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Raising Ducks – Pros and Cons of Backyard Ducks

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Let’s dive into the pros and cons of raising ducks in your backyard! Are backyard ducks right for you?

Raising Ducks in Your Backyard

Those of us living on homesteads, whether they’re in the country or urban areas, have many things to consider when starting out. From fruits to vegetables to farm animals, there are ways to narrow down the available options based upon environment, growing season, and what your family will eat or sell.

Animals are no different. Ducks have always been around as an option, but until recently they have not been on the radar for most homesteaders. Nowadays, raising ducks has become more mainstream, and for several reasons.

When we think of ducks, we think of the migratory waterfowl that fly southward in the winter for warmer pastures, but they are now becoming a more popular fowl for homesteaders’ pastures. Raising domesticated ducks of any breed has many upsides to it. 

15 Pros of Raising Backyard Ducks

Did you know you can buy ducklings online (like the ones above) and have them sent directly to your homestead?

  1. Ducks are excellent egg layers
  2. Ducks may lay eggs almost every day
  3. If you’re allergic to chicken eggs, you may be able to eat duck eggs
  4. Ducks provide great soil aeration
  5. Ducks are great pest control
  6. Ducks free-range a wider area so they don’t destroy the ground as chickens might
  7. Ducks can be herded
  8. Ducks provide red meat
  9. You get feathers and duck down for pillows, blankets, etc.
  10. Ducks give you easy fertilizer
  11. Backyard ducks don’t startle easily
  12. Ducks don’t tend to escape as chickens might
  13. Duck eggs are worth more than chicken eggs
  14. Duck fat can be used for frying, baking, and candle making
  15. Friendly duck-chatter around the homestead!

A big positive is that once your backyard ducks are mature enough, they tend to be excellent egg layers and most breeds tend to lay eggs almost once a day. Another plus with duck eggs is that if you are allergic to chicken eggs you will often (but not always) be able to eat duck eggs, although the duck eggs may have a stronger taste than most people are used to. You’ll need bigger egg cartons for your eggs, like this one:

Tuff Stuff 12 ct. Plastic Egg Carton For D… [More] – Price: $3.99 – Buy Now

Recommended: Raising Baby Ducks

For the homesteader, things that serve more than one purpose are always greatly valued, and that goes for crops and livestock as well. Cows produce good manure for compost and fertilizer, goats are good for keeping weeds and grasses at bay, and chickens eat bugs and provide some manure.

Free-Ranging Ducks

Ducks, however, are an unsung hero of the homestead. Ducks provide very good soil aeration much like chickens do. Unlike chickens, though, backyard ducks are not nearly as picky about the bugs and grubs they eat and tend to eat a lot more.

They also tend to be naturally wider-ranging and do not have to be moved around in a tractor coop each day to prevent them from tearing up or destroying the ground around their home.

Herding & Eating Ducks

Ducks can also be herded, which makes it easy to get them back into their coop for the night after a day of roaming around their homestead. 

Most, if not all, breeds of ducks are also very tasty and provide good meat that does not taste too “gamey” and can be cooked in many different ways. The meat from ducks is a red meat along the lines of beef, while chicken is a white meat.

When raising ducks, make sure you feed your ducks a good, preferably organic feed, like this one:

Nature’s Best Organic Feeds Duck Crumble, 5 lb., SP0231C [More] – Price: $8.99 – Buy Now

Duck Feathers & Fertilizer

A few other things ducks can provide in addition to eggs, meat, and pest control are feathers and fertilizer. Since ducks are a migratory waterfowl, they grow a layer of fine downy feathers underneath their main feathers during the colder winter months to keep warm while flying and swimming on cold water.

raising-ducks-backyard

When warmer weather comes, ducks begin to molt those warm little downy feathers, and that is the perfect time to collect the feathers to make pillows, blankets, jackets, or anything else warm you might need. Ducks may not provide as many down feathers as geese do, but their nicer temperament more than makes up for that. 

