Ducks you see at the park are hopefully wild. They have wild instincts to migrate and the ability to forage for their own food. Domesticated ducks were bred by man for specific needs and derived from wild mallards (Anas platyrhynchos-type) and Muscovy ducks (Cairina-type). Some breeds are specifically designed for egg production, others for meat production, and still others are ornamental. They range widely in size, shape, and color. Some lay white eggs, others brown, and still others rainbow colors. However, regardless of the breed(s) of ducks you may own, their basic needs are the same: a good quality diet, protection from the elements and predators, and a clean environment.
FEEDING DUCKS AT THE PARK
NEVER RAISE AND RELEASE DOMESTIC DUCKS
BUYING AND STORING FEED
ILLNESS & DISEASES
FIND AN AVIAN VETERINARIAN
It is so hard to resist ducks begging for attention, and it would seem that providing food for ducks would make them healthy and happy, but it doesn't. So many true animal lovers grew up with great memories of feeding bread to ducks at parks. We would never have dreamed it would be bad for them. But it is.
When wild ducks are fed human food (especially bread or crackers) their organs become engorged and fatty, which can cause them to suffer from heart disease, liver problems and other health complications. Bread also has very few nutrients, and can get compacted in a bird's crop. Many rehabilitators see "bread-impacted crop" in sick and distressed park ducks.
Waterfowl at artificial feeding sites are often found to suffer from poor nutrition. In a natural setting they will seek out a variety of nutritious foods such as aquatic plants, natural grains, and invertebrates. Bread is very low in protein, contains additives that wildfowl aren't built to cope with, and it's a very poor substitute for natural foods. Ducklings fed bread miss out in vital nutrients during their critical first few weeks, causing splay leg, angel wing, slipped tendons and other growing defects.
Natural food is usually available over a wide area. At some artificial feeding sites, competition for each bread crumb is high. Some ducks (usually the youngest) are unable to compete for handouts and suffer because they never learn to forage naturally. Ducks also become unnaturally aggressive towards each other and a nuisance to humans.
are often euthanized en mass after complaints from local citizens. Also, attracting ducks to you for feeding teaches ducks not to fear humans. And let's face it... not all humans are animal lovers. Rehabilitators often see ducks purposefully chased by dogs and children, with injuries from dog bites or thrown rocks - or - all too often run over by cars.
Feeding also creates unnaturally high populations of waterfowl at a pond, and diseases generally not transmissible in the wild will flourish in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
At some sites there are so many people feeding the ducks that uneaten food is left to rot. Decaying food pollutes the water and attracts foxes that prey on ducks. Food left for ducks will also attract vermin.
Waterfowl and rats will defecate where they feed - often at the pond edge. And naturally, the amount of feces they produce is directly proportional to the amount they eat. It's not exactly a healthy environment, especially for young children and the elderly. Many swimming holes are closed when overpopulation of waterfowl causes unsafe bacteria levels in the water.
IF YOU STILL INSIST ON FEEDING DUCKS...
If you still insist on feeding ducks or other waterfowl, please do not feed them bread. Substitute cheerios, grapes cut in half, a thawed bag of frozen peas or corn, or kale, romaine or other leafy greens (not iceberg lettuce). return to top
NEVER RAISE AND RELEASE DOMESTIC DUCKS
Many people do not understand the difference between wild ducks and domestic ducks. Ducks are ducks, right? Unfortunately not. Often around Easter time, domestic ducklings (pets) are purchased as gifts for children who can grow tired of them when they grow up to be a handful. So many of these ducks are then "released" at local parks, causing problems for the wild populations and suffering for the domestic pets.
This tiny duckling was "released to the wild" - or - abandoned at a local park and left to die. Just 3-days-old, he had no feathers to keep him warm. Rescued by teenagers and brought to a rehabilitator, this duckling is now doing well. Because he is a domestic breed, he can never be "returned to the wild." He will live out his life at a duck rescue network sanctuary.
Raised by humans, domestic ducks lack the instincts to forage on their own and feed themselves. A single duckling raised alone often doesn't even know it is a duck. Domestic ducks also lack the instinct to migrate and therefore face terrible suffering in cold winter climates. It is also illegal in most states to release (abandon/dump) domestic ducks in your local parks.
