What Do Ducks Eat: Everything You Need To Know

What Do Ducks Eat Everything You Need To Know Blog Cover

A slightly different focus today – ducks! More specifically, what should ducks eat, how you should feed them, what treats can you give them and much more.

As a small child, I can remember going to the riverside with my Mum to feed the ducks. Those ducks used to make me laugh with their antics and the way they waddled!

We used to feed them old bread (a big no-no nowadays), but back then we didn’t know any different and the ducks didn’t seem to mind either.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about what ducks eat, both in the wild and as pets.

What Do Ducks Eat In The Wild?

Duck EatingWild ducks have a varied, omnivorous diet. While we think of them eating mainly weeds, waterside plants and dabbling through the mud, you may be surprised to read some of the things they eat!

While dabbling in the lovely mud at the bottom of ponds and streams, they are looking for things like crawfish, small shrimps, beetle larvae even small frogs, fish and newts.

They do eat a lot of plant based materials (seeds, greens, weeds, water plants and roots), grass, berries and nuts (when in season).

Since their diet in the wild is unpredictable they have evolved to eat a wide variety of things to maintain health all year long.

Ducks are able to carry large fat reservoirs under that wonderful feather insulation which will see them through short snaps of bad weather. They also reduce their exposure to the elements by finding sheltered spots to sit in and they have specialized blood flow to their legs and feet to prevent freezing.

Feeding Pet Ducks 101

Duck SwimmingFeeding ducks the right diet has a tremendous influence on how they grow and develop. Poor diet lacking in nutrition will most certainly have a detrimental effect on them.

There are very few feed manufacturers that put out feed specific for ducks. I was able to find one but it was very expensive.

Instead you can use chicken feed if you need to.

Chicken feed, although similar does not provide all of the necessary nutrients for ducks, so you may have to improvise (more on this later).

To keep it simple we are going to tell you how here:

Ducklings

They will require 20-22% chick crumbles (non-medicated). You will need to add 1.5 tablespoons of brewers’ yeast to each cup of feed.

The crumbles need to be made into a wet mash consistency since it is easy for ducklings to choke on dry crumbles.

Make sure your ducklings have access to water at least an hour before you feed them and make sure it’s no deeper than ¼ inch. You should supervise ducklings in water since they are not ‘waterproof’ until around 4 weeks old and can easily drown in a small amount of water.

Week 3

Now you should drop the protein content in feed to 16-18%, continue to add the brewers’ yeast.

Week 20

Here your ducks can now change over to pelleted chicken layer feed 16%. They will no longer require the brewers’ yeast.

Something that ducks need a lot of is water. They need lots of water to drink; an adult duck can drink half a gallon each day. They also like to wash their faces in the water and of course, paddling and swimming.

When you have ducks, you can never have enough water!

How Much To Feed Them

The amount that you should feed your ducks is not dissimilar to chickens. At the 0-4 week stage they should be given free choice in order to eat what they want.

At 4-20 weeks they will consume roughly 0.25lb feed per day each and at 20+ weeks they will be eating around 0.3lb feed per day.

If your birds are allowed to free range, they will gather much of their nutrition from the garden and surrounding area. Whether or not you feed free choice, or twice a day, is up to you and what you think is best. Many folks feed twice a day but will also have some treats available in case the ducks want a snack.

Obviously, the amount your duck will eat varies with the size of the duck. Little Call ducks will eat considerably less than a Cayuga or Appleyard.

Basic Feed Requirements

Feeding a DuckIn this section we are going to go through all of the dietary stages of ducks and their requirements for growth and development.

0-2 Weeks

This is the time that ducklings require the highest protein content of their diet (20-22%). There is lots of growing going on in this stage.

3-8 Weeks

The protein content should be cut back to 16% now to encourage growth at a reasonable speed. The growth rate should also start to slow down a little at this time.

Some people keep them on an 18% protein feed to increase the rate of growth, but a high protein diet can cause wing and leg deformities along with kidney and liver problems.

9-20 Weeks

As incredible as it may seem, ducks have reached somewhere between 70-90% of their growth by week 9! Protein content of feed should be around 15%.

