If you’ve found a wild baby duck, and aren’t sure what to do now, don’t worry; caring for them is not as difficult as you might think.
In this blog post, we’ll give you all the information you need to get started, from what to feed them to how to keep them safe and healthy. So let’s get started!
You Found a Wild Duckling, Now What?
Finding a wild duckling on its own can be a confusing sight.
It might seem like the right thing to do to take it home and care for it, but that probably won’t lead to the best possible outcome for the duckling. While the baby bird might appear to be abandoned, the mother duck may be close by.
Mallard ducks are notoriously bad mothers; she will hatch a dozen eggs from a clutch but usually loses all but one or two.
Now with that said, it is prevalent for wild and domestic ducks to adopt ducklings so long as they are similar in age to their own ducklings.
Even if the mother duck has been killed, her ducklings could easily be adopted by another duck that is nearby.
Allow the ducklings time for this process to happen before you try taking them to a rehabilitation center or raising them yourself.
Leave it Alone (Best Case Scenario)
If you were to intervene, you would risk disrupting these bonds between mother and offspring and could even put the little one in more danger.
The best course of action if you find a wild baby duck is simply to leave it alone and let nature take care of it as intended.
If the duckling has feathers and seems capable of foraging for food without help, it does not need your help, even if its mother has been seriously injured or killed.
If the mother is hurt, you can take her away to a wildlife center for the care she needs.
If the ducklings are small, only covered in down feathers, and unable to find food on their own, they will need to go with her to the rescue.
Contact a Wildlife Rescue (Next Best Option)
If you find an injured baby duckling who seems to be in distress, you may need to intervene at least a little.
If the duck has been injured or is being attacked by other animals, get help from a wildlife rescue organization as soon as possible.
You may also want to do this if the mother has been severely injured or killed.
If you must handle a duck, it’s essential to make sure to wash your hands afterward.
Any bacteria or germs found on the duck can be potentially harmful and easily transmitted to yourself without proper hygiene, making you or others sick.
Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water should do the trick! It’s an important measure to take after handling any animal, not just a duck, as precautionary care for any potential illnesses that may arise from the interaction.
If just one duckling is in need of help, only take that one to the rescue. If the mother has been seriously incapacitated or killed, you’ll need to round up all of the other tiny ducklings to take them in for help.
This can be a real challenge and will require a lot of time and patience on your part, especially if they have access to a lake or pond to escape you.
How to Transport Wild Ducklings
Once you’ve caught the little ones, gently place them in a medium to large cardboard box with kitchen towels or old tee shirts in the bottom.
Be gentle with them as they are very fragile when young.
Carefully and gently, pin their wings against their bodies with your hand when you scoop them up, don’t let them flap frantically, and absolutely do not drop them when they try to jump down because that can severely harm them.
When you move the duckling to the rescue center, stay very quiet, and don’t jostle their box.
Don’t offer any food or water on the drive over. The food could be incorrect, and the water will probably slosh around and make them even more stressed and uncomfortable.
Don’t talk, don’t play the radio, and keep your windows rolled up, and you should keep your vehicle as quiet as possible.
All human-related sounds are terrifying for the little ones, so be as quiet as possible. Even though it may be tempting, don’t use heat or air conditioning either.
Large temperature differences will adversely affect ducklings, and even if it doesn’t hurt them, it will cause significant spikes in cortisol levels (stress).
If you are walking your duckling to the rescue center in your town, walk gently, don’t stop to talk to anyone, and try to take the quietest route you can on the way.
When you get there, tell the rehabilitators exactly where and how you found the duckling, and don’t leave out any details. They may need to return to where you found the duckling to check for the mother or other abandoned siblings.
They will also want this information so they know where to release the duckling when he or she is ready to go back into the wild.
How to Find a Rescue for Your Wild Duckling
Finding a Wildlife Rescue Center can sometimes be a bit of a trick. Funding for these centers is limited, so their capabilities are not always as extensive as they need to be. If you’re having trouble locating a rescue center, there are a few other places you can call to be put in contact with the right people.
