Information

Keeping Pet Ducks: Ducklings, Imprinting, and Ethical Treatment


Shanti is a fiction editor and an expert when it comes to caring for ducks.

Raising Ducks

The goal of this article is to provide you with crucial basic information about keeping pet ducks healthy, from the time they are ducklings through adulthood. Using personal expertise and dependable sources, I will share detailed information and provide you with links to more information to prepare you to be the best waterfowl keeper possible.

What is a species-oriented approach to raising animals?

The advice in this article strives to promote nurturing, housing, and interacting with non-human species in order to benefit that species in the best way possible.

In this article, you will find the following information and answers:

  • What is it like having pet ducks?
  • How to raise and keep ducks ethically.
  • Everything you need to know about raising ducklings.
  • The imprinting process.
  • A list of insider tips for how to shelter, feed, and care for ducks.

What Is It Like Having Pet Ducks?

Ducks are both adorable and messy. Don't let their fluffy duckling exteriors fool you. Like rubber duckies, real ducklings come in a multitude of colors; unlike rubber duckies, real ducks poop everywhere, all the time. That's only the tip of the iceberg.

Although it can be an intense learning experience, keeping pet ducks is enjoyable and rewarding. Ducks, like other pets, can be companions who bring joy to our everyday lives. They lighten our moods and bring calm to the landscape. If raised right, a duck can become a person's best friend, a waddling angel-in-disguise who can be taught to play fetch and even join us for joyrides in cars as we run errands. Not only are ducks entertaining to watch, but they provide fertilizer for your garden and will even help you clear out insects.

A typical day with pet ducks involves going out first thing in the morning to release the flock from their predator-proof house into their predator-proof pen, then feeding and providing them with fresh water and treats. It also might involve waking up to change a duck diaper and/or running a bath for an indoor duck.

Is raising ducks easy?

My experience with both imprinted and non-imprinted pet ducks has taught me firsthand that raising ducks cannot be taken lightly and requires a lot of conscientiousness. In the past few years, I've spent several thousands of dollars on veterinary bills and driven an injured Indian runner duck named Mary hundreds of miles to an animal hospital that treats exotic pets. I held little Mary in my arms as she took her last breath. I also cried like a baby when I lost one of my girls, Dali, to a predator, and I've laughed with so much joy at my flock's antics that I swear they're good medicine.

I've learned through trial and error what works and what doesn't. I've spent many hours of hard labor in the hot sun, my eyes stinging from salty sweat, emptying and filling water buckets, replacing straw, and digging worms for their enjoyment.

Raising ducks as pets or for slaughter?

There is a difference between the information you'll find for pet ducks and the information that's published for the purpose of farming ducks for slaughter. As a duck person, I've had to set aside what I thought I knew—even the old lessons learned on the farm where I grew up—as I'd taken on several myths about domestic ducks and accepted them as facts. These past five years have been a crash-course in learning about waterfowl.

Keeping pet ducks is not the same as raising ducks for slaughter. Of course, I think all ducks should be pets. Books about raising animals for slaughter do not go into detail about animal personalities or other common-sense observations that bridge the gap between humans and other species. Fortunately, some books are written with the intimate care of pet ducks in mind, like The Ultimate Pet Duck Guidebook: All the things you need to know before and after bringing home your feathered friend by Kimberly Link, the president of Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary, which I highly recommend.

What kind of environment does a duck need?

Ducks must be kept in thoroughly swept and/or vacuumed areas that are free of even the tiniest pieces of plastic, metal, string, or anything a duck can ingest. Ducks are notorious for eating shiny objects that cause heavy metal toxicity, which leads to paralysis and horrible deaths due to organ failure. Even a single penny or a bobby pin can kill your duck! Ingestion of foreign objects can occur in unkempt yards and foraging areas as well. Further below, I include a detailed list of things a duck needs in their environment.

There is a difference between the information you'll find for pet ducks and the information that's published for the purpose of farming ducks for slaughter. Of course, I think all ducks should be pets.

What Is Imprinting?

"Imprinting" is the word for how, after hatching, young birds identify the first being they encounter as their mother. Birds are not born knowing what they are, so they visually imprint on parental figures just after birth. They will identify with whatever species they imprint on for life.

Before imprinting waterfowl, it is important to do your research so that you have a basic foundation of duck psychology, especially if you intend to raise an indoor duck. Ducklings will often imprint on a human, especially from the time of hatching until they are up to five days old (though there may be cases of imprinting that have occurred later). This is even more likely to occur if there are no other ducks around.

Imprinted ducklings need constant care. It's one thing to dream about walking down the lane with a duckling at one's heels and quite another to wake up at 2 a.m. with a duck turd on one's pillow. A duckling is like a baby. It will scream for comfort and care.

Before thinking about imprinting, several questions should be considered.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Imprinting

