Duck and Duckling Care


Well, this page started when along came a duck into my life. Since I couldn’t find much information about pet ducks, I decided to add it to my website, and I still get questions from people, so here is a little bit of info for the book, too.

If you Find an Abandonned Duckling

If you find an injured wild duck, or an orphaned duckling, the best thing to do is to call your local Wildlife Rescue Center! They know what to do! And they know how to rehab the animal so that it can be released into the wild again.

Backyard Duck Pen

I didn’t have a barn, but multiple resident racoons that love to eat tasty ducks. After trying all sorts of shelters, including a large tub in my garage (the duck loved it, but it was impossible to keep clean), I fnally designed and built (with the help of a friend) this enclsoure. It was a bit of work, but not as much as you might think, and it kept my duck safe and happy. So, here are the instructions. 

[PHOTO]

Redwood frame and chicken-wire structure.
3 x 6 foot base, 4-5 feet high for roof.
1 foot deep ditch.
6 2x2 poles cemented into concrete blocks for stability.
Frame ditch with redwood to prevent racoons from digging inside.
Fill ditch with a couple of inches of sand, then pea gravel for easy cleaning and drainage.
Duck shelter has hinged roof to make cleaning easy.
Chicken-wire stapled to frame (one by one, with a hammer...I recommend a gun...).
In winter I draped the whole structure with a large blue tarp that I tied down with bricks and bungee cords to keep the inside warmer and free of drafts.
Maintenance: Once a day hose down gravel until all poop has been washed out. Rake gravel at least once a week to keep drainage going. Gravel will become environment similar to undergravel/biological filtration system.
Notes on Care
When I got my duck, I had a very hard time finding any care information.I tried rec.pets.birds, I searched the Web, I went to the library. Thefew pieces of information I could find were about poultry keeping, notabout ducks as pets. I did make a friend, though, and Andrea helped melearn to take care of my wonderful duck Napoleon, or Nap-nap for short.
So You Want to Get a Duck
It is probably around Easter time, and you see those cute, fuzzy littleducklings. Or, maybe someone already gave you one. You want to keep thecute little critter. Let me dispell a few myths for starters:
* Ducks make great pets: True.
* Ducks are stupid: False. 
* Ducks can be trained: True. It takes a bit of patience, but they can be  trained to follow a routine, and they can learn to understand quite a number  of commands.
* Ducks are easy to care for: True and False. If you have the right setup, it's  easy. If not, you are in trouble.
If your duck is small, he or she (you won't be able to determine the genderuntil your animal is much older) will attach to you, the primary care takerin a simple relationship. You will substitute as mother, sibling, and loverthrough the animal's lifetime. The animal will love you, trust you, and, if a male, bite you for love and bite you to establish dominance. You will learn towear boots, laugh at blue spots on your arms, and love the feeling of feathersin your arms. Females are a bit gentler.
I strongly recommend that you get THIS BOOK:
Raising Ducks & Geese by John M. Vivian    Story Publishing Bulletin A-18    Available through Amazon and costs about 4 dollars.    Note that this is oriented towards raising ducks    for food, however, the information is valuable, and    the only book I ever found on keeping ducks.
Ducks and Small Children/Husbands => Jealousy
If your duck, in particular a male duck, arrives in your household beforea husband or child, be prepared for trouble. Napoleon loves people, but hewould continously "compete" with my husband. Napoleon loves children, buthe attacked (yep, past tense; he now has a new, wonderful home on a farmin Oregon) my baby/toddler daughter on sight. Ducks will often go for theeyes, and serious injury is possible. (This is something I didn't know, andwe simply got lucky.)
If the duck arrives AFTER the children, then this is much less of a problem.
If the duck is a female, this is not a problem, either.
Drakes are VERY territorial!
Setup
* Do you have a yard? Your cute little ducklings will grow into big ducks, and  they'll need a yard to roam and live. If you don't have a yard that you are  willing to surrender to your duck--who in return will eat all the slugs and  bugs; but also the tomatoes and lettuce, unless fenced off--don't get a duck.
* You will need to build an outdoor pen for them to protect them from  predators. I had my duck in a tub in the garage when he was small, then  moved him out. We are talking a real pen here. It must be dog/coyote/racoon  proof. (Rats are OK; but that's another story.) Talk to someone who has built  bird enclosures. The construction can be done in a weekend, we spent about  140.- on it. 
* Ducks are MESSY. I've used straw as a substrate (and had to throw it out every  day). Best was to use pea gravel, 2 feet deep, in the pen, and rake it up and  rinse it daily; then let the duck roam in the yard. Professional duck keepers  often use concrete with a drain for easy cleaning, but that's not very healthy  for duck feet, unless there is also a large grassy area for them to roam.
Feeding