Veterinarians and veterinary clinics are great starting places. So are dog pounds, domestic animal shelters, animal control agencies, and domestic animal rescues.
Nature centers, state wildlife agencies, humane societies, and wildlife interpretive centers (like what’s in your nearby state park) could also have some answers and helpful contacts for you.
Raise The Wild Duckling Yourself, But ONLY If You Really Have To
While a wildlife rehabilitation center is always the best option (after leaving the wild duckling alone, of course), there are a few circumstances where you may need to care for the duckling on your own.
Your local rehabs could be completely full, underfunded, understaffed, or closed (permanently or temporarily for the weekend).
If you know that the mother is not around and the duckling is in distress, then you may decide to take on the task of hand-rearing the duckling on your own.
Let’s talk about how to do that, the right way.
How to Care for Wild Baby Ducks on Your Own
Get in Touch With an Expert
Even if you don’t have a local center willing or able to take in the feral ducks, you can certainly find a refuge willing to talk you through caring for the ducklings over email, text, or phone calls.
It’s a great idea to have a line to someone who knows what they are doing and is willing to talk you through the process of raising these wild ducklings.
If something starts to go wrong, you’ll have a fast, reliable, and knowledgeable source to turn to in a hurry.
Plus, they can help you continue to look for help centers that are willing to take the duckling(s) in.
It’s much better to care for them for a week and then hand them over to experts, rather than try to keep the ducklings for several weeks all on your own.
If an online search doesn’t give you any results for duck rescues, try contacting nearby veterinarians, non-duck wildlife refuges, and “Birds of Prey” or “Raptor” Centers.
Even if they aren’t able to help you directly, they probably have someone in their contacts who can take the ducklings in, or at least help get you the information you need to raise the ducks on your own.
We have a more comprehensive guide on how to raise ducklings here.
Set Up an Enclosure for the Ducklings
A cardboard box or tote with high sides (at least a foot tall) is ideal for raising really young ducklings. Make sure it is safe from predators, including your indoor cats, dogs, and curious toddlers.
Bedding for Wild Ducklings
Line the bottom of the enclosure with towels, old rags, tee shirts, paper towels, toilet paper, puppy pads, or fluffy blankets. Don’t use newspaper because it’s slippery, and don’t use hay or straw because it may spawn mold.
Keeping Ducklings Warm
My favorite hack for rearing ducklings and chicks was given to me by my brilliant grandmother.
Tie up a feather duster, preferably made with real feathers, on the side of the box so the duster is four to six inches off the floor of the enclosure.
This duster feels similar to the mother, comforting and warming your little feathery friends.
I have also added an old-fashioned ticking clock, wrapped up with a towel or surrounded by another feather duster, so it somewhat mimics the heartbeat of the mother duck.
Chicks and ducklings will gather around both, snuggle in, and seem pretty content with the setup.
There aren’t any accredited studies to back up my observations, but I believe that these two efforts improve the quality of life and make it, so more chicks and ducklings survive into adulthood.
Add a water bottle or milk jug filled with warm or hot water to the box or tote if needed. This will radiate heat, and the wild ducklings may want to cozy up to it for extra heat.
Make sure the ducklings can get away from the heat if necessary, so if the enclosure is small, set the hot bottle in the corner, or off to one side.
Give Lots of Clean, Fresh Water for Drinking and Swimming In
Your duckling absolutely needs access to clean water.
Ducks require lots of water to stay hydrated and for several essential bodily functions, like swallowing food, and cleaning the esophagus, nasal passage, and face, so their water source must remain clean.
This is especially true if the environment has other animals (like other birds).
Do NOT give ducklings a swimming area until they are at least six weeks old.
Before they are this age, they don’t have the necessary oils to keep them from getting waterlogged and drowning.
They also don’t understand how to keep their nasal passages dry, so they don’t drown.
Keeping a pond, bowl, or trough filled with clean water helps ensure that your ducks can drink and play safely.