The easy fertilizer that backyard ducks provide is also a positive side effect of raising ducks. Ducks need a pond or water feature of some sort to thrive and they tend to poop wherever they wander. Since the water has already diluted the duck manure and needs to be changed frequently, homesteaders can put that water into a watering can and put the ready-made fertilizer directly into the garden.

I just love this specialized duck coop from Fifthroom.com, it has a pond for ducks built-in!

6 x 10 Dura-Temp Duck House with Small Pond


6 x 10 Dura-Temp Duck House with Small Pond
from: Fifthroom.com 

Minimal Health Issues

There are a couple of last positives about keeping ducks on the homestead. The first one is that ducks tend to have minimal health issues for animals that live so close together. They are fairly hardy birds and have excellent immune systems that keep them from getting most diseases that are common to chickens.

Second, ducks don’t have a propensity to escape over fences or walls as much as chickens do. Domestic ducks can fly, but can’t fly as high as a chicken might due to their weight; domestic ducks also don’t startle as easily.

A bonus of raising ducks in your backyard is that they are adorably cute and “talk” or chatter.

Hoover’s Hatchery Mallard Ducks, 10 ct. Baby Ducklings [More] – Price: $69.99 – Buy Now

8 Cons of Raising Ducks in Your Backyard

  1. Messy
  2. Need clean water to bathe in
  3. Ducks are very vocal
  4. Ducks lay eggs where they feel like it
  5. Ducks eat more than chickens
  6. Ducks eggs are an acquired taste
  7. Fattier and possibly less meat than from a chicken
  8. Ducks need more space than chickens

Messy Ducks

Now, for the downsides of raising ducks. The biggest downside of raising ducks is the mess they leave. Since they are waterfowl, they require a lot of water, hence the name “waterfowl”.  The water has to be changed frequently in order to maintain cleanliness, since ducks have a habit of fouling their water source with mud, poop, and whatever else is around them. These simple troughs work well as a duck pond:

Rubbermaid Commercial Products Structural Foam Stock Tank, 50 Gallon Capacity, Black (Fg424300Bla)
$103.99
  • Seamless construction for outstanding durability
  • Five sizes to fit all your watering needs; from 50 gallons up to 300 gallons
  • Optional all-plastic anti-siphon float valve provides constant water level
  • Measures 51-2/3" x 31" x 12", Made in the USA
Amazon
We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/15/2024 09:18 pm GMT

Noisy

They are also louder than other birds such as chickens, as ducks tend to chatter throughout the day as they go about their business. This might not be a problem for homesteaders with a good amount of land and no close neighbors nearby, but for those urban or suburban homesteaders with neighbors close by this might present more of an issue with noise.

Egg Hunt

While chickens lay their eggs in their coop, ducks lay their eggs wherever they happen to be when it is the time of day for them to lay their eggs. If they aren’t in their coop at that time, that may mean having to go hunt for the ducks’ eggs.

quail-chicken-duck-eggs
From quail egg to ostrich egg

Taste

The eggs tend to be bigger, on average, than chickens’ eggs, but if you are not used to the taste, many people say that ducks’ eggs tend to have a sharper or stronger flavor and may be a little off-putting. Another thing to keep in mind is that while backyard ducks eat more than other birds such as chickens, their eggs can be sold for more, which can offset the cost of extra feed.

Also, while duck meat is tasty, domesticated backyard ducks that do not have to fly to migrate tend to be much fattier than wild ducks or even chickens, and might have less meat on them than a similar-sized chicken might. While a homesteader might get less meat for eating, the upside to getting this much fat off the bird is having a source of cooking fat for frying or baking as well as for candle making.

Duck Space Needs

One last thing to keep in mind about raising ducks is the amount of space they will take up on the homestead. Aside from the water features that ducks will need, which was mentioned earlier, ducks also need a much bigger coop than, say, a chicken might need.

While birds such as chickens like to roost in a nest that is raised off the ground, ducks do not roost like this and prefer to sleep on the ground. This means that ducks will need a much larger coop to live in since they live at ground level instead of on the second floor of their coop as chickens would.

