Free-ranging ducks are undeniably happy, especially when they swim in a big pond, congregate under a cool shade tree, or plat through a messy mud puddle in the yard.
Unfortunately, this beautiful freedom comes with a cost, usually the loss of life for at least one duck per year.
While you cannot guarantee the safety of your birds with 100% certainty, there are several small but critical steps you can take to help your ducks live happier and longer lives.
Let’s get started!
Supervise Free Range Time
The best way to keep your ducks safe when they are free-ranging is to watch them, well, like a hawk.
Not only does this allow you to react and take action to protect your waddling friends, but it also teaches predators that you’re always there and always watching.
If an animal starts to wreak havoc on you and your ducks’ peace, yell, run at them, throw rocks, and consider using a weapon (if it is legal in your area, AND the predator is not protected by ethics or law AND you are safe and comfortable to use it).
Minimize Free Range Time
The fewer hours your ducks have on the loose, the fewer opportunities troublemakers will have to make off with one of your birds.
My preferred way of limiting range time is to turn my flock out just two hours before sunset.
Yes, this is high-time for predators, but your ducks will get to be free, they will automatically put themselves to bed soon, and you will be around to watch out for them anyway.
While you can free range in the mornings, getting them to go back into confinement without a setting sun to help you out will become an enormous chore.
Build A Perimeter Fence
Chickens can still free range while being protected by a fence that encircles your entire property.
This gives them the freedom they crave, peace of mind for you, and mess-free yards for your neighbors if you have any.
Not only does this keep your ducks from roaming into dangerous areas like a thicket of woods away from your house, but it also deters predators from entering your hard and causing issues.
Make It Tall and Tight
Tall fences with a tight wire may keep dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes, skunks, and raccoons out of your yard and away from your sweet ducks.
It may slow down bobcats, cougars, and bears, but they can probably find another way in.
Small predators like snakes, rats, ermines, and weasels can either fit through the holes in the fence or climb it.
Make It Electric
An electric fence is an amazing tool that will do a lot of good for you and your property.
Electric fences will keep most predators out, and all of your critters inside.
If you have large predators in your area, like bears, you should aim for an electric fence with at least a .5 to .7 joule output (or .7 to 1.0 or even higher stored joules).
The higher the joules, the better.
Use Small Wire Mesh
If you used a more traditional perimeter fence, think about adding small wire mesh, like hardware cloth, to at least the bottom sections of the fence.
This can prevent several predators from entering your yard, and it will make sure that your ducks can’t waddle too far away from home.
Bury Part of the Fence (or an Attachment to the Fence)
This is a continuation of the previous point, make it difficult for predators to break in.
If they know that a duck dinner awaits them on the other side of the fence, then they will be willing to put in the effort to dig beneath it.
If you bury part of your fence underground or attach a roll of hardware cloth to the main fence and then bury that underground, you can almost eliminate the chances that dangerous animals will have to enter your space.
Be sure to walk the perimeter regularly to spot new holes immediately.
Sometimes predators will dig their holes little by little over the course of a few days.
When you spot a few hole, fill it in with dirt and rock, and think about adding more wire mesh to the ground in this area, if you can.
Make Your Coop a Fortress
Free-range ducks don’t always stick together when they’re outside. If something does attack, it will likely only be able to steal one bird, not the whole group of ducks.
Ducks do cluster up together at night though, meaning that an attack in the coop will be catastrophically bad, and you could potentially lose everyone in one go.
If you opt to make your coop nearly impenetrable by predators, then you and your ducks will be able to sleep much more soundly at night.
Always Close the Door at Night
While it may be tempting to leave the door open at night so your ducks can immediately head off to the ponds and fields first thing in the morning, this is really not a good idea.
Always shut the doors at night and make sure the coop is secure.
Even if you have windows, make sure they are closed and latched as well; a screen window is not a deterrent for hungry animals.
Another perk of closing the coop door is keeping “duck smells” to a minimum, so their scent isn’t wafting through the area and attracting predators that would otherwise just be “passing through.”
Electrify the Outside of It
Again; I can’t recommend electric fences enough. They do wonders to keep problematic animals at bay, while also ensuring your animals stay safe and where they are supposed to.
If you live in bear country, put up a five to seven-strand electric fence around your coop. At least one strand should be eight inches off the ground, with another at sixteen inches, another at twenty-four inches, another at thirty-two inches, and then another at forty inches.
You can attach it right to the coop’s walls with no issue.
Cover the door with wire, too, as this is the preferred entry point for most bears.
Bury Mesh Under the Coop
Again, many persistent predators don’t mind a little exercise if it means a gourmet meal at the end.
If you have a dirt-floor coop, add mesh or hardware cloth two or three feet out and underneath the edges of the coop.
If you can put down a protective floor covering on the interior and exterior of the coop, that’s even better.
Of course, if you have wooden or concrete floors, you can skip this step, and just make sure the floor stays solid.