As if that weren't bad enough, domestic ducks can interbreed with wild ducks, causing half-wild/half-domestic hybrids that are often too fat to fly and too domestic to migrate with the rest of the flock. Released domestic ducks also compete for scarce food sources that natural, wild populations rely on. return to top
For those who keep flocks of domestic ducks, good nutrition is crucial to keeping your ducks healthy. All ducks should be fed a pellet or crumble diet formulated to meet their specific nutritional needs. Follow the guidelines below to find the right food for your duck(s). It is preferable to feed a diet created specifically for waterfowl, such as Mazuri feeds (made by Purina). If your local feed store doesn't carry this brand, ask them to order it for you. Nutrena Waterfowl is an alternate brand.
Ducklings and adolescent ducks: Young ducklings grow very quickly and need food that is high in protein and calories. For the first 3 weeks of life, feed a starter diet that is 18-20% protein. Make sure the pellets are small enough for ducklings to eat (about 1/8”), or use crumble. From the fourth through the 13th week, switch to a maintenance diet with 14% protein. After the 14th week, females should be switched to a layer pellet or crumble diet.
Drakes and non-laying ducks: Drakes and ducks that are not producing eggs should be fed a maintenance diet that is 14% protein. While a laying ration is critical to the health of laying ducks, this diet is too high in calcium and protein for non-laying ducks. Switch your ducks to a maintenance diet when they stop laying eggs (usually in the fall).
Laying ducks: Due to the large number of eggs they can produce (many more than wild birds do), laying ducks have very high requirements for calcium and protein, and must be fed a layer or breeder diet. Laying diets for ducks are typically 16-17 per cent protein and higher in calcium than are maintenance diets.
Treats: Treats should be given in small amounts. Although many ducks love foods like corn, carrots, and greens, these foods do not meet all of your ducks' nutritional needs, and should comprise no more than 5-10 per cent of the diet. Allowing your duck to graze in your yard is fine providing that your yard is pesticide-free.
Grit: Ducks that have access to dirt will pick up small stones on their own and don't need supplemental grit offered. If your ducks are kept in enclosures without access to dirt, sprinkle a small amount of grit on their food once a week.
Oyster Shell: Oyster shell is not usually necessary if your laying ducks are on a good quality-laying ration. If despite a good diet your ducks are laying pitted or thin-shelled eggs, you may choose to supplement the laying diet with crushed oyster shell.
What not to feed: Do not offer medicated feeds designed for other species, as these can be toxic to ducks. Do not feed oyster shell to non-laying ducks or to drakes, as this can lead to kidney disease. Do not feed moldy or insect-ridden foods. return to top
BUYING AND STORING FEED
To ensure your duck receives the best diet possible, buy small quantities of a fresh, high quality feed on a regular basis. Unless you have a large flock, avoid buying very large (50 lb.) bags of food; vitamins degrade with storage, and you are better off buying smaller quantities more frequently. Note the expiration date on the food you purchase, and do not feed after that date. Be wary of unknown brands; to ensure that you are purchasing a quality product, stick with a reputable manufacturer such as Purina, Mazuri, or Gunter. It is important to store your duck's food in a tightly-sealed plastic can that is kept in a cool, dry location. Avoid storing food in metal containers, as metal “sweats” and can lead to the growth of toxic molds. Protect the food from light and heat, as these can cause rapid breakdown of vitamins that are crucial to your duck's health. Insects and rodents carry bacteria and parasites that can make your birds sick, and should not be allowed to come in to contact with your duck's food. Discard any food that is moldy, moist, or old. If there is any question about the freshness of your duck's food, remember this basic rule of thumb; when in doubt, throw it out. Ducks should get plenty of fresh feed daily. Extra feed should be disposed of daily, especially in wet or humid weather. Many ducks like to dip their pellets in water while eating, and should have a bowl of fresh water nearby. return to top
Access to clean, fresh water is very important for all ducks. Ducks need a constant supply of fresh water for drinking, as well as access to water for swimming and bathing. Ducks are very susceptible to botulism, and for this reason it is important that their water supply is kept clean and well aerated. In artificial ponds or pools, this means regularly removing dead leaves and other plant matter, as well as periodic draining and cleaning. In a natural pond, this means making sure the water is not polluted by household or industrial effluents, and removing any dead animals from the water. Plastic or stainless steel food and water dishes are safest for your birds. Zinc-coated, or galvanized, metal dishes can leach heavy metals into the water and food supply, causing toxicity. Wash containers with soap and water daily. Containers are best placed in a location where the birds can not defecate in them. Drip watering systems are difficult to clean, and encourage buildup or bacteria, algae,
and parasites. We do not recommend their use. return to top
Ducks need a well-built shelter that will protect them from cold, wind, and rain. It must also be strong enough to protect them from predators. Don't underestimate the strength of a raccoon or bobcat when it has a duck dinner in mind. Digging predators can easily burrow into an insecure pen from below. Predators can also come from above, so make sure you provide protection from raptors. Since ducks are messy, make sure the shelter is easy to clean. A concrete floor works well, as it is relatively easy to wash and disinfect. Concrete alone, however, is too rough for duck feet, and the floor must be covered with a thick layer of sand, pea gravel, peat moss or straw. It is important that ducks be able to sit with their abdomen on a dry surface, and litter must be changed or over strewn regularly to remove fecal material. If you need more information on building a safe enclosure for your ducks, there are numbers of books available that can provide you with step-by-step guidelines. return to top
It is important to closely observe your duck's health every day. Birds are especially adept at hiding illness and injury. Frequent observation will allow you to get to know what is "normal" for your ducks, and allow you to determine if something is wrong.