  1. Do I have time? Being a mother duck is a constant job that will last several months. During this time, the duties of being a mother duck will require that you sleep next to your duckling, eat next to your duckling, play outside for hours beside your duckling, keep your duckling warm, prevent your duckling from crying, learn as much mother-duckling speak as you possibly can, and only leave your duckling with an experienced duck-sitter for short periods of time.
  2. Do I have patience? Ducklings poop a lot. They cannot control it. They cannot be litter-box trained, and they cannot be "disciplined." Under no circumstances should a duckling be smacked, slapped, or flicked. They are sensitive babies with fragile bones and tender bills.
  3. Do I have the resources? The duckling who sees a human as his mother will soon grow up to be a full-grown duck with full-grown duck needs. These needs include predator-proof space, companionship (ducks cannot be kept alone), veterinary care (often as expensive as treatment for cats and dogs and more difficult to find in some cases), diaper harnesses and diapers (if the duck is kept indoors), and did I say attention? Most of all, an imprinted duck needs you.
  4. Do I have permission? If you have neighbors, parents, landlords, or a significant other, then it's best to have every detail worked out before getting a pet duck. What are your town's zoning laws for keeping fowl?
  5. Am I committed? Again, I cannot reiterate this enough: Do you intend to keep your duck safe until the end of its life? As with any other living beings, ducks deserve forever homes. In extreme cases, it may happen that you cannot keep your pet. There are waterfowl rescues and duck lovers' groups located all over the U.S. (and the world) who are sometimes available to help in emergency cases. Never expect, however, that you will be able to find new parents for your duck, particularly if the duck has special needs.
  6. Will my pet duck(s) be safe around my other pets? Do you have dogs or other pets who pose danger to small animals?

Further Research

If you're going to imprint, you'll need to do your research. Konrad Lorenz, known as the father of greylag geese imprinting, was an expert ornithologist who meticulously studied the imprinting of wild goslings on human caregivers. Lorenz wrote the book Here I Am–Where Are You?–A Lifetime's Study of the Uncannily Human Behaviour of the Greylag Goose (1988), or Hier bin ich – wo bist du? translated by Robert D. Martin.

While I do not support Lorenz's political notions, I highly recommend reading his studies about imprinting, including the PBS original documentary My Life as a Turkey, available to watch for free at the PBS website, which shares the journey of nature artist Joe Hutto who imprinted a flock of wild turkeys that were left as eggs in a basket on his doorstep.

Common Questions About Imprinting and Raising Ducks

Here are a few other things to consider before you make the decision to have a pet duck.

Can you go places with an imprinted duck?

An imprinted duck—a duck that was raised by a human from the hatching moment and therefore views the human caretaker as a parental figure—may become accustomed to riding in a car as my Louise enjoys. Imprinted ducks might go camping with you (although you must keep them beside you at all times or in a crate) or go on playdates to a friend's house (you will not want to take them to a farm or a public pond, however, where they may contract diseases).

Will an imprinted duck prefer humans?

Some imprinted ducks, like a muscovy hen from Louisiana that I had the privilege of "duck-sitting" during the summer of 2012, are completely acclimated to a human-centered routine and want nothing to do with other waterfowl. Other imprinted ducks—like my buff duck Louise, my Cayuga drake Augie, or my muscovy drake Sao-Ree—can acclimate to a larger flock and decide they'd rather remain outside, even during winter months (although it's not advised that ducks be subjected to severe fluctuations in temperature if avoidable, as it can cause pneumonia).

Do imprinted ducks need babysitters when you go away?

Pet ducks must be cared for when their people go on vacation. If you plan on leaving town, even for a weekend, the ducks must be checked on frequently because they muddy their water and tend toward many mischievous activities throughout the day and night. Ducks must also be let out of their predator-proof pens in the morning and put back inside at night.

At first, I thought finding a duck-sitter would be easy, but I found many people do not understand the importance of changing their water throughout the day or do not wish to deal with emptying large kiddie pools. Some people, believe it or not, are afraid of ducks and geese, and I would be leery of giving the task to anyone who expresses even a slight fear of waterfowl as they may neglect care-taking when you're gone. Reliable duck-sitters are rare, but they do exist.

What do I do with all the duck poop?

You just have to clean it up. A duck can't be trained to use a litter box.

Can I put a diaper on a duck?

If you need to, you can put a diaper on your duck to reduce mess, but you will need to change the diaper every hour or so. While some advertise and sell "duckling" diapers, it is my experience that ducklings are extremely uncomfortable in diapers prior to about four to six weeks of age and that putting diapers on tiny ducklings may cause harm to their wings or other body parts. Plus, it is often not worth the expense and struggle, as ducklings grow so rapidly that by the time they fit one diaper harness, they've outgrown it. I've tried making duckling diapers out of socks and pieces of stretchy material, but the ducklings squirm out of them or they just don't fit right.

Will a duck come when I call?

Duck hens use various calls to round up their brood. You can experiment with which calls the ducklings to respond to and you might find if you make a long, drawn-out "Quuuuuuaaaaaaaaaaaaack!" that's repeated several times, your duckling(s) may run to your side. This is a warning call that signals danger.

What You'll Need to Raise Ducks Properly

In a nutshell, if you think you want pet ducks, be prepared for a long list of daily chores and concerns.

  • Research of waterfowl breeds to find out which type of duck is right for you. For example, if you want to eat duck eggs, you'll want to choose the right breed. Read this article that describes the characteristics of different breeds for more information.
  • Research on the best practices, before and while raising ducks
  • Predator-proof building materials and suitable pens for both winter and summer housing
  • Vet care and bills (locate an avian vet who treats ducks prior to bringing a duck home) Common emergencies: extreme weather conditions, illnesses, and accidents
  • Feed (which can get expensive)
  • Time and physical energy to care for your ducks every day
  • Water changes several times per day
  • Fresh bedding
  • A clean environment (free from all metal, plastic, composting and/or properly disposing of poop and used bedding, etc.)
  • De-icing units for their water buckets during winter
  • A dependable duck sitter
  • For indoor ducks: washed diapers and blankets, diaper harnesses

What Does a Duckling Need to Survive?

Here are some more details about the necessities for raising baby ducks.