Between 9-20 weeks, growth rate slows. They replace their adolescent feathers with adult plumage and finally reach sexual maturity. Now is the time to separate the sexes if you want to.

Now the feeding of your ducks can get a bit confusing – we can divide the adults into 3 categories:

  • Maintenance diet: This is for the seasons when the ducks are not laying, late Fall/winter. The protein requirement can drop to 12-14%.
  • Layer diet: Those eggs certainly deplete a girl’s protein! 16% protein will do, but you can use 18% for short spurts.
  • Drake and non-layer diet: Drakes and non-laying hens require the standard 14% for maintenance.

Vitamins and Minerals

Ducks require the same vitamins and minerals that chicks do but in slightly different quantities.

Calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D are essential to the well-being of the duckling. Insufficient quantities can result in bone problems. This usually manifest as difficulty in walking (usually called rickets in severe cases).

Niacin deficiency in ducklings can be very common if you feed chick starter to your ducks.

Chick feed does not contain sufficient niacin for duck health, so you need to add some to the feed.

This is very easy to do; brewers’ yeast powder can be added to either the feed or water daily. Insufficient niacin leads to neurological problems, shaking, bowed legs, seizures and eventually death if not corrected.

Several changes in protein level may seem a bit finicky and not everyone sticks to the exact regimen, but if you want to raise healthy ducks, it is worth the time and effort.

Buying a large bag of 20% crumbles will see you through the various changes if you are prepared to ‘doctor’ the feed yourself. As an example you have 20% protein feed but want to give 15-16% protein feed. Use 3 cups of 20% feed and 1 cup of rolled oats to mix in and you have reduced your protein intake to around 15%!

What Treats Can I Feed Ducks?

DuckLike most of our pets, ducks enjoy treats, but what do you feed them? It’s really not so different from chicken treats and like chicken treats the treat should have no more than 10% of their daily intake. Here is a list of some treats you can feed them:

  • Cracked corn (huge favorite)
  • Grains (wheat and barley)
  • Uncooked oats
  • Milo
  • Black oil sunflower seeds (a huge favorite)
  • Birdseed
  • Chopped salad or greens
  • Watercress
  • Mealworms
  • Fresh fruit (grapes halved, banana, apple (without seeds), peaches, blueberries and blackberries)
  • Veggies (chopped into small pieces, sweet corn is a favorite)
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Scrambled eggs

You should not feed them, raw potato, spinach, citrus or avocado.

Frequently Asked Questions about Feeding Ducks

Can Ducks Eat Bread?

Ducks will eat stale bread, donuts, chips, crackers and popcorn but these things are very low in nutrition and can actually be bad for them.

If you want to feed the ducks give them something healthy; birdseed, cracked corn, peas, veggie trimmings (cut into small pieces) or mealworms. All will be appreciated and are much healthier for them!

What Do Wild Ducks Eat In Winter?

You may see them in areas where there is still running water or at the edges of ponds and wetlands where the ice is not quite so thick, they will be probing for anything under the ice.

If there is open water they will be ‘fishing’ for small fish or other snacks. Almost any green vegetation is eaten and any berries on the hedgerows.

What Is Angel Wing?

This is a problem caused by too much protein in the diet. It causes their feathers to stick out rather than lay flat. It can be severe enough to prevent them from flying.

Summary

Whilst it is difficult to buy feed specifically for ducks, with a little ingenuity you can modify your chicken feed to suit them. It really isn’t difficult to do and won’t take up much time at all – in fact you will soon be an expert at it!

Ducks are delightful creatures, sure to bring a smile to your face every day. They are also a tremendous benefit in the garden where they love nothing better than to chow down on slugs, snails and bugs.

They will happily patrol the lawn (on pest control duties) looking for tasty snacks before retreating to the pond for some boisterous paddling and bathing time.

Do you keep ducks, if so what breeds? Let us know in the comments section below…

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Comments

  1. Joseph G Hunt says

    I have four Black Runners. I get two to three eggs a day. I feed them chicken feed pellets. Melon, millworms and plants for a treat.

  2. Karen says

    Thank you very much! Such an interesting read. I have three chickens and have liked the idea of a few ducks.
    Very helpful information.

