexandria. The ducklings hatched on May 27.

A hen mallard nests in the wood chips directly under a platform leading to the slide on the playground for Community Preschool at First Lutheran Church in Alexandria on May 24, 2021. The hen has stayed on her nest for weeks now as she incubates nine eggs while the preschool children run around and play as usual all around her. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

It was graduation night at the First Lutheran Church in Alexandria on May 24 for students ages 3-5 in the church’s Community Preschool classes.

About a dozen young children were running around, yelling and chasing each other like kids do around the playground on the northwest corner outside of the church at about 6 p.m. Parents talked outside the chest-high fence that surrounds the equipment, and one hen mallard sat still as a statue on a nest, seemingly oblivious to the energy around her.

Children from the morning class in the Community Preschool program at First Lutheran Church run and play on May 26, 2021 while the hen mallard sits tight on her nest with nine eggs. The eggs hatched a day later on May 27. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“I think she found that spot on those rainy two weeks,” Community Preschool assistant teacher Helen Maier said. “We could see them out the window, the (drake and hen) pair of them walking around the playground. We spent a lot of time just looking out the window at them.”


The teachers and young kids had no idea what the mallards were up to until the sun came back out and it was time to play outside again.

“(Community Preschool teacher) Kelli (Risnes) said, ‘I think I see a mother duck out there right in the center of the heart of the playground,’” Maier said. “We chased her off that first day, but she has held solid since.”

The hen mallard found the wood chips under the platform that leads to the slide to be a perfect spot to build a nest. As of May 26, she had been there for about 27 days, spending almost all of her hours incubating her nine eggs that ended up hatching on May 27.

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A hen mallard on the playground at First Lutheran Church sits next her nest full of ducklings that hatched on May 27, 2021. (Contributed photo)

The incubation period for mallard eggs takes approximately 25-29 days. Many bird species are incredibly loyal to their nest once the egg-laying process is complete, hesitant to leave it even when faced with danger from natural predators in the wild. This specific hen mallard -- who one class named Bella -- certainly showed strong motherly instincts.

“She just sits and watches us, and we watch her,” Maier said. “We avoided the slide for a while, but we figured out that we could go on it. We peek through the little hole and look at her. We’re watching and observing how she’s adding feathers to her nest.”

During incubation, waterfowl will take short recesses away from the nest -- often to feed and preen. Females will cover the nest when they leave to provide insulation and keep the eggs hidden. The students saw this all first hand.


Melisa Schueler, Community Preschool director and teacher, said their staff was a little worried initially about how safe this nesting location would be. While the hen likely had no idea the atmosphere she was getting herself into, the playground proved to be a safe spot away from the many traditional nest predators that threaten a successful hatch.

Hadley Peterson (front) and Mack Arnold head down the slide at the Community Preschool playground at First Lutheran Church in Alexandria on the morning of May 26, 2021. A hen mallard has nested right below the slide throughout the month of May and seldom leaves her nine eggs now that should hatch any day. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“We were excited to have her, but we weren’t sure what would happen to the duck or the eggs,” Schueler said. “We started doing some research. What should we do? Should we call the DNR? So we just thought, well, she’s not moving. The kids are listening very well and protecting her. So we got some caution tape, put it around and put some cones out. The kids love watching her and say ‘hi’ to her every day.”

Teachers enjoyed using it as an exciting, unexpected learning opportunity.

“It’s been fun because we’ve been reading books about them in class,” Schueler said. “Books with pictures of ducks. What really happens? The incubation period and how long they stay with mommy and when they go off on their own.”

(The original version of this story was updated after the ducklings hatched on May 27)


Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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