* I feed Purina Wildbird Chow, Flight Conditioner. If you can get  maintenance chow, that's even better, but that is not available all year.  For a baby, you should feed this, mixed with lots of water to a nice mush,  twice a day. Once the ducky starts showing adult feathers, you can switch  to once a day. I usually feed at night, then leave the food in the pen overnight.  Duckies should have food available at all time, and they always should have clean  drinking water. I change the drinking water at least twice a day.
* In addition to mush, feed vegetable and fruit of variety. Duckies have different  preferences. Mine prefers banana and shredded carrots. Let them roam in the yard  during the day, and they'll eat grass, herbs, bugs, dirt--everything they need to  be healthy.
* Feed a bird vitamin every other day. This is to make sure they get enough calcium  and amino acids. (Purina chow is deficient in some amino acids). Don't overdue it.  You can mail order the vitamins, which makes them a lot cheaper.
Water, Bathing, and Showers
* Duckies do need to bathe, shower, or swim at least once a day. However, do NOT  bathe babies. Their oil glands are not active yet. In the wild, they get the  protective grease from their mother. In captivity, if they get wet, or if you  give them their bath (every one to two days) with lukewarm water, towel them and  keep them warm until they are completely dry. You will know, when their glands  start working!
* My duck learned to love to take showers under the water hose (with a shower head).  In winter, when using the pool became impractical, I showered him twice a day and  washed off (yep, he let me wash him; don't rub too much, though) dirt and muck.
* Any tub that the duck can get in and out off will do for bathing. If it's deep  enough for swimming, that's a plus, but it's not a requirement.
Miscellaneous
* Ducks will eat the grass on your lawn, but you also get automatic fertilization.
* Ducks will try to catch and eat bees and wasps. I was always worried, but Nap-nap  never got stung.
* Some ducks carry salmonella. Wash your hands often when handling the duck, especially  when in contact with feces. Consider wearing rubber gloves to do all cleaning.  For that reason, keep small children away from duck pen.
One Reader's Setup
I live  in  central  Massachusetts.
I have  8  ducks  (7  Rouens, 1 Pekin), and they do fine in the winter (exceptthey miss their pool!).
I have  a  small  (4'x10')  building,  one end of which (approx.  4'x2') has strong  wire  mesh  for  flooring,  the rest is plywood.  It is up on cement blocks,  2-3  stacked,  so  it looks like the building is on "stilts".  This keeps the building off the ground.
On the  mesh  rests  a  water heater (looks like a turned-over pan, with the heating  element  inside,  you can get one from a farm supply store), and on top  of  the  water heater is a rubber tub with a poultry teepee-like thing. I'm  not  sure what it's called, but it consists of several very heavy gauge wire  pieces  formed  into  a teepee, which hooks onto the rubber tub.  This keeps  the  ducks from swimming in the tub (which I'm sure you've guessed by now  holds  the  water ;^) ), but they can still wash their eyes.  The water heater  keeps  the  water from freezing, although sometimes the sides of the tub get pretty frozen.  The mesh is there because I dump the water every day (through the mesh, which is also why the building is on "stilts", and refill with fresh water, as ducks make very muddy and mucky water 8-) . 
The rest  of  the building has shavings on it, which we can pile to about 6" deep  until it needs to be changed.  We don't have heat in the building, nor
insulation,  the  birds huddle and keep themselves warm.  And as long as the
bedding is dry and unfrozen, they don't get frostbite.he
I have  a  tub  in  there  for  food, of course, and a little night light (a brooder  bulb)  as  they  don't like to be in complete darkness - they start circling  and  can  trample  each  other.  I also have a door so they can go outside (with a ramp); on most days they like to go outside and, if it isn't bitterly  cold,  they  love  to  romp and "swim" in the snow.  I also have a "window"  (i.e.   I  cut  out a piece from the plywood and put in wire mesh) which I can open or close, depending on the weather.  Of course the building is  roofed,  and they stay pretty cozy in there.  I put them in every night, as  we have raccoons around, and I've seen possums (which I don't believe do any harm) and dogs, and have heard reports of coyotes, foxes, weasels/ minks and even cougars (!).  Keeping them in during the night keeps them safe.
Ducks That Build Nests and Abandon Them
A reader asked about his duck building several nests and not sitting on the eggs. Here is a possible answer:
Ducks, and many birds, will abandon a nest if they are disturbed too much. Also, some birds will actually build  more than one nest and lay eggs in more than one to distract predators. Unless you incubate the eggs in an incubator, if she doesn't sit on them, they won't hatch. (But try eating= them! Duck eggs taste different, and you may want to mix them with chicken eggs if you don't like the strong taste.)You don't say what species of duck you have. If they are domestic ducks, the female may lay quite a few more eggs thanshe can ever sit on. Since you have a pair, there is a goodchance the eggs are fertile. Incubation takes exactly 4 weeks / 28 days.I have information on duck egg incubation, if you want to dothat. Haven't done it though. 
First Aid for Duck Eggs
