Classroom incubation

Hatching projects—ostensibly designed to teach students about life cycles—violate the law, threaten children with disease, deprive infant animals of all that is natural to them, and teach children that baby birds are disposable props to be bullied and exploited in the name of curiosity and to be discarded like trash when the experiment is over.

Teaching Children all the wrong lessons

Lesson #1: Animals are Disposable Props for our exploitation

Scientists agree that birds’ complex social structures and phenomenal memories are undeniable signs of advanced intelligence comparable to that of mammals. People who have spent time with ducks or chickens know that each bird has a different personality that often relates to his or her place in the pecking order. Some are gregarious and fearless, while others are more shy and watchful. Some enjoy human company, while others are standoffish or even a bit aggressive. Just like dogs, cats, and humans, each chicken or duck is an individual with a distinct personality. But for hatching projects, birds are treated as nothing more than tools for classroom experimentation, which teaches students the wrong lessons.

Lesson #2: BULLYING IS Acceptable

Teaching children to care for chicks they will undoubtedly become attached to and who will likely later be killed sends the very dangerous message that it’s acceptable to use and harm weaker beings for our own fleeting purposes. Hatching projects provide a dangerous lesson to children about taking advantage of more vulnerable beings when we should instead be providing anti-bullying messages.

Lesson #3: Motherhood is Not Worthy of Respect

Birds love their families, have complex social bonds, and value their lives, yet when used as classroom teaching tools, they’re denied everything that’s natural and important to them. Even before they’re born, chicks need their mothers, who carefully rotate the eggs up to 30 times a day to maintain the proper temperature, moisture, and positioning. Those grown in an incubator can become sick and deformed as they develop, because their needs aren’t met during incubation. For example, their organs can stick to the sides of the shell if the eggs aren’t rotated properly. If the eggs hatch on weekends when no one is at school, the chicks are left on their own until someone checks on them.

Chickens have more than 30 types of vocalizations, and a mother hen begins to teach these calls to her chicks before they even hatch. She clucks softly to them while sitting on the eggs, and they chirp back to her and to each other from inside their shells. Depriving animals of a chance to develop these sorts of bonds — for any reason — is unacceptable and negates the educational objective, which is to develop a curiosity about and respect for life.

Lesson #4: Inconvenient Truths Are Acceptable Lies

Because it is illegal to keep ducks and roosters in New York City and most Long Island municipalities, it is generally not an option for teachers and students to take in chicks/ducklings as companion animals or even find them good homes. Instead, most are sent back to suppliers, where they may be killed upon receipt because the hatcheries do not want pathogens from the school infecting their commercial flocks. This harsh reality is hidden from children who become attached to the developing baby animals.

Other birds, like quails or pheasants, may be intentionally released to the wild by well-meaning teachers under the guise of conservation efforts, however, being raised by children, not their parents, they are quickly killed by hunters or predators or die of exposure while disrupting native and migratory birds and threatening them with disease. 

Baby birds may be suffocated or ground alive by suppliers.

Exempt from even the minimal protections of the Humane Slaughter Act and the Animal Welfare Act, unwanted baby birds may be suffocated in trash bags or ground up alive in machines called macerators.

This duckling was photographed 24 hours after being hatched at Massapequa's McKenna Elementary School in 2024

Still covered in dried yolk, feces, and pieces of shell a full day after being left without medical attention, this newborn duckling was rushed to Humane Long Island’s veterinarian where they were euthanized after being diagnosed with a painful congenital leg deformity attributable to improper incubation. 

Mr. Quackers was briefly the sole survivor of a flock abandoned by a teacher in babylon following a school hatching project before He, too, succumbed to his injuries.

After a Good Samaritan called us about an abandoned duck on a creek in Babylon in 2024, we found Mr. Quackers huddled along the shoreline, covered in parasites and unable to walk. Mr. Quackers was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, a painful bone infection resulting from untreated bumblefoot (staph infection). After several weeks of antibiotics and daily foot baths, we made the hard decision to euthanize Mr. Quackers after an X-ray found that his infection ate away most of the bone in his ankle, making walking without pain an impossibility. According to the Good Samaritan, Mr. Quackers was the last survivor of several ducks who were abandoned by a teacher on the creek following a hatching project.  

Exposing children to Zoonotic disease

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us nothing else, it is not to underestimate the threat of zoonotic disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 60% of known infectious diseases and up to 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in origin, and according to the CDC, young children are at particular risk to get sick from the germs that animals carry. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Warns that Baby Fowl Can Look Healthy but Still Harbor Salmonella. 