Water

  • A water bowl heavy enough to prevent tipping, deep enough to allow nostril-clearing, yet shallow enough so the ducklings cannot drown.
  • Constantly refreshed water available at all times, because ducklings can easily asphyxiate on their feed mash or choke on vegetation that's caught in their throats due to being chopped into too-large pieces and so they need water to wash their food down.
  • A lifeguard: Contrary to popular belief, imprinted ducklings and ducklings without duck hen mothers are at risk of drowning because they have not been properly oiled. Ducks have an oil gland at the base of their tails. Duck hens oil their ducklings using their own oil glands, which ducklings have not fully developed the use of on their own bodies; therefore, ducklings who do not have mother ducks caring for them are prone to becoming wet and weighed down which leads to drowning.
  • A proper bath: If you must bathe ducklings, supervise and give them access to a shallow bath with "islands" to stand on. If their bathing pool is not a bathtub inside your home, then the tub they are bathing in will need safe entrance and exits, like ramps, so they can get in and out whenever they choose.

Proper Feed

Feed specific to ducks is hard to come by and not readily available on the commercial market. One alternative is to conduct research (on your own) and mix a nutritionally proper feed. A place to start would be North Carolina College of Agriculture and Life Science's "Feeding Ducks" page. There are a number of commercial feed brands that are widely accepted for pet ducks. Even high-end, expensive brands often come from the same manufacturers that make low-end versions of feed marketed under different labels. After several years experiencing egg-laying, molting and other complications after feeding "feed store" brands, I've found the best to be a Certified USDA Organic chicken feed that has to be ordered from a different state from where I live here in the U.S. A local organic farmer places bulk orders of this feed that he resells to the public.

It's important that ducklings up to three weeks of age receive a diet that's 20% protein, which can be found in grower feeds. After three weeks of age, ducklings may be switched to layer mash that contains 16% protein.

My ducks appear healthier when fed a diet without corn. Many people have committed to a non-medicated, non-GMO diet both for themselves and for their pets, and so have sought alternatives to all commercial feeds. It can be difficult switching to homemade mixes, or making any feed changes, but with time and effort, it's possible. Once the separate ingredients are collected and combined, offering the new feed may seem like any other routine and the positives, in the end, will far outweigh the negatives.

AVOID Feeding Ducklings Medicated Chick Starter: Ducklings are more sensitive to some of the chemicals contained in medicated chick starter, and ducklings have different eating habits than chicks. Chicks take small pecks, while ducks gorge themselves. The amount of medication the ducklings consume due to the way they gorge themselves can cause an overdose in the medications and lead to complications.

The University of Minnesota reports on their agricultural page about raising ducks, that "Incorrect use of certain medicated feeds formulated for chickens and turkeys could harm ducklings." Studies such as "Anticoccidial drugs and duckling performance to four weeks of age" are available on the Internet in summary. It is reported by several sources, including The Poultry Site and the Government of Western Australia's Department of Agriculture and Food, that coccidiosis (a parasitic disease spread through feces) is rare in ducks. These studies can be confusing, but looking into the matter will be worthwhile. In some cases, game bird starter feed may be ordered through feed stores, particularly in the U.S.

Healthy Treats

  • DO NOT FEED DUCKLINGS BREAD. Bread is not a good treat for ducklings, because it not nutritious. Most parks departments these days have installed signs prohibiting the feeding of migratory waterfowl for this reason as well as that feeding wild migratory birds prevents them from migrating during the winter, which leaves them destitute.
  • Appropriate treats for ducklings include diced tomatoes, watermelon, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choi, organic dandelion greens, and peas mixed with water. (For a list of treats to feed your duck, read The 10 Best Natural Snacks and Treats for Ducks.)
  • Ducklings also enjoy insects, of course, like crickets. Please note that spinach, while considered nutritious, is bad for ducks because of oxalic acid that binds to calcium and other trace minerals in the duck's blood, causing calcium deficiency.

A Heat Source and Schedule

  • Ducklings must be kept warm. Think of the mother hen with her down and feathers and average body temperature between 104-106 degrees Fahrenheit, her wings opened so that her brood can huddle up next to her for warmth.
  • When using a heat lamp, remember that there are bulbs for daylight and bulbs for nighttime. Heat lamps are dangerous and require secure mounting and frequent monitoring to ensure there are no fluctuations in temperature. If ducklings are huddled close to the heat lamp, they may be too cold. If they are huddled in a far corner of the brooder, the lamp may need to be raised higher away from the ducklings, because it may be too hot.
  • It's important that ducklings are kept on a daytime/nighttime schedule in keeping with what's happening outdoors. I have kept single, imprinted ducklings next to me at night on a heating pad covered with a towel and then overlain with a fitted sheet, the duckling free to find a perfect spot in folds and layers of fabric where the temperature was just right—as a duckling would be able to do if nestled beneath a duck mother.
  • My adult flocks are inside a concrete foundation garage at night with a baby monitor and smoke alarm. During particularly cold nights, they have a 360 degree fan heater set at 70 degrees F. The heater is in the center of the room, about three or four feet off the ground, and is tied securely to a stand as well as tethered to a rope that connects to overhead beams, and kept clean of feathers and dust.

Freedom

In my experience, ducklings do not like to be restrained a lot, if ever, though they do enjoy cuddling inside clothing or on a human mother's lap. Duck hens are a "canopy of protection" for their brood, allowing their ducklings to come and go beneath the safety of their hen feathers whenever the ducklings please.

Bedding

If you're raising ducklings (or adult ducks), you will need appropriate bedding like pine shavings, though I've raised most of mine on towels that I've rinsed with the hose and washed in the washing machine with bleach.

Housing

A safe playpen or housing area.