An upside to keep in mind with this setup, though, is that the ducks’ coop would not have to be moved to a new location frequently since ducks tend to roam around their yard while hunting for food instead of staying close to their coop. Ducks can also be herded back to their coop, which can make up for the fact that they will roam around the yard.

There is a lot of information to take in on whether or not to raise ducks on your homestead. Backyard ducks are now coming into vogue as a bird to keep instead of or alongside, chickens for their meat, eggs, feathers, and fat. As with any new addition to the homestead, the good and bad should be weighed up before making a decision, even if the new addition would be as cute and chatty as a duck.

Are you raising ducks, or thinking about it? Let us know your experiences below!

raising-ducks-backyard-homestead

The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Raising Ducks [+ 9 Best Duck Breeds!]

Have you ever wondered if ducks would be a worthy addition to your homestead? Maybe you want to expand upon your chicken farm or add more personality?

In this guide to keeping ducks, we dive deeply into all things duck, including caring for ducks, the best duck breeds for egg and meat production, and using ducks as organic pest control.

We also share some of the most adorable duck photos we could find. And our best duck-raising tips for new duck breeders and farmers.

Sound good?

Let’s get quacking!

How to Care for Ducks

Ducks by pond on farm in countryside, summer day
Raising ducks is as much fun as raising chickens and quails. Sometimes – it’s even better. Ducks don’t require fancy housing and acclimate well to the outdoors. Ducks also have friendly personalities – unlike some chickens and turkeys we know! Ducks get raised on small farms and homesteads for egg and meat production. They also bring tons of other benefits to your homestead. 

Provide Water for Your Ducks

It may seem obvious, but ducks are waterfowl. Water is everything. 

It’s not just about splashing around, ducks need to submerge their faces in water for hygiene purposes. Ducks lack tear ducts and use water to flush their eyes to keep them clean. As such, the cleanliness of the water is very important. 

It’s a common assumption that to keep ducks, you need a pond, but this isn’t necessarily true. A kiddie pool or two is sufficient. It’s important to provide your flock with clean water every day.

The result of this love affair ducks have with water is mud.

Lots of mud.

Your feathered friends are mud-making machines. So invest in some gumboots and be prepared for life to become a little mucky.

Keep Your Flock Safe

The phrase “sitting ducks” exists for reason. Ducks are next to defenseless. Most domestic varieties don’t fly well, and on land, they lack the necessary speed to escape danger.

Ducks also don’t have teeth, so they can’t truly bite you. Although they can administer a mighty big pinch if they’ve put their mind to it. 

Mostly, ducks rely on their owners to keep them safe. 

Depending on where you live, you may have to protect them from birds of prey, coyotes, or larger predators. A proper fence is important. Keeping your birds in a coop at night also helps. 

Much like chickens, domestic ducks don’t fly well and can be contained by fences. You’ll want to use fences to keep your ducks contained to a safe space that you know predators can’t access.

Read more about ducks:

What Do Ducks Eat? 

what-do-ducks-eat
We recommend a high-quality duck pellet feed from your favorite local farm supply store for mature ducks. One warning about duck food! Ducks are tremendously susceptible to mold toxins – and food spoilage. Duck raisers and farmers must exercise caution to keep their duck’s food in a dry, clean, and chilled location. We also recommend storing the duck food in reliable mouse-free storage.

Most ducks are excellent foragers and will find a wide variety of insects, weeds, and greenery to supplement their diet, if they are allowed to roam. 

Ducks do love to eat grass!

So, if you want to preserve your lawn, don’t leave your ducks in one spot for long. Instead, use temporary fencing so that you can continue to move them. As they move from one place to the next, they’ll leave a little fertilizer in their wake. 

Roses, berries, leafy greens, and citrus are duck favorites. So you may need to do a little bit of fencing to keep certain plants in your yard safe. 

Duck eggs have thicker shells than chickens, and the hens need quite a bit of calcium in their diet to produce good eggs. Feeding your ladies layers pellets is one way of ensuring enough calcium. (This is a great brand of feed that’s suitable for your ducks and chickens!)