Reinforce Weak Spots
It happens to everyone, one day you will go out to your coop and see just a little bit of “daylight” pouring in through a new hole in the ceiling, wall, or near the ground.
Do your best to patch this up right away so your animals stay safe, and this isn’t an entry point for hungry predators.
Lock or Shut Doors Appropriately
Raccoons and bears are smart critters who can use many door handle mechanisms and even figure out a few simple locks.
Raccoons can figure out carabiner clips, and dog leash clips, and bears know how to move a drop pin to open the door latch.
Use a complicated latch or add a padlock to your existing door latch.
Don’t Feed Your Animals In the Evening
Most birds, ducks included are not interested in food in the middle of the night.
Unless you’re fighting miserable temperatures that have plummeted well into the negatives, removing the duck food from the coop during overnight hours is okay.
Most predators are most active from dusk to dawn, so keeping smelly foods to a minimum at these hours can help, even if it’s just a little.
Don’t Store Feed in the Coop
This aligns with the last point, simply don’t make the coop smell like a lovely buffet of a predator’s favorite dinner items.
Keep smells to a minimum.
If you must store feed in the coop, use an airtight container that will seep the least amount of scent.
Don’t Trap, Shoot, or Haze Unproblematic Predators
I know it seems counterintuitive, but if you know you have a fox who trots through your yard every day who hasn’t caused any issues, leave her alone.
Wild animals are learning to live in harmony with humans, despite losing their habitats at an alarming rate. Some have the cognitive ability to understand that harming the livestock will get them injured or killed.
If you have an unproblematic animal in your vicinity, they are likely keeping the territory clear of other rivals.
These other animals may be more risk averse or simply not know better than to mess with what belongs to humans.
Keeping the “good” predator around will repel many of the “bad” ones.
Oh, and seeing this wild animal on a regular basis may make you feel attached or friendly.
Even if you admire the animal, do not make the mistake of feeding them, intentionally or accidentally.
This can completely ruin the dynamic, make the animal feel too safe around you and your ducks, and lead to a disaster.
Don’t forget to let Mother Nature stay feral as she prefers.
Deter Birds of Prey With Coverings, Hardware Cloth, or Bright Lines
Birds of Prey, like eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls, need a landing “runway” to snag their meal.
They are very vulnerable on the ground, so they like to get in and out immediately.
Wide open fields might as well be a Mcdonald’s drive-through lane.
Adding brush, bushes, trees, and small covered buildings for your ducks will give them plenty of hiding places, and it will make it more difficult for a bird of prey to swoop on the ducks.
These additions take time though, and may not be a good option for everyone.
If you have a small backyard, consider adding chicken wire over the top, connecting to the perimeter fences at the top.
If you live in wide open spaces with larger property, run fishing line up high to work similarly.
Run fishing line over your place, in a diamond pattern.
Each line should be within three or four feet of each other to ensure that the hawks and owls won’t try to eat at your place.
This is not 100% effective but it does make a considerable difference.
Any fatality reductions are worth the effort.
Get a Protection Animal
Well-trained dogs, territorial goats, llamas, and even some hogs will look out for your ducks and come to their rescue if needed.
Some people recommend donkeys, but they are a bit too temperamental and have been recorded to kill the entire flock or herd of whatever they were supposed to protect, out of the blue, sometimes after several years with no violence.
A surprisingly effective bodyguard is the goose.
Geese are always on the lookout, and I swear they take pleasure in absolutely pummeling an unprepared predator.
Chinese Geese, Tufted Roman Geese, and Saddleback Pomeranian Geese are some of the best geese to get as protection animals.
Add a Black Chicken To The Mix
From the sky, a black chicken loosely resembles a large crow or a small raven, and that’s usually enough of a deterrent for hawks and falcons.
While one crow or raven isn’t much of an issue, an entire murder or unkindness of them is terrifying.
Most Birds of Prey understand that ravens and crows do not live solo, and there are always more nearby, waiting for a reason to fight someone.
Play Dress Up
Consider dressing up at least a few of your ducks in reflective vests like this one.
Not only is it a joy to see happily speed-waddling across the yard or swimming in the lake, but it’s just strange enough to keep your predators second-guessing and passing up their strange dinner opportunity.
Protecting Your Free Range Ducks from Predators: Final Thoughts
Free-ranging a flock will almost certainly result in a random death or two, but many duck keepers agree that the risk of loss is worth the reward of freedom and natural foraging abilities.
Allowing ducks to freely enter and leave their coops to swim in your pond, stroll through the grasses, or say hello to you on your porch is a joy to see, and a few fatalities may be worth the kindness and freedom that free-ranging offers.
Still, just because there are risks, doesn’t mean that you should accept your circumstances for what they are.
Choose a few of the protection tips from above and implement them.
You may be able to save a few lives, and who knows, maybe you can get your loss rate down to zero.