The duckling brooder must be free of sharp corners and wire and CANNOT HAVE A WIRE BOTTOM. Wire bottoms cause bumblefoot sores in ducks of any age. Bumblefoot is the development of pus lumps in the sensitive feet of waterfowl, and some other species, that causes pain, limping and the possible loss of toes or even death.

Depending on the severity of the infection, ducks may need immediate veterinary care. In other cases, where the bumblefoot is not crippling, a neoprene shoe can be created or purchased and the area kept clean until the foot has a chance to heal. Surgery to remove bumblefoot is expensive and painful. Prevention is best. (There are duck shoes available online for ducks who have sores that may lead to infection, or for those ducks who are recovering from bumble foot removal surgery.)

If ducklings are kept outside with appropriate heat sources, etc., then the pen must be predator-proof, including a secure top with mesh (all around) small enough to prevent all predators and even small birds from entering. The bottom of the pen must be predator-proof as well—the most common way is to dig around the pen at least 18 inches pour concrete or embed part of the fencing deep enough that predators cannot burrow into the pen.

Predator-Proofing

Please search online for predator-proofing ideas.

Ethical Duck Keeping

Ethical duck keeping occurs when someone decides to raise or care for pet ducks for the right reasons. It's all-too-common for people to make knee-jerk decisions when it comes to pet ownership. Who can resist the adorable cheeping, the fluffy adorableness of a duckling? But that soft, tiny winged baby you want to pick up and shelter from everything grows up in a matter of weeks. A "how much is that ducky in the window" syndrome can lead to any number of harmful scenarios, one of them being abandonment.

Can I release my ducks into the wild if I can no longer care for them?

Many people purchase ducklings as Easter gifts or for classroom projects without thinking about a long-term plan for their care after they've reached adolescence and beyond. Since ducklings grow rapidly and can double or even triple in size within a week, they often end up released at local ponds with so-called "duck friends" where it is assumed they will swim and fly and otherwise live long, happy lives.

This is not the case. In most cases ducklings and domestic ducks released into parks or the wild, even where there are established flocks, end up dead, although in rare cases they might be rescued by waterfowl sanctuaries.

Abandonment of domestic animals is cruel and possibly illegal. Although local jurisdictions vary, and some don't address the release of domestic ducks and geese into city parks or the wild, it is considered cruelty according to most waterfowl pet enthusiasts and anyone who gives the matter enough thought.

Why is releasing a duckling or adult duck into a city park with a pond, or into the wild, considered cruel?

The point to remember is that there are two different kinds of ducks: domestic ducks and wild, migratory ducks. Most breeds of domestic duck—except muscovies and call ducks—have bodies that are too large and wings too short to fly. Flying is the way wild ducks avoid predators, so releasing domestic ducks into the wild means certain death. Domestic ducks are also tame, not wild, so they won't know how to take care of themselves. Ducklings and full grown domestic ducks will have no way of protecting themselves in the wild.

Don't all ducks get along?

Flocks of ducks usually follow an established hierarchy (pecking order). It is common for drakes (males) to injure or kill ducklings. Drakes can be territorial and aggressive, particularly during the mating season. Even if a domestic duck seems big enough to defend itself, it's not. If a drake doesn't attack the duckling, any number of other creatures will, including ravens, crows, dogs, geese, pelicans, snapping turtles, hawks, alligators, and even people.

What about Easter ducklings?

Again, please consider an alternative to purchasing live animals as holiday gifts. For more information about ethical waterfowl keeping, please visit Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary's article database titled Articles About Waterfowl: Responsible Waterfowl Ownership.

Duckling Care Tips

Altricial birds are born naked and blind, therefore remain dependent on their parents for food and protection. Ducklings are what is known as precocial: able to leave the nest within two days of hatching to chase after insects, dabble in water, and run around; however, ducklings are dependent on their mother, from when they are first laid as eggs, for warmth and guidance.

How do I care for a duckling egg during the incubation period?

Throughout the incubation period (28 days for mallard-derived breeds, 35 days for muscovies) until hatching, duck hens sit on their brood to keep them warm so that they will develop inside the egg much as mammals develop inside the womb. Duck hens even communicate with their unhatched chicks through the eggshell using vocalizations, various croons, and clucks. Ducklings hear their mother's voice and begin answering as soon as they've formed vocal structures. In this way, the ducklings form a bond called imprinting—the recognition that this is a mother—which can also occur after the duckling has hatched.

Does a duck need company?

Some animals are social, while others are independent. Ducks are highly social just like humans, dolphins, crows, and wolves, among other species. Social animals have an inherent need to be with others of their species from the time they are born until they die. Most social animals spend their days and nights foraging, playing, bathing, eating and napping together. This means a duckling cannot hatch and survive alone.

Can a duckling be left alone?

A single duckling cannot be left alone in a cage or pen—even with a heat lamp, adequate food, and water—for any length of time beyond what it would take for a human to use the restroom. In fact, when I've imprinted ducklings they have accompanied me around the house while I've completed various tasks.

Why is my duckling crying?

When duck mothers wander out of sight, ducklings emit a high-pitched call that sounds like, "Ee-Ee-Ee-Ee!" On the Internet you may find many clips of ducklings, either single or broods, their necks stretched high, their little mouths opening and closing as they utter this "lost" call. They do this because they are frightened. The "lost" call is a sign of stress and a cry for comfort, so the ducklings need to be returned to safety. This is why human-imprinted ducklings cannot be left alone. If ducklings have imprinted on each other, they may be comfortable once returned to their brooding pen together.