Ok, I have been asked so many times now by people who found duck eggs, that I just have to write something about it.Note that I don't have any personal experience. 
First and foremost, get the BOOK listed at the beginning ofthis page. I am not going to get into all the details described in the book. This information is just to get youstarted and the eggs save.Duck eggs incubate for 28 days at 99F. If it goes over 100F,the eggs will die. If it goes much lower than 95, the eggswill not hatch. 
Do not wash eggs, as there is a protective coating on them with the dirt. 
You must turn the eggs twice a day and spray them lightly withwarm water. 
You can improvise an incubator, as long as the temperatureis fine. I know people who have hatched duck eggs just undera lamp that provided the appropriate temperature.
You will probably hear the ducklings beep shortly beforehatching. 
You can candle the eggs (shine a light behind them) tosee whether they are developing.
Once they hatch, leave them in the incubator until theyare completey dry. Then move to the brooder. (See below)
Hatchling Baby Ducks
Ok, I have been asked so many times now by people who hatchedduck eggs, that I just have to write something about it.Note that I don't have any personal experience. 
First and foremost, get the BOOK listed at the beginning ofthis page. I am not going to get into all the details described in the book. This information is just to get youstarted and the ducklings save.
* If you keep the duck eggs in an incubator, you have  to decide whom you wish the little ones to imprint on.  If you are the one taking care of them, and you handle them,  you will be their mama. It's a lot of fun, but only if it's  what you want.   Of course, you can imprint them  on any old thing, like a warm bottle, if you like, but I find  that besides the point, really, of having baby ducks.
* For the first two weeks, baby ducks need to be kept in a  brooder at about 90F for the first few days, then gradually  reduce to 80 by end of first week, and 70 by end of second  week. (Normally, their mother would warm them.)  If the ducklings all huddle, then they are too cold. They  should be actively moving around at least part of the day.
* Also, they shouldn't go in the water for the first few days.  Then they can go outside briefly and have a supervised swim in  a shallow pond. Put them right back into the warm brooder to  dry off. 
* A brooder can be any box, tub, shallow aquarium that you keep  inside under controlled temperature. Make sure the little ones  can't get out, and make sure there is NO DRAFT. Also, don't  put it in a high-traffic area.  Ideally, a brooder offers 1 square foot of space for each   duckling. 
* After 2 weeks, they can go outside during the day.  After 4,  they can live outside.
* Bedding for brooder: Shredded newspaper coverd with a few  layers of paper towels. The substrate shouldn't be completely  even or hard. Or just lots of paper towels are fine, too.  There are other options, but this is the easiest to keep clean,  it's fine for the ducks, and it's cheap.
* Feed low protein duck food (unmedicated) or whatever your ducks  are getting. At most 20% protein. Supplement with greens and   other natural foods. (The protein is VERY important. If they get  too much, they won't grow right.) Usually, the food will have   enough vitamins in it. You may need to "teach" the little ones  to recognize the food. Once one eats, the other ones will   likely imitate. If you want to get fancy, use a duck decoy to  show them how to eat. (You can also imprint them on the decoy.)
* You will need to clean the brooder several times a day to make  sure ducklings don't get sick. Hint: If food/drinking water are  in the middle of brooder, they are less likely to poop and  step into it.
Releasing Captive Ducks into a Park
Well, you can't just release him on a public lake for a number of reasons.
1. He is a Peking duck. If this is a lake with wild ducks, he would    mix with them and breed with them, which creates undesirable hybrids.
2. The duck is imprinted on humans, in particular, you. He will eventually
   learn to associate with other ducks, but he will always love humans.    If there is hunting in the area, he is a dead duck.
3. He is used to being fed. He doesn't know how or what to eat.
4. He is not shy of any animals or people.
5. It is probably illegal in your state to release pets into the wild.
Now, if this is your private lake, and you just want him to live outside, and you will still feed him and care for him as an outdoor pet, then this is a different story. Some of the above issues still apply. He will get used to sleeping outside. You may want to give him some shelter, especially if there are racoon, coyotes, or other predators in the area.
Peking ducks usually get heavy and they aren't great fliers. They were originally bred to be meat and egg ducks. You will have to teach your duck to fly at least a little, if you want him to live outdoors and be able to get away from predators.
You should wait with putting him outside until he has all his adult feathers and is able to escape and fight back when attacked. He's not ready for that yet. In the wild, ducks stay together as families until fall migration, at least.
I know, this is probably not what you wanted to hear, but I hope it helps anyway.
Breeding Ducks
Well, best is to have one or more females and only one male.
And they need a pond or large tub, since they mate in the water.