Like chickens, ducks need grit to help them digest their food.

Free-range ducks will source this themselves by eating dirt and pebbles. If your birds are kept in an enclosure where they do not have access to natural grit, you’ll need to provide them with a store-bought grit (like these).

The Best Climate for Ducks

Ducks are very robust animals, and they can be found on every continent in the world, with the exception of Antarctica.

Some ducks are native to certain parts of the world and may perform better in certain areas. Wherever you may be, there are good odds ducks will thrive in your climate.

Choosing the Right Duck Variety 

domestic duck and ducklings on farm
We’re about to list some of the best duck breeds for beginners. But before we begin – did you know all duck breeds come from the wild mallard? Well – there’s one exception! The Muscovy duck does not come from the wild mallard. Most experts agree that the Muscovy is not a duck – but a waterfowl. We think they’re fascinating creatures and include them in this list anyway!

When selecting a variety of ducks, it’s important to consider why you want to keep ducks.

There are many reasons including: 

  • Eggs
  • Meat 
  • Ornamental
  • Pets

There are dozens of duck varieties to choose from, and it’s important to do some research before you settle on one because there is such tremendous variety amongst breeds.

Below we dive into some of the best duck breeds for egg and meat production.

Best Egg Laying Ducks

1. Ancona

lovely ancona duck portrait
Our guide to raising ducks should start here. With Ancona ducks! Ancona ducks are beautiful. And hardy! I read an excellent article from Washington State Magazine where the author writes how their Ancona ducks preferred sitting in the snow rather than resting in their shelter. We’ve reported about cold-weather ducks before. So – we’re not surprised!

Eggs per year: 210-280 

Weight: 5-6lbs

For many years, Anconas were listed as an endangered breed. Yet, the efforts of conservation are working, and they have shifted from being endangered to rare birds.

These ducks are well worth preserving!

Among the friendliest breeds, Anconas are excellent pets, good layers, and decent meat birds as well. 

2. Indian Runner Ducks

flock of indian runner ducks with looming border collie
Indian runner ducks deserve one of the top spots on our guide to raising ducks! They’re famous for producing delicious and rich eggs. And lots of them! Indian Runner ducks also have excellent personalities and are super friendly. You can spot Indian Runner ducks by their posture. They stand – and walk vertically.

Eggs per year: 150-200

Weight: 3-5lbs

Indian Runners are easy to identify because of their slender body and their upright stance. Because of their unique body type, they have earned the nickname of “penguin ducks.” 

They are exceptional foragers!

As the name suggests, they are fast birds that can effortlessly chase down bugs and slugs. Elegant on land, these birds are not good swimmers.

If you want a gardening companion that will lay a few eggs, look no further than Indian Runners. 

3. Khaki Campbell Ducks 

two khaki campbell ducks basking in the sun
Khaki Campbells are the perfect duck for homesteaders and small farmers. Here’s why! They lay an insane amount of eggs, have excellent personalities, and are robust foragers. How many eggs do Khaki ducks lay? The best source we can find says Khakis lay around 300 eggs per year. Or more! We hope you’re hungry!

Eggs per Year: 300-340

Weight: 4-5lbs

Bred by Adele Campbell in 1901, these ducks were named after the khaki color of the British troops’ uniforms in the Boer War.

Khaki Campbells are famous in the poultry world for being exceptionally prolific egg layers, laying one egg for almost every day of the year.

Khaki Campbells tend to be a bit loud and skittish compared to other breeds, but their high egg production and good foraging skills make them a favorite of many farmers.

4. Welsh Harlequin Ducks 

welsh harlequin duck relaxing by the water
Welsh Harlequin ducks are excellent forages and will wreak havoc upon various garden pests! And they love laying loads of delicious eggs. They’re perfect homestead companions, adorable, and have friendly personalities. Welsh Harlequins are also famously broody – and will happily deliver many baby ducklings. If you wish!

Eggs per Year: 250-300

Weight: 5lbs

Derived from Khaki Campbells, the Welsh Harlequins retain the excellent laying skills of their ancestors, but also have a calmer, quieter demeanor.