A Rewarding Challenge

Keeping ducks as pets is both rewarding and challenging, but most of all it's a commitment one must be ready to make for the lifetime of the duck(s). Unlike our domesticated cats and dogs, domestic ducks are not as cuddly or dependent, but they become attached to and are reliant upon us in the same ways as our cats and dogs are, requiring protection from the elements and predators, including cars on busy streets. They need attention, proper nutrition, and lifelong interaction with us, their duck mothers or caregivers.

Keeping Pet Ducks: Test Your Knowledge

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Ducklings and adult domestic ducks can be released into an existing flock of duck friends on a pond at a local park?
    • Yes, if the ducks are old enough.
    • No, domestic ducks cannot defend themselves either at public ponds nor in the wild.
  2. It is OK to feed ducklings medicated chick feed?
    • No, ducklings should NEVER be given medicated chick feed
    • Yes, ducklings can eat medicated chick feed just as they can eat regular chick feed.
  3. Can imprinted ducklings be left alone for two hours?
    • Yes, imprinted ducklings can be left alone as long as they have fresh water, food and a heat source.
    • No, imprinted ducklings cannot be separated from whomever they are imprinted on.
  4. Can ducks be kept on cages with wire bottoms?
    • Yes, ducks can be kept in traditional, wire-bottom "bird" cages.
    • No, wire cage bottoms cause bumble foot and ducks can get their toes caught, resulting in significant injury.
  5. If a duckling grows too fast and we cannot take care of him, we can let him go, can't we?
    • No, choosing to raise ducks is a commitment. In extreme cases, contact a sanctuary for assistance.
    • Yes, ducklings love being with other ducks and would love to be free, swimming on the pond.
  6. It's funny that the duckling likes to follow the dog around like they're best friends. Is it OK to let them be?
    • Yes, after all human-duckling imprinting is cross-species, so why not let the dog and the duck be friends?
    • No, as the duckling grows up he or she will exhibit behaviors that will cause stress to both the dog and the duck.
  7. Is it safe to let ducklings, who do not have a duck hen mother, swim?
    • No, ducklings who are raised without a duck mother cannot oil themselves to become waterproof, so may drown.
    • Yes, ducklings were born to swim right away.
  8. Is it OK to give ducklings (and other animals) as Easter gifts?
    • Yes, it's the norm.
    • No, it is unethical because it has been proven that these baby animals perish in a number of horrible ways.
  9. Can ducklings drink water out of drip systems?
    • Yes, it's done by many duck farmers, so it's OK.
    • No, ducks need to "clear their nostrils" and so need water dishes deep enough to allow this.
  10. How long do ducks live?
    • 8-12 years.
    • 2-4 years.

Answer Key

  1. No, domestic ducks cannot defend themselves either at public ponds nor in the wild.
  2. No, ducklings should NEVER be given medicated chick feed
  3. No, imprinted ducklings cannot be separated from whomever they are imprinted on.
  4. No, wire cage bottoms cause bumble foot and ducks can get their toes caught, resulting in significant injury.
  5. No, choosing to raise ducks is a commitment. In extreme cases, contact a sanctuary for assistance.
  6. No, as the duckling grows up he or she will exhibit behaviors that will cause stress to both the dog and the duck.
  7. No, ducklings who are raised without a duck mother cannot oil themselves to become waterproof, so may drown.
  8. No, it is unethical because it has been proven that these baby animals perish in a number of horrible ways.
  9. No, ducks need to "clear their nostrils" and so need water dishes deep enough to allow this.
  10. 8-12 years.

My Ducks Playing Three Years Ago

Indoor/Outdoor Duck Poll

My-girirl on April 15, 2018:

Dear shanti,

Just happen to luck upon your site. I laughed and cried. I really enjoyed it. I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to share with people how it really is. I wish you lived closer. I’m in need of a sitter. And don’t trust anyone with my babies. However they aren’t babies anymore. 5 years old in 2 weeks. Man how time has flown by.

I like you had a couple of ducklings as a child. But they stayed outside with chickens. Never really paid them any attention.

Then As an adult I had 2 children of my own own. Because of health reasons I had to start homeschooling back in 2011. My youngest decided he would like a pet duck while at rural king one day. So I said of course knowing that if it doesn’t turn out we will take and let him go in pond. Wrong answer, little did I know that. That’s illegal. And definitely unethical. Wow I was about to get a crash course it right and wrong.

We got 2 and they imprinted on my boys. And I make their clothes and grow them gardens and play hide and seek. They are such a joy but as I mentioned we have health issues with my youngest. And I am going to need someone to look after them for a bit but I am so scared. They have their own room and own beds and are spoiled.

But anyway your page is very informative. I loved it.

Take care

Silvana on March 13, 2017:

We live in the tropics and given 10 baby ducks; unfortunately a local dog killed 9 of these and left one by a small miracle. Knowing these ducks are social, we kept it around us but not overhandling him. He was lively, and eating well. A few days ago, we received another flock of 9 ducklings and now our survivor won't eat and keeps away from the other ducklings. These new ducklings are around the same age. They are lively and stick together. We don't know what to do about our little survivor, we have tried everything to get him to eat. It has been 3 days now; forcing a tiny bit of food but worried he will die as he gets weaker. Do you know what has happened? And what we can do to snap him out of this. Please help....

Andrewolliff on January 22, 2017:

What breeds would you recommend

Donna Fell on August 23, 2016:

I have two drakes and a female. My friend has three females so I was thinking of giving her one of my drakes. Since my three seem like they have imprinted on each other will the one I'm giving to my friend fit in with the females and be happy or will he be depressed without the other two? I got them in April as duckling and the female has just started laying. Thanks for any input.

Kaleb on May 27, 2016:

Do weather conditions affect ducks!!!!!!!