Children who hold, cuddle, or kiss them—or even touch things around the birds’ living area—can be exposed to the bacteria. Young children are especially at risk for illness because their immune systems are still developing and they’re more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouth. Fecal tests have revealed that baby fowl used in classrooms sometimes carry E. coli and four different strains of salmonella, one of which is antibiotic-resistant. Any school that conducts duckling or chick hatchings becomes a potential breeding ground for these and other pathogens, including Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza—which has wiped out thousands of birds on Long Island farms and major hatcheries supplying Long Island schools—or West Nile Virus, which domestic fowl can contract. 

Apart from the risk of pathogens, dander and other particulate matter in the air—unavoidable in a fowl’s environment—could also be a serious issue for children and their respiratory systems, especially for those with asthma. 

Illness Close to Home

 A Long Island teacher reported in 2022 that Cornell Cooperative Extension notified her that the eggs provided to her were “contaminated” and asked her to return the baby birds to be killed, and at a recent New York education conference, an upstate teacher disclosed that her district ended hatching projects after a salmonella outbreak was linked to their project. 

After learning of these risks, Seattle Public Schools similarly implemented a ban on all hatching projects. Why haven’t all schools done the same? 

Violating the Law

Hatching projects are inconsistent with NYS Education Law, Article 17, Section 809. 

New York State mandates that every elementary school provide instruction in the “humane treatment and protection of animals” and “the necessity of controlling the proliferation of animals which are subsequently abandoned and caused to suffer extreme cruelty.”

Hatching projects directly violate Section 809 by denying chicks and ducklings everything that is natural to them by forcing them to grow up in an incubator and putting their health and lives at risk at every step. These experiments also directly result in large numbers of abandoned animals and provide a dangerous example to children about taking advantage of more vulnerable beings when we should instead be providing anti-bullying messages.


Article 161 of the NYC Health Code prohibits the possession of both waterfowl and roosters. Most Long Island municipalities do, too. 

Engaging in live hatching projects in violation of local laws puts teachers, principals, and superintendents at risk of not only potential civil and criminal liability, but major lawsuits should children become ill as a result of potentially deadly pathogens such as Salmonella or E. Coli. When a school district violates the law, not only does it open itself up to major liability, but insurance companies are unlikely to fulfill any claims that result from malfeasance. 

What Humane Long Island is doing to help

PRoviding Free Humane Education Instruction

For educational value, hatching projects miss the mark, however, Humane Long Island has got you covered! 

Anthrozoologist John Di Leonardo and Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator Juliana Di Leonardo are happy to visit any school within the New York Metropolitan area, from Pre-K through University. Outside of the New York Metro area, we are available to Zoom! 

Offering Modern, Humane Alternatives

Our friends at TeachKind have compiled several free and paid programs that meet curricular objectives and save birds: 

  • Cornell Lab Bird Cams has amazing videos of red-tailed hawk eggs hatching and more on YouTube. 
  • Virginia Tech’s “4-H Virtual Farm” Chicken Embryo Development site includes video of chick embryo development, still images, and text on the development process. 
  • The University of Illinois’ “Chickscope” provides diagrams, images, and detailed information on each day of chicken embryo development in the 21-day process. 
  • The NOVA Online Odyssey of Life website includes a video clip of chick embryo development. 
  • Learning Resources sells a set of 21 egg replicas that show development day by day. 
  • Egg: A Photographic Story of Hatching by Robert Burton (with photographs by Jane Burton and Kim Taylor) looks at the egg-hatching process through close-up photographs. The book follows the first crack in the eggshell to the moment that the chick breaks out of the egg. 
  • A Home for Henny, written by United Poultry Concerns founder Karen Davis and illustrated by Patricia Vandenbergh, tells the story of a grade-school chick-hatching project and a chick, Henny, who was going to be disposed of but who finds a happy home at a sanctuary, thanks to a student named Melanie and her parents. 
  • Virtual Incubator guides students through every step of the 21-day chick-hatching process in one sitting. Students are required to monitor the health of the virtual eggs, weigh and rotate them, and check the humidity of the virtual incubator. 


Transitioning Schools away from Hatching projects

In 2023, Humane Long Island worked with Hopscotch Montessori Schools on the Upper East and the Upper West sides of NYC and St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in Islip to ban hatching projects at their campuses. 

In return, Humane Long Island rehabilitated and placed two dozen baby birds at vegan animal sanctuaries in Vermont and New Jersey. 

Installing billboards near schools in high traffic areas

Humane Long Island has installed seven billboards across Nassau and Suffolk counties urging passersby to leave animals off their plates and out of their classrooms for an estimated five million impressions.

experimenting on animals in Primary school breeds the next generation of animal experimenters

Experimenting on animals—whether for hatching projects or dissection—desensitizes students to the sanctity of life and fosters callousness toward animals. Research has shown that a significant number of students at every educational level are uncomfortable with the use of animals in dissection and experimentation while other studies suggest that exposing young people to animal dissection as “science” can even dissuade some from pursuing careers in science.