Like Khaki Campbells, Welsh Harlequins are good foragers to keep near the garden where they will police pests.

If you plan on breeding birds, it’s useful to know that Welsh Harlequins are some of the easiest to sex. The color of the hatchlings bill reveals the gender of the bird with a 75% accuracy rating. Females have lighter colored bills while males have darker ones.

Best Meat Ducks

1. Aylesbury Duck 

large white welsh harlequin duck relaxing in the sun
Do you want an ample and beautiful duck with unyielding white plumage? Then here’s one of the most breathtaking within our guide to raising ducks. Aylesbury ducks! They’re a sight to behold. They have a reputation for delicious meat – and impressive statures. But they don’t stand tall. You’ll notice that Aylesbury duck bodies stand horizontally – unlike their Indian Runner Duck colleagues.

Eggs per year: 35-125 

Weight: 8–10lbs

Aylesbury ducks grow quickly, often reaching eight pounds in as little as eight weeks. They take their name from a small town in England, and their feathers were often used in quilts.

Some say that meat from an Aylesbury duck has better flavor than that of a Pekin!

Tractor Supply sells Pekin ducklings, by the way.

Aylesbury ducks are classified as endangered in the United States. If you are interested in conservation, keeping Aylesbury ducks is one way of increasing population numbers.

2. Cayuga

metallic green and black cayuga duck
Cayuga ducks are some of our favorite domestic fowl in our guide to raising ducks! We aren’t sure where Cayuga ducks come from – but we read an excellent article that says they come from central New York. Most of the Cayuga ducks we’ve seen have beautiful dark feathers. Many have beautiful greenish or bluish tints like in the photo above.

Eggs per year: 100-150

Weight: 6-8lbs

Cayuga is the only breed to originate from the United States.

These incredibly striking birds feature blue-green foliage and black eggs!

They are slow to grow, but they do end up being sizeable table birds. These birds are wonderful conversation starters and really beautiful additions to a farm.

3. Magpie Duck

large magpie duck enjoying the day
Our guide to raising ducks wouldn’t be complete without Magpie ducks! There’s some confusion among homesteaders about Magpies – because there are Magpie geese too. But – we’re talking about Magpie ducks! Here’s a beautiful Magpie duck video if you want to see these active foragers come to life. Note the bold and beautiful colors of their feathers.

Eggs per year: 220-290

Weight: 4-5lbs

Although small and good layers, Magpie ducks are usually used for meat production. Chefs consider them to be gourmet meat.

They are calm and gentle birds and are more likely to imprint deeply upon their human owners. Magpie eggs hatch almost a full week shorter than most duck varieties.

4. Muscovy

muscovy duck relaxing on the ground
Muscovy ducks aren’t like other ducks. They have caruncles that look like wattles! You’ll also notice that male Muscovy ducks are thirty to fifty percent larger than their female counterparts. We’ve heard homesteaders argue about where Muscovy ducks derive – but we’ve read they come from Peru or Columbia.

Eggs per year: 180-195

Weight: 10-12lbs

A favorite of chefs, Muscovy ducks are adored for their flavourful meat.

They are fast-growing and can become so large that they’ll eat frogs, mice, and snakes!

Despite their large size, Muscovy ducks are the quietest ducks because they hiss rather than quack.

They can live up to twenty years.

Muscovy ducks are one of the only breeds that will attack when they feel threatened, and they are one of the few domestic varieties that can fly relatively well. They can get over 8-foot fences.

To prevent this, one wing can be trimmed annually. If done correctly, this does not hurt the bird. Males are significantly larger and can’t get far off the ground, so may not need to be trimmed.

Have a read of our “How to Clip My Chicken’s Wings” article to learn how to trim a wing, and whether you should. 

We inherited two Muscovy ducks with our property and they are a fiery bird! We have 4 big dogs and all four dogs were absolutely frightened of these ducks.

They’re a sight to behold when they defend themselves, with their flapping wings and funky face growth – no wonder the dogs took off running!