Robin on June 17, 2015:

While your article is very informative, it didnt answer my problem completely. My daughter had 2 ducks for the last couple of months. unfortunately one of them was killed by a dog a couple days ago. The surviving one is of course very lonely and she doesnt know what to do for it. We were wanting to know if she could give it to a friend of hers who lives on a farm and has several tame ducks running the farm. We didnt know if it would be a territorial thing where the ducks on the farm will kill the new duck. Please help me to know what to do, it is so sad to watch the surviving one.

Shanti Perez (author) from Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. on March 05, 2014:

Yes, they do become somewhat relentless during mating season, although they can have different characters just like people. I have an imprinted drake who attaches to my pants leg and will not let go. He tends to pinch my skin a lot when I least expect it.

Jacob on February 04, 2014:

I have a question. Do imprinted drakes have a tendency to get aggressive upon maturity? I had a male muscovy that was very imprinted and he became very aggressive around the time that he was fully mature. I really want to get another imprinted drake because they are quieter than the females and I live in the city. Please let me know.

Shanti Perez (author) from Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. on December 28, 2013:

From my experience he will remember you.

Dee on November 17, 2013:

Hi! Love the article, very informative, thank you :)

I have a cayuga drake who has imprinted on me and I love him to bits. One problem is though I have to go interstate for approx 2 weeks in January 2013 as I have no other choice :( I am very concerned for my drake Pip. I do have a reliable duck-sitter who understands the responsibilities of looking after ducks although I'm still concerned, will Pip be okay for these 2 weeks without me there? Will he still be imprinted on me by the time I'm back? I do spend a lot of time with him daily; swimming in the dam, exploring the paddock and searching for worms and bugs under pot plants. Is there anything I can do to help these 2 weeks go smoothly for him without getting distressed? Any help greatly appreciated! Thank you :)

Shanti Perez (author) from Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. on November 09, 2013:

Hello. I free-feed my ducks, keep them in a predator-proof pen and put them in an even more secure garage at night. Predators abound as soon as twilight.

boatman1475 on November 09, 2013:

I am a new duck owner and they are 4 months old. How often should I feed them and what time should I put them in their house for bed? Thank you

Crystal on July 09, 2013:

I have 2 brown ducks & I have no idea what kind they are. Who would be able to tell me what they are ????

Brett C from Asia on December 28, 2012:

For your first hub, that was truly amazing! So much detail and very well put together with the capsules. Welcome to Hubpages, I think you will do well here!

Shared, pinned, tweeted, up and useful.

Shanti Perez (author) from Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. on December 28, 2012:

Thank you so much!

Shanti Perez (author) from Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. on December 28, 2012:

Hello aviannovice, I know Bob Tarte from the FB writing community. I will let him know if you haven't already. :)

Shanti Perez (author) from Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. on December 28, 2012:

Hello moonlake, I wonder why the video isn't working. It's working from my end. I hope it was just a glitch. :)

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on December 28, 2012:

You did very well with this piece. I grew up with muscovies and mallards. My father ate the eggs, but even at a tender age, I refused to even eat that life. I wished I lived closer to you, as i would duck sit for you. By the way, I did a review of Enslaved by Ducks. I was thrilled with the book. I also had my share of orphan ducklings volunteering for Tri-State Bird Rescue.

moonlake from America on December 28, 2012:

Did you know the video isn't working? So much good information on ducks. We have had many ducks in our life all outside ducks. The last ducks we had our lab took to them and he followed them everywhere and keep a close eye on them. When they went in the lake to swim he was in the lake with them to make sure they didn't go passed our dock. When he was ready to get out he would herd them back onto land.

Voted up on your hub and shared.

Shanti Perez (author) from Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. on December 26, 2012:

Many thanks! And thanks for calling to my attention the lack of insight about the medicated chick feed. I've added more information to make it more helpful.

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 26, 2012:

It is really great to watch my dog hanging out with the ducks and geese. She (my dog) likes to lay in the front doorway, where there is a breeze off of the ocean, and the ducks and geese come in and lay next to her.

You sound like one of my professors at vet school "Always err on the side of caution!" Good advice.

Shanti Perez (author) from Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. on December 26, 2012:

Thank you for the details, DrMark1961. In another part of the article series I plan to expand, in much more detail, on foods. The Big Sky Organics is the best food--to date--my ducks have eaten for what's available in my area, which isn't very much. I'm in the process of contacting several other people who have successful home-mixed recipes that fit the seasonal changes ducks bodies go through and finding out if I may share these in the food-specific article.

My goal with this series is to err on the side of caution and to give people a thorough, yet cautious base for keeping pet ducks. Ducks are becoming increasingly popular as "indoor" pets and are treated more like cats and dogs every day. While I do not agree with all the practices people are employing when it comes to pet ducks, I do think with any given animal trend, where the animal becomes popular as a pet, there will be an explosion of unwanted (and suffering) beings. By being cautious and thoughtful, it is my goal to alleviate some of this suffering.

The guard dog is a great idea for free-range flocks!

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 26, 2012:

Food for ducklings is not available in all countries. I feed my ducklings medicated chick starter (the only thing available) but decrease the percentage of coccidiostat in the feed by mixing it with ground corn. It is not realistic to tell people that they should not feed medicated starter; in my opinion you should tell them why and give them some options. When writing for the world wide web there will be plenty of readers who cannot order from the provider you mentioned in 3.

This also worked with my goslings. I have several neighbors who raise ducks on straight chick starter, but of course you understand the risk.

I have seen many, many, ducklings started on wire. I realize that this is not ideal, and bumble foot should be mentioned, but it should not be prohibited so strongly.