Questions to keep in mind when evaluating the health of your duck(s) include:
• Has there been a change in behavior or appetite?
• Do they feel abnormally thin?
• Do you see any parasites on their skin?
• Do their droppings look normal?
• Are they limping, or reluctant to stand?
• Are they suffering from a loss of balance?
• Is their appetite for favorite foods suddenly diminished?
• Are they ruffled (fluffed up) and apathetic?
Any of these changes are signs that your bird is sick, and you should consult a certified avian veterinarian for advice. return to top
ILLNESS & DISEASES
Also called slipped wing, the cause of angel wing is not conclusive. There are two basic theories, both concern overfeeding and proximity to humans. The first involves too much protein and the second involves too many sugars. To prevent angel wing, waterfowl should not be fed bread, popcorn or other human foodstuffs, especially in the first six weeks of life. As birds grow, the (wrist) joints can become retarded in their development relative to the rest of the wing, and possibly due to the weight of incoming flight feathers. If only one wing is affected it is usually the left one. The result is a wrist which is twisted outwards and unable to perform its usual function, with feathers that are out of alignment resulting in wings at odd angles. If caught early before young birds reach full growth, wrapping the wing and binding it against the bird's flank, together with feeding the bird a more natural diet, can mostly reverse the damage.
Ducks and geese are attracted to shiny things like pennies, screws, nails, staples, coins of any type and other metal objects. They will swallow them. This is extremely dangerous and most often fatal. As it is digested, the metal (and coating on various metals) poisons the bird, harming the kidneys and liver. It can take days and even weeks for any symptoms to become apparent, at which point it is often too late. Early symptoms of hardware disease include a bird that keeps to itself, away from others and eats less. Fecal matter can be flourescent green (though this can also be a sign of other infection). Eventually the bird cannot walk, or walks and falls down. If these symptoms occur, the bird must go to a vet immediately. It must have a xray to see if any foreign objects have be eaten. There is medication that is given to try to get rid of the poisons in the bird, but most often they need to have surgery to remove the objects. If you even suspect your pet has swallowed metal, an immediate xray may be your only chance for saving him or her.
This is a fungal infection that most often affects the lungs. Ducks and geese eat moldy feed or sleep on damp bedding and inhale aspergillus fungi spores. Birds with aspergillosis can die very quickly and it is an extremely difficult illness to treat. The best way to avoid the disease is to ensure birds have a clean, dry living area and throw out any food you suspect may have become moldy.
is caused when a bird's feet get scuffed or cut and infection sets in. The most common cause is too hard of a living surface (such as concrete). It is very common in indoor birds with poorly-sized perches or caged rats, guinea pigs and hamsters whose cages have hard surfaces. The feet pads swell and redden, and may feel warm to the touch. In all cases, antibiotics are usually recommended. In severe cases, the "bumbles" need to be opened up and cleaned, then dressed and kept dry.
FIND AN AVIAN VETERINARIAN
Finding a veterinarian who will see ducks and geese is not an easy task. Certified avian veterinarians undergo extra training to meet the special needs of waterfowl and other pet birds. Also, avian veterinarians who have extensive experience with indoor pet birds like parrots or parakeets may not often treat ducks or geese. It is important to find a veterinarian who has the experience necessary to treat your ducks. To find an avian veterinarian, try the search fields on one or both of these websites:
Association of Avian Veterinarians
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