Both ducks have passed on now, and we only have a huge flock of wild ducks. I’ll always miss them though. It’s hard not to because they have such big personalities and a big presence. 

Maybe, one day, I’ll get another pair 🙂

5. Pekin 

two adorable pekin ducks waddling on the grass
Who can forget the legendary Pekin duck? Our guide to raising ducks would be remiss without them! Originally from China, we’ve read that Pekin ducks came to the US (Long Island) around 1873 and have flourished throughout the states ever since. For that reason – Pekin ducks get called Long Island Ducks by many of our homesteading friends. You may also hear farmers refer to them as White Pekin ducks. Either way – Pekin ducks are beautiful and elegant.

Eggs per year: 200

Weight: 8-11lbs

Although Pekin ducks originated in China, 90% of duck meat in North America comes from the Pekins, so if you live in North America, this is likely the flavor that you are most familiar with.

Being larger birds, they also tend to produce larger eggs. You can buy Pekin ducklings at Tractor Supply. 

They are well known for their robust immune system and do not seem to be affected as often by illness and disease. Their friendly natures make them good pets.

If you plan on breeding these birds, note that Pekins are not good brooders, so an incubator (like these ones) is often needed to successfully hatch chicks. 

An interesting tidbit of trivia…

Many people believe that Donald Duck is a Pekin

Balancing Duck and Drake Populations

a duck and a Drake

Male ducks are called drakes. Females are called ducks or hens.

When building your flock, you will want to limit the number of drakes. Drakes are famously enthusiastic breeders, and they can be dangerously rough with the females. 

Typically, one drake for every five to six females will work well, although this can vary depending on the specific variety chosen. If you choose to have more than one drake, siblings tend to get along better.

Some owners even keep two separate flocks: a female flock and a male flock.

You might be wondering if you really need a drake.

If your main goal is to keep ducks as pets or for laying eggs, then probably not. Unlike a rooster, drakes won’t protect the flock from danger.

If your goal is to hatch more ducklings or raise birds for meat, then yes, a drake would be a very useful addition to your flock.

Most people accidentally encounter drakes when they purchase a “straight run” of chicks, which means that the gender of each duckling is undetermined at the time of sale. Those who hatch their own eggs are also likely to encounter drakes. 

Extra drakes can be processed for the table or sold as pets.

Duck Egg Laying

duck-eggs

In the cold winter months, many ducks will slow egg production.

Some stop laying completely.

Some farmers introduce artificial lights so that the ducks get seventeen hours of light per day, which encourages them to keep laying.

Ducks aren’t picky about where they lay their eggs.

In fact, they’ll lay them just about anywhere. So be prepared to do some egg hunting. If you have children, this can be a fun task for them to undertake.

Most of the children I know love a good scavenger hunt! 

Hatching Duck Eggs

Most duck eggs hatch within 28 days, although there can be some exceptions. Muscovy duck eggs can take as long as 35 days.

If you plan to hatch your own eggs, it’s a good idea to choose a combination bird that can produce eggs and meat. That way, if ever you end up with an influx of drakes, they can be enjoyed as table birds.

Hatching duck eggs usually requires the help of an incubator as not all breeds are good brooders.

Incorporating Ducks into Farm Life

Ducks are fantastic foragers (Runner ducks in particular). In the garden, they can be used as an organic form of pest control. They’ll greedily snap up slugs, snails, and other damaging insects.

Yes, they might make a bit of mud and take a nibble of your lettuce here and there, but with adequate supervision, ducks are an incredible organic solution.

Vergenoegd Winery in South Africa uses ducks to combat harmful insects that plague their grapevines. Apricot Lane Farms in California uses ducks to keep their fruit orchard free from an army of snails

In Asia, many farmers are reviving the ancient Chinese method of using young ducks to maintain rice patties. The ducks eat pests and weed, negating the need for pesticides and herbicides.

And of course, where ducks go, poop follows, so the soil is being enriched which reduces the need for man-made fertilizers. 

They can be egg-laying aficionados, mammoth meat birds, organic gardening experts, or beloved family pets (often just as friendly as dogs!).

