Image via iStock.com/georgeclerk
Dr. Sandra Mitchell, DVM
Have you ever seen some ducks swimming contentedly in a park pond and wondered to yourself whether you can keep ducks as pets? Well, you are not alone. More and more people are bringing ducks home to be part of their daily lives.
If you think pet ducks might be the right fit for you, here are some tips for duck care and issues to consider before adopting a duck as a pet.
Check Your Local Laws
If you are considering adding pet ducks to your family, the first step is to see if your local municipality allows you to keep ducks as pets.
Some areas won’t permit any poultry to be kept as pets (e.g., no ducks or chickens). Some cities will allow only chickens, and some are more flexible.
Other areas will allow only a certain number of birds, or they will restrict the hours that they may be allowed outside.
Be sure you know what your town permits; there is certainly nothing worse for you (or your birds!) to be bonded, attached and then forced to give them up because you didn’t obey the local guidelines.
Benefits of Having Ducks as Pets
So, what are some reasons why you should consider having ducks as pets? They are feathered balls of personality! Each one is different, and it is really fun getting to know them as individuals.
They also lay eggs and are more regular about it than chickens. They are relatively long-lived pets—it’s possible for them to live 10-15 years when well cared for.
Keep in mind that they produce LOTS of manure. So, they are great pets if you have a garden. They are also less damaging on your yard and landscaping than chickens are. And, they consume lots of insects in the process!
Things to Consider Prior to Adopting Pet Ducks
Ducks are pretty high maintenance compared to chickens. They need lots of fresh water, which they soil frequently—so that will need to be cleaned quite regularly.
There is a lot of cleanup to be done with ducks—and it is often a wet, stinky mess.
Since pet ducks usually are unable to fly, they are a big target when it comes to local wildlife predators. That means that you will need to provide them with hawk covers, which should be placed over their pens. When outside, your pet ducks will also need to be supervised and protected from potential coyote attacks.
Also, in my experience, ducks do not tend to do well in colder climates. In fact, if it is below 30 degrees Fahrenheit (and I live in Maine)—my ducks only want to spend a short period of time outside each day, preferring to live in my basement. And, what is a moderate mess to clean up outside is a bit more extensive when it’s in the house.
Lastly, pet ducks can be pretty noisy, especially when they want something or someone. Neighbors may not appreciate the enthusiastic quacks as much as you do.
How to Take Care of Pet Ducks
If all of this sounds like a good fit for you and your lifestyle, and the adorable little faces of ducklings are calling your name, then you will want to take some time to set up your yard before bringing your new family members home.
Preparation is key. Finding pet duck supplies can be a lot more challenging than chicken supplies, so a little more time and planning is needed. Here are a few basic duck supplies that you will need to get before adopting ducks as pets:
You will need a completely enclosed, predator-proof coop for the ducks.
They do not tend to fly up and perch like chickens, so height is not important. What you do need to consider when it comes to duck coops is the amount of floor space.
Since you will likely want to leave water in the coop with them, be sure to have waterproof flooring and bedding material. You can use linoleum, tarps or a rubberized floor coating to protect your floors from water damage.
On top of that flooring, I have a layer of soft wood chips, but you can also use recycled paper. You will want this bedding to be absorbent.
Ducks can’t “jump” well into coops, either. So, the coop you choose should have a low opening or a wide, stable ramp to get through the entry.
You will want to have a safe place for your pet ducks to play when they are not in the coop. Having a fenced-in yard is the best solution. This “free time” should be supervised because of the risk of predators.
In addition to a fenced-in yard, pet ducks should have a secure, enclosed area that can serve as a safe place to be when you can’t watch them. I strongly recommend surrounding it with an electric fence and covering it with hawk netting—even if you live in an urban area. Many species of predators find pet ducks very appealing.
Ducks LOVE to swim. And splash. And drink. And bathe. Everything in their life revolves around water, which means the bigger the tub, the better.
But remember that ducks will soil their water with amazing speed, so the tub needs to be changed regularly. In fact, I change mine several times per day. You will want to find a tub that has enough room to swim but is small enough to clean easily.
A moderately large dog swimming pool, like the Cool Pup Splash About dog pool, works for most birds. Be sure that they can both get in and get out of it easily, particularly if you are raising young ducklings that aren’t quite coordinated yet.
Believe it or not, there is such a thing!
Many people choose to feed their pet ducks chicken food, and I do NOT recommend this. There are different nutritional needs that ducks have (such as needing more niacin than chickens) that will not be met by feeding chicken food.
Yes, I will occasionally slip them a snack of chicken chow, but that is the exception rather than the rule. More than likely, you will not be able to find waterfowl food in your local stores. So, you will have to order it online. I feed Zupreem waterfowl food, and I have had very good luck feeding my birds with it.
Ducks love treats! Healthy treats that complement their diet are the best option.
Foods like fresh, leafy green vegetables are always favored. Carrots, ripe tomatoes, pumpkin, squash, oats, berries, bananas—the sky is the limit here! I will also offer snacks such as corn, green beans and brussels sprouts.
For the most part, anything that is in season at the local farmer’s market or grocery store is probably fair game for the ducks.
And of course, remember that the pests that an exterminator may remove from your lawn and garden are probably amongst the best and healthiest snacks that your pet ducks could possibly find.
Are You Ready for Some Pet Ducks?
Ducks can be amazingly fun and interesting pets. They do require more work—and more expense—than chickens, but the payback certainly can be worth every bit.
Ducks tend to be more consistent about laying eggs, and duck eggs are alleged to be healthier than chicken eggs and are prized by bakers everywhere.
So, if you are ready for lots of baked goods as well as plenty of manure for your garden, pick up a good book or two on keeping ducks, find a source for waterfowl food, and get ready to start on a great adventure!