The other option, instead of having a predator-proof pen for day use, is to let your ducks out and have a guard for them. I do not own a livestock guard dog but my Pit Bull mix took to the job easily and would never let any other animal close to the ducks and geese. Many dogs would be suitable.

Welcome to Hubpages. There are not a lot of articles here on waterfowl so this is a great area to expand upon.

Shanti Perez (author) from Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. on December 26, 2012:

Hello DrMark1961: Thank you for your input. It would help readers a lot, however, if you have specific information to offer regarding what you disagree with re: "What is needed to care for ducklings". That way the reader can research and expand their knowledge in order to make the best decision as a duck keeper. I appreciate the share on Twitter, Pinterest and HP.

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 26, 2012:

Interesting read. I do not agree with all of your findings in "What is needed to care of ducklings" but am impressed with the depth of the article. I will share this on twitter, pin it with my other duck photos on Pinterest, and share on HP.


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Signs of Intestinal Blockage in Pet Ducks

This entry is based on personal experience. Always consult your veterinarian when you suspect your pet is ill.

After losing my sweet boy Clyde to a burst intestine this week, I have gained insight regarding what to watch for in cases like his where intestinal blockage leads to intestinal rupture.

Clyde's first symptoms were lethargy, hunched back, lack of appetite.

The second to last day of Clyde's life--notice the hunched posture.
Clyde's normal posture. (He is half mallard/half Indian runner.)

Observe your duck closely for a hunched up look. It's best to keep your duck isolated from the others, if you have others, and/or in the house inside a crate, because it is easy to confuse your duck's fecal matter with that of another duck, or to think he/she is pooping when he/she's not. Examine any fecal matter your duck is passing.

Clyde's fecal matter was white--uric acid--and did not contain any solid food like the normal duck stool produced when eating normal amounts of crumble or grass.

Some of Clyde's poop contained small bits of greens. Tiny bits. When he pooped it looked like this:

Notice that it's all fluid except for a small, thin drop.

Think of the intestines as the passageway that they are. What if there's an obstruction? It could be a rock, plastic, string, metal, or even organic material as was Clyde's case. If there is an obstruction, chances are not much, if any, digested matter can pass through the bowels and be evacuated. If it is evacuated it is reasonable that it would be "squeezed" into tiny bits like that shown above. Also note the white uric acid drop to the left in the photo. When I first brought him inside, Clyde was producing a lot of this white fluid.

Excessive thirst. At first, when I brought him inside, Clyde kept "licking his lips" so-to-speak. He'd move his bill as if his mouth was dry. I checked inside his mouth for sores and in his throat for obstruction.

I gave Clyde electrolytes. I took him to the vet for an x-ray and the vet thought his gonads were a mass. (This vet was not aware of the gonads increasing so much in size during the breeding season.)

Finally, in an attempt to get his appetite up, I bought some mealworms. I'd had several people suggest I tube feed him, but I felt it was against my better judgment based on what I was seeing. I had a fear that I would be pushing something on him that would make him more uncomfortable. Luckily, I didn't tube feed or he would have suffered horrendously in this case.

Clyde ate crickets and mealworms. Then he felt better and became talkative and social with my hen CoCo, who was inside to rest her bum hip. He wanted to go outside and called out to the flock and they answered boisterously.

So he had a little energy, but he wasn't 100%. There was no discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth.

In hindsight I remember Clyde's body being hunched the first day I noted he seemed "not himself" and a slight bending or pushing motion he was making with his rear/tail area.

Clyde wanted to feel better. I could tell it was something not as serious as it had to be (had it been caught early on). I would have expected different behavior from parasites, intestinal virus/bacteria, cancer, or other disease. Clyde's feathers were healthy. He was trying to eat, but something was causing discomfort.

If your duck has the following symptoms, don't force feed or encourage eating until you've seen a veterinarian and had either an ultrasound or exploratory surgery if all other causes are ruled out:

*Hunched appearance (not ruffled feathers--that is different)
*White uric acid or clear water diarrhea
*Poop that is skinny like spaghetti noodles or in tiny pieces like it squeezed through a smaller-than-normal intestine
*Perking up at mealworms, etc.
*Excessive thirst
*Lip smacking, swallowing as if something caught in throat--the same way a person does when they have dry mouth--not gulping or anything like that--just acting like the mouth is dry
*Moodiness--nudging flock members away with bill or biting you or other birds when they approach
*Not eating regular foodstuff, but wanting to eat, especially if mealworms or crickets are presented
*Sometimes drinking, but not swallowing--just letting the fluid run back out of the bill and into the water dish
*Mimicking the action of eating, but not really eating--dipping bill in crumble and then dipping bill in water, but not really swallowing (the desire to eat, but the inability to eat due to being full from the obstruction)
*Weight loss (compare photos from the same time the previous year, if you have them. If not, monitor your duck's weight.)

WHAT YOU CAN DO IF YOU SUSPECT INTESTINAL OBSTRUCTION:

*Give mineral oil to attempt to lubricate and loosen the object
*Give electrolytes and vitamin water (available at the feed or pet store)
*Do not feed, except in tiny amounts like a cricket or two
*Have a blood test to rule out metal poisoning and parasites
*AVOID GIVING GRIT OR TUBE FEEDING
*Let your duck sit in a warm tub
*Request an ultrasound

Once the intestines have burst there isn't anything that can be done--at least that's what I was told. The harmful intestinal juices leak into the body cavity and cause infection. If your duck's intestines have burst you may hear him/her repeating a small grunting sound, especially if you feel the soft belly area between the legs. This is where the discomfort will probably be. Get to the vet as soon as possible. If the intestines have burst or there is a case of peritonitis, the feces will have a strong, infection-like, and fetid odor.