But are ducks right for you?

They can be hard work and require a good deal of water changing, but if you’re willing to do the work and get a little mucky, duck ownership can be a true delight. 

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10 Comments

  1. I love my ducks, even with all their ‘cons’. I have 4 silver appleyard and 2 welsh harlequin….and had up until recently a male welsh harlequin – he had to be rehomed because he had become a bit of a pest and the girls were constantly scrapping over his attentions. It made them chattier than usual. They are so entertaining!

  2. I have four ducks, not sure of the breed, the males have the green neck. They are free range, we let them out each morning and lock them up at dusk.

    Two female and two male. Last summer the separated into couples. Then all winter they were together. This year has been complicated, sometimes they have been two and two, but i have see instances when I have seen the females with one male. This morning, I found the two females walking around and thought that was weird and went looking for the males. They were still in the pen, one wouldn’t let the other out and it looked like they were arguing, sometimes they were getting physical w/ eachother.

    What do you think will happen, what should I do. I don’t want one to kill the other.

    I forced one out and locked the other one up in the cage.

    Please give your advice. I have had ducks several years, we’ve had babies, deaths by wild animals. We just want them to get along. I liked this winter when they all stayed together.

  3. Please help! We live in an apartment complex with a small spring fed creek that runs behind. Everyone enjoys seeing the ducks and we’ve gotten people to stop throwing garbage for them and have been feeding them duck food from Tractor Supply. A couple months ago 2 ducks just showed up (probably abandoned) we believe them to be Cayuga ducks. After a few weeks they began breeding and the males got aggressive and would chase the females out of the grass and into the parking lot where they’d lay until night. The females disappeared a couple weeks ago. One showed up last week and we found the other this morning as the males were protecting her. She laid eggs in the parking lot next to an air conditioner without a nest. We’ve become quite attached to these essentially free range ducks. How do we help with the aggression and more importantly is there a way to help direct the female where to lay her eggs where they’re more protected? We’d obviously love for her to have ducklings but being so exposed is there anything we can do to help protect her in the mean time or cut the losses, build her a shelter somewhere and try and get her to use the shelter somewhere along the creek? 
    Any help is greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi there Chris! I completely understand your dilemma – this is a difficult situation! In general, unfortunately, wildlife is best off left alone. A lot of the time, when we interfere, we can make the group dynamics worse! Male aggression toward females is generally caused by an imbalance in the male to female ratio, which is not something we can regulate in a “wild” setting. In a backyard setting, you would split them up into a more suitable ratio.

      We have a big flock of wild ducks in our dam and they mostly sort themselves out. We did not build them a shelter, but they have taken to the pump house for safety from dogs and predators! So, it’s quite possible they would take to a shelter. There are no guarantees the nesting female would get the shelter though – most likely it’s the strongest of the flock that get the privilege!

      However, I think it’s wonderful that you are enjoying the ducks in your area, which is why I’ve called in the help of a wildlife expert to see if he can come up with some ideas for you. I’m hoping to have something back from him by Saturday, and I will update my answer by that time!

      I hope you’ll see some ducklings in the near future 🙂

    2. Hello,

      My name is Charles van Rees, and I’m a conservation scientist and naturalist with expertise in freshwater wildlife. I have a PhD in evolutionary biology and over a decade of experience studying and working with wildlife, especially waterbirds. Here are some answers to your questions from a scientific perspective!

      1) How can we look after the ducks in our neighborhood?

      The best way to care for any animals in our neighborhoods is to protect their habitats, respect their space, and try to reduce our impacts on their day-to-day activities, like finding food, having a safe place to sleep, and being able to successfully produce young.

      Protecting habitat for many ducks involves finding ways to prevent pollution or clean up trash around local waterways and help remove invasive plant species that could make it harder for them to get around or find food.

      Keeping dogs on leash, or cats indoors, can also reduce the pressures and threats that we introduce to ducks, who need to keep their vulnerable young safe during nesting season.