  3. capt jim says

    I have been caring for some wild ducks for the past year, they are a lot like chickens, but can really fly well.
    I have helped raise some from babies with bread and when they were a little older started to feed whole corn–they grew really fast from there, when I see them in my neighborhood, they know me and follow me around when I walk the dog–It has really been a hoot, and they are as free as birds, and give me much pleasure to help them.
    These are the ducks I wrote to you about–thanks for this article,I enjoyed it a lot, God bless, CJ.

    • Bi,l Thompson says

      Bread should be avoided as it can cause “angel
      wing” preventing proper wing formation.
      Indicators of it is the wing feathers projecting side ways vice uniform preventing the ducks from being able to fly.

  4. Lynn Manes says

    We have Welsh Harlequins. We feed them Wild Gamebird Feed from Tractor Supply. They get daily treats of black oil sunflower seeds and cracked corn, which they love. They free range and eat larvae, earthworms and junebugs when we catch them. They ate the leaves of our tomato plants and zucchini plants, aling with the sweet bell pepper plants, so we had to be sure we protected those garden plants better.
    ?

  5. Beth says

    I have had a pair of mallards come swim in my pool for the past three years. I was working in my flower bed next to my house yesterday and was startled when the female flew out of a large fern. She has a nest of 13 eggs in the fern. We have lots of wildlife in my area. I am concerned for her and the eggs safety but know I should leave them alone. Is there anything I should do? I have large 10×10 cage in the backyard. Could I move them in there after the eggs hatch so they have a chance? We have an Eagles nest in the neighborhood too. I am just concerned they won’t make it. Any advise you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Krystal says

    This was so helpful. Been doing a lot of reading on ducks since come end of may we will be getting 2 cayuga and 2 white crested Pekin. Love all the info on foods and measurements.

  7. RosaLei Quinting-Androyna says

    Earthworms! Our Muscovy and mixed Muscovy ducklings (12 weeks) LOVE Earthworms! We dig them up from our green waste base and they become greedy monsters, but we still love them and they’re cute as ever, they are so fun and get so happy after each of their daily earthworm feedings! We are eager for their eggs on our homestead because I love to bake! Happy Earth Day!

  8. Marty Hockensmith says

    I have two Pekin and three Khaki Campbells. They free range during the day with full grain mix available, a treat of chopped greens and tomatoes before being put to bed and mixed grain and water in o’night enclosure. Wondering about pellet feed as an option.

  9. Tricia says

    I live on the river. A friend brought me 2 ducks to release. The white ducks feathers don’t look so good. In the past I gave thrown the ducks meow mix. They love it and I know it’s high protein. Is it ok for me to give it to them as a treat. I need to know how they will aclimate to the river when they have been hand raised ?

  10. Sharleen says

    We had a female Muscovy adopt us. Shortly after arriving, she built a nest and laid 16 eggs. We did not disturb her, only would talk to her as we walked by. One day my son saw a snake nearby. We decided to count the eggs when she was off the nest. She was down to five with about two weeks left. We relocated her to our empty chicken yard and kept her penned for a couple days to keep her from abandoning the new site. Three days before the scheduled hatch date, a predator got her. I was very careful and moved the eggs to my incubator. So far, two have hatched (starting midday yesterday). All this to say, thank you for having such good specific information available on raising ducks and specific to Muscovies. Wish me luck with the unexpected orphans!

    • Gail Marlatt says

      Wow! I hope all hatch. Kind of sounds like our experience with guineas who always go in the grass or tree line to lay eggs. Something always gets them. Good Luck.

    • judith turner says

      Heavens, what was the predator? We have muscovey and can’t imagine anything big enough to kill one! We live in Australia.

  11. Robin says

    We have two ducks that my son brought home as ducklings. They are a little over 2 months now. One: they eat around the yard. Do we need to supplement. Two: can we release them to a more natural setting? A farm or creek or pond? Do they rely on someone feeding them? One is brown with white and blue strip on its feathers. The other is black with white speckled chest and green under wings. Black feet and Bill.

  12. Melissa says

    We have 2 female Silver Appeyards. I currently feed them organic chickenstarter with brewers yeast and they forage around the yard. They also get a good daily dose of peas for more added niacin. I will feed them a layer feed when they are old enough to lay

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