Sadly poultry do get ill from time to time, so in our poultry diseases and disorders section we have a number of articles to help you learn about potential problems you might face and have included a large sub-section on a very common problem: red mite.

Here are a few popular articles from our poultry medication, health supplements and poultry diseases sections:

Worming Chickens & Other Poultry

How to worm chickens & other poultry with details on wormers and the types of worms that affect poultry.

Garlic For Chickens

Chicken keepers have given raw garlic to hens for decades, to help them treat infection and to ward off red mite.

Antibiotic Use in Back Yard Poultry

Antibiotics are a common treatment given to poultry on prescription but are they really safe, even with a withdrawal period?

Respiratory Diseases

Poultry vet Richard Jackson tells us about common Respiratory Diseases we find in our backyard chickens.

Flubenvet For Worming Chickens

Information on how to use Flubenvet 1% 60g packs for worming chickens with recommendations of where to buy it online.

Soft, Thin or Missing Egg Shells

Information about the causes of soft, thin or missing egg shells that are sometimes laid by chickens.

If your birds fall ill, I would recommend you contact a vet that specialises in poultry. Our Poultry Vets Database (UK and Ireland) is a good starting point to find one in your area.


Will Your Animal Companions Be Protected in a Fire, Winter Storm, or Other Disaster?

What would happen to your beloved animal companions if a winter storm, a fire, a hurricane, a tornado, an earthquake, a flood, or another natural or human-made disaster were to strike tomorrow?

Review these tips to keep all your family members safe.

Before an Emergency Strikes

  • Have an animal emergency kit readily available. The kit should include a harness and leash or a carrier as well as bottled water, food and water bowls, dry and canned food, and a copy of your animal companions’ medical records. If you have a cat, have litter and a small litter tray ready to go. Coats will keep dogs comfortable in cold weather, secure harnesses can help prevent them from getting loose on walks, and booties will protect their sensitive paw pads from the frozen ground. Keep walks short in cold weather, especially for shorthaired dogs.
  • Make sure that all your animals have collars or harnesses with identification. Keep a current photo of your animal companion for identification purposes, just as you would for a child.
  • Place PETA’s emergency window stickers near your front and back doors and on side windows in case a weather emergency or fire strikes when you are not home. These stickers will alert rescuers to animals in your home who need help.
  • In the case of winter storms, bring animals indoors! Companion animals should always live indoors. “Backyard dogs” and “outdoor cats”—like those featured in Breaking the Chain—often go without adequate food, water, shelter, and veterinary care.

During an Emergency

  • There’s little to no time to evacuate during severe storms or tornadoes. Never leave animals chained or penned outdoors where they have no protection from strong winds, flying debris, and collapsing structures. Keep your animal companions with you if it becomes necessary to move to a stronger structure or take shelter underground. Hold out in a small interior room such as a closet or hallway. If this isn’t available, take cover under a heavy table or desk. Stay away from windows and doors or walls leading outside.
  • If you are being evacuated, never leave animals behind. There is no way of knowing what may happen to your home while you are away, and you may not be able to return for days or even weeks. Animal companions left behind may become malnourished or dehydrated or be crushed by collapsing walls. They may drown or escape in panic and become lost.
  • Know your destination ahead of time. Not all emergency shelters accept animals, but many hotels take animals (most suspend “no pet” policies during disasters, thankfully).
  • Place small animals in secure carriers. Dogs should be leashed and wearing harnesses. Be sure to take the animal emergency kit that you’ve prepared.
  • If you’re sheltering in place during a winter storm or another emergency, remember to protect all of your loved ones. Dogs and other companion animals are no better equipped to survive freezing temperatures or extreme weather conditions than humans are. They suffer terribly from frostbite, and they can die of exposure. Bring them indoors before a storm hits—not doing so could be illegal, as anyone who leaves animals outside to suffer in severe weather may be prosecuted. Good Samaritans who see animal companions kept chained or penned outside 24/7 or without adequate shelter from the elements should note the animals’ exact locations and alert local law-enforcement authorities immediately.

If Authorities Force You to Leave Your Animals Behind

  • Never turn animals loose outdoors—they can’t survive “on instinct.” Domesticated animals rely on their human companions for many things and are totally helpless and vulnerable outside, especially in bad weather. Instead, leave them in a secure area inside your home with access to the upper floors so that they can escape rising floodwaters.
  • Leave out at least a 10-day supply of water. Fill every bowl, pan, and Tupperware container that you have with water, then set them on the floor or on counters, as just one container may spill. Fill sinks, too. If your toilet bowl is free of chemical disinfectants, leave the toilet seat up to provide animals with one more source of water, but do not make that the only source.
  • Leave out at least a 10-day supply of dry food. Canned food will go bad quickly.
  • If you can’t get to your home, contact a reliable neighbor or friend to check on the animals and get them out, if possible. Provide specific instructions on care.

By planning now, you can make sure that all your loved ones can weather any storm. Remember: The question isn’t whether a disaster will strike—it’s when.

PETA’s Animal Emergency Fund helps us respond quickly when hurricanes and other disasters put animals’ lives in danger.

Please click the button below to support our rescue team’s critical work for animals by making a special gift right now:

You can be an “angel” for animals by sponsoring a PETA doghouse. We provide lonely “backyard dogs” with sturdy doghouses to shelter them in the snow and freezing temperatures of winter.


Watch the video: How to Raise Ducks from Tractor Supply (October 2021).