      Feeding ducks is not a particularly good way to care for them; oftentimes foods like bread and crackers are poor nutrition for them and prevent them from finding and eating foods that would help them survive, so they can do more harm than good.

      Making sure that nesting female ducks, when you find them, have space from human activities and are not disturbed, is just about the best way we can help protect their nests.

      2) Is there a way to help with male aggression toward female ducks in a flock?

      There is, unfortunately, no way for humans to safely intervene to reduce male (drake) aggression toward female (hen) ducks.

      This is a product of the unique evolutionary history of some ducks and is largely ingrained behavior that can often happen because males far outnumber females and need to compete for the opportunity to mate and pass on their genes to the next generation.

      Outside of rare cases, females typically know how to keep themselves safe in these circumstances, and interference on our part would probably cause them additional stress which would make the situation more dangerous.

      3) Can wild ducks be guided to lay their eggs in a particular spot, for example, if they are choosing to lay eggs in a dangerous spot?

      Every duck species has particular preferences for where they typically nest, and different individuals within a species can vary based on their life experiences and the habitat that is available to them.

      Generally speaking, there is no reliable way to control where a female (hen) duck lays, but researching a species’ specific habitat preferences and trying to create conditions that match it in a safe, quiet, natural area, is the best way we can help them along.

      Once a female has laid eggs somewhere, it is not only dangerous for her and her brood for humans to move her nest, but it is also illegal in many countries to handle or tamper with the eggs of a wild bird species.

      The best option, then, is to try and give better alternatives for the ducks to nest in the first place, or somewhere that they can re-nest if the nest in a dangerous place fails or is destroyed.

      4) Can we protect wild females while they are nesting?

      Generally, it is best to give a female duck as much space as possible when she is nesting.

      One way to make sure that this happens might be to post some signs nearby to alert people that they should stay out of an area or keep dogs on leash to avoid disturbing the nesting duck.

      Other actions closer to the nest run the risk of frightening the female and having her abandon the nest, or leaving scents or visible trails behind that help mammal predators like foxes, raccoons, or skunks more easily find the nest and attack the female or her eggs.

      5) Would a wild duck nest in a shelter built for them, and if so, how do we get them to use that shelter?

      Duck species that lay their eggs in tree cavities, like Hooded mergansers, Wood ducks, Buffleheads, and Goldeneyes (among others) will readily nest in large birdhouses if you build them around water, so it is easy and perfectly legal to construct shelters that they will readily use.

      Research has shown that such birdhouses should not be conspicuously placed, however, to avoid having multiple females “dump” extra eggs in the next and make it so large and unmanageable that the nesting female abandons the whole brood.

      Mallards, some of the most common ducks found near human dwellings, typically nest on the ground in high grass or slightly shrubby areas to stay concealed.

      Because human-constructed shelters do not resemble the types of open areas that they nest in, it would be difficult to make them nest inside. Shelters that better mimic the types of cover that they like to hide in, like tall grass, brush piles, or fallen logs, would be much more attractive to them.

      Some people have constructed large, open, floating “duck houses” for mallards which have a broad platform that they can stand on and a somewhat sheltered interior for nesting, which might be an attractive option.

  4. Are there any other things we should know about different breeds of ducks, diet, space needed, size… We are thinking about getting maybe 6-8 ducks for our pond… we were thinking runners and Pekins… maybe muscovy… anything we should know about them? Loved this article! Super informational!

    1. Thanks so much Jace!
      I’m planning an article on the different breeds of ducks – great suggestion! It’ll be an overview of the things you mentioned; diet, space needed, size… I’ll include egg quality as well, and which are best for eggs or meat (or both!).
      We wrote an article on chickens vs ducks before and it lists some of the differences in egg quality, meat quality, etc. It might give you some more info 🙂
      I used to have a couple of Muscovy ducks, they were wonderful. They were the only animals on the farm not to take sh*t from the dogs! These two were totally self-sufficient, amazingly so. They did love to come to inside the house though which got a little tiresome in the end 🙂

  5. I love your garden and your story and your lovely little ducks. What a wonderful ducktale! I would like to try this.

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