If the weather becomes too hot, you’ll want to pay extra attention to their water supply as the heat can lead to their drinking more often- so make sure there’s enough for them!
And just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean that your duckling (or any other ducks) will want to stay inside and stay dry.
No matter what time of year it is, you have to keep cool water thawed out so they can drink and swim in it.
Cold climates will require you to “break” the water out multiple times a day, or install a tank heater to keep the water from freezing.
Having access to clear, freshwater supports your duck’s health and mental well-being since they enjoy splashing around in the water just like people.
Provide Appropriate Food for the Wild Duckling
Baby ducks need food to fuel all their sweet quacking and waddling around.
While ducks enjoy snagging insects and worms from the ground, they still need a balanced diet. This will be more difficult with a wild duckling than a domesticated one.
Remember that this little one was just with his or her mother, and the mother duck was showing the duckling around and teaching them to forage.
Wild ducks don’t understand cracked corn, feed pellets, or crumbles. They certainly don’t understand duck feeders, water nipples, or poultry cups.
You’ll probably need to first offer more natural food options like mealworms, grubs, pond vegetation, grasses, and seeds.
If you only have access to crumbles or commercial duck food, scatter it on the ground for the ducklings to find on their own.
The best foods for ducklings are definitely live or dried mealworms, so offer those first if you can. Never feed ducklings bread or crackers, they are low in beneficial nutrients and will lead to malnutrition.
You should also avoid chick starter feed if possible, especially if it’s labeled as “medicated.”
Medicated chick crumbles contain coccidiostat medication that is harmful to ducklings.
Unmedicated chick feed is not harmful to ducklings, but it doesn’t perfectly meet their needs. You can use it in a pinch, but please read the label (and the rest of the bag or container) thoroughly to make sure it doesn’t have any added medication.
Ducks also love snacking on chopped-up vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, or carrots. These foods are a good way to get some quick calories in their stomachs, plus give them a little hydration. They should not be the only food source, though.
To ensure they’re getting all their essential nutritional needs, you can feed the duckling(s) special duck food pellets that can be purchased at most pet shops or feed and farm supply stores.
Whether you live in a rural or urban location, there are several ways to feed those friendly ducks in your local area.
Monitor Their Health Closely
Keeping an eye on your wild ducklings is an absolute must, and while they may seem quite hardy, they can need medical attention.
Health problems in ducks, such as parasites, vitamin deficiency, stress, and respiratory diseases, can happen quickly.
Knowing the signs of disease early can do a lot to save your sweet little feathery friend.
If you notice that one or more of the ducklings is acting abnormal, having trouble breathing, or looks frail, take them to a vet immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Should I Do If My Cat or Dog Brings Me a Wild Duckling?
If the duckling is injured, limp, or weak, immediately take it to a veterinarian or animal rehabilitation center for help.
If the duckling seems okay, turn it loose where you found it, and keep your pet put away so it won’t harm the duckling anymore.
Give the duckling a full night alone so the mother has a chance to relocate and take her baby back.
If the duckling isn’t claimed in twelve hours or so, you may want to take it into an animal rehabilitation facility.
Can I Put Wild Ducklings in With My Ducks?
You can absolutely put wild ducklings in with your domestic mother ducks if you have them.
Most mother ducks will happily adopt other ducklings so long as they are a similar size and age as her own offspring.
Remember that wild ducks also adopt ducklings too, under the same conditions.
So if you see a wild duckling in need of a mother, wait a little bit and see if an adoption process naturally happens.
That could save you (and wildlife rehabilitators) a lot of time, effort, and money!
How to Care for Wild Baby Ducks: Final Thoughts
If you find a wild baby duck, the best thing to do is leave it alone.
It might seem like you are helping by taking care of it, but really you could be hurting its chances of survival.
If you absolutely can not resist taking in a wild duckling, do your research, make sure to take it to an expert or rescue as soon as possible, and absolutely never release domesticated ducks into the wild.