Reader Feedback
Meadowbranch reports that ducks LOVE to dig for worms in manurepiles. He also warns: NEVER, EVER LET CALL DUCKS OUTSIDE OF  THEIR PEN! They will fly away, no matter how hard you try to train them not  to.  
Imprinting
So, you wish to have a little duck that is totally, heart and soul, devotedto you and only you. No problem. Get a hatchling duck and spend lots of timewith it, and that's what will happen when the animal imprints on you (and humans).
Older hatchlings can still bond to humans if they are the primary caretakers,but the initial imprinting happens shortly after hatching.
Note that having a duck imprinted on you also brings responsibility. Don’t do it unless you are willing to be this animals parent and spend a lot of time with it.
Toilet Training
Sorry, but ducks cannot be toilet trained. Neither can their owners be taught to put "potties" in the rightplaces. Ducks defecate often and wherever and whenever they please.Ducks are strictly outdoor pets.
I hope this helps! And: GET THE BOOK!
Resources
http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Park/5397/ourducks.htm
Very neat and very comprehensive.
Books
Raising Ducks & Geese by John M. Vivian
Story Publishing Bulletin A-18 
Never Release a Domestic Duck in a Park or Lake
Well, you can't just release him on a public lake for a number of reasons.

1. He is a Peking duck. If this is a lake with wild ducks, he would
   mix with them and breed with them, which creates undesirable hybrids.
2. The duck is imprinted on humans, in particular, you. He will eventually
   learn to associate with other ducks, but he will always love humans.
   If there is hunting in the area, he is a dead duck.
3. He is used to being fed. He doesn't know how or what to eat.
4. He is not shy of any animals or people.
5. It is probably illegal in your state to release pets into the wild.
What if I Have My Own Private Lake?
Now, if this is your private lake, and you just want him to liveoutside, and you will still feed him and care for him as anoutdoor pet, then this is a different story. Some of theabove issues still apply. He will get used to sleeping outside.
You may want to give him some shelter, especially if there areracoon, coyotes, or other predators in the area.
Peking ducks usually get heavy and they aren't great fliers.
They were originally bred to be meat and egg ducks.
You will have to teach your duck to fly at least a little,if you want him to live outdoors and be able to get away from predators.
You should wait with putting him outside until he has all hisadult feathers and is able to escape and fight back when attacked.He's not ready for that yet. In the wild, ducks stay together asfamilies until fall migration, at least.
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