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What Do Ducks Eat? (The Definitive Guide)

What Do Ducks Eat? (The Definitive Guide)

Feeding ducks is a common way to pass time in many public places across the world. Usually, bread crumbs do the trick. But if you’re rearing ducks for yourself, bread crumbs every day just won’t do. It’s important to provide a healthy balanced diet that will give your ducklings the best chance of survival and your adult ducks growing the proper way.

What do ducks eat? Like all omnivores, the diet for ducks is varied. Ducks eat the following variety of food; grains, birdfeed, insects, fruits and plants, rice seeds and oats, stock gain, and scrambled eggs. Avoid feeding your duck, bread, fast food, avocado, and Spinach and Iceberg lettuce.

Good Food for Ducks

1. Grain

Grain is regarded as the best food for ducks. You can buy grain at your favorite pet shop.

Whole wheat bread is also fine but you may want to check the servings – small portions are normally recommended.

Bread usually fills up ducks pretty quickly and they may not want to eat anything else.

This is not necessarily a good thing as they can get malnourished from a lack of essential nutrients.

Also, avoid overfeeding the ducks if they’re already filled up. Leftover bread and other food can get spoiled and cause various diseases for ducks.

According to biologist Dr. Steve Carr, “When [food] goes bad, it has a little green mold in it, and that mold actually causes specific diseases in ducks.

It causes lung diseases, so it’s not just nutritionally bad – it can just kill them outright.” So, best to watch out and empty uneaten food constantly.

2. Birdfeed

Regular chicken food is just fine for ducks and this is something else you’ll find in your favorite pet shop.

You can also feed female ducks layer feed and it will boost their egg-laying capacity.

Chicken food is great because you can find one that’s not very expensive.

But if money is not an issue, then I recommend going for specialty waterfowl pellets.

There are tons of them out there and they claim to provide wholesome nutritional value for growing ducks. Worth checking out, I think.

3. Insects

Insects and other bugs are a delicacy for ducks. In case you’re wondering, the flat-shaped beak of a duck is made to catch bugs of all forms with ease.

So, below water and above water, ducks are pretty good at catching and feeding on bugs.

If you live somewhere they can forage on bugs for themselves, okay, leave them to their devices.

Otherwise, you can always buy a few canned worms, insects, slugs, and spiders at the pet store.

4. Fruits and Plants (Sources of Vitamin A)

The lack of Vitamin A makes the ducks’ eyes turn weepy and sticky and it can cause a condition known as xerophthalmia (whereby the conjunctiva and cornea get abnormally dry alongside inflammations).

Basically, xerophthalmia portends blindness for your ducks and it can be avoided by the provision of sufficient Vitamin A.

But Vitamin A deficiency may not be something you’ll have to worry about too much.

Poultry feed usually contains stabilized Vitamin A supplements. Nonetheless, it can occur, for instance when the feed preparation is not adequate or Vitamin A supplements are missing in the poultry feed being used.

Just to be certain though, it doesn’t hurt to provide sufficiently. Succulent plants and grass are a common source for Vitamin A.

A Note on Ducks and Plants: Most flowers and weeds are not toxic for ducks.

However, there are a few to watch out for. These include axalea, boxwood, castor bean, honeysuckle, bleeding heart, nightshade, oak trees, pokeweed, wisteria, yew, rhododendron, clematis, ivy, and larkspur.

F.Y.I. -White potato plants, tomato stems and leaves, and eggplant also contain trace amounts of toxic substances as they are considered part of the nightshade family (but ducks don’t love the taste of fresh vegetables that much – apart from lettuce greens – so I wouldn’t worry too much).

Okay, I know you’re probably not a botanist and therefore may not actually identify every single weed/plant in your backyard.

Worry not. Ducks, like all animals, have a sense for toxic plants and, naturally, will steer clear of those.

But for young ducks just entering the game, it never hurts to be cautious about the scope of their playing field.

Another important thing to avoid is using pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers on the lawn on which the ducks will be trotting about; these chemicals can be harmful to ducks in several ways.

The good news about ducks and nasty weeds is that they’ll help you get them sorted out.

Ducks are usually used as weeders and as pest control ‘troops.’ Dandelions, chickweed, garden bugs? No problem.

Elsewhere, fruits make good treats for ducks. However, fruits usually contain substantial amounts of sugar, so the ducks won’t eat so much of them.

Nonetheless, they are nutritious and will add to a full balanced diet. Some fruits that ducks absolutely love include bananas, plums, grapes, watermelon, berries (mulberries and strawberries, etc), seed and pit fruits, pears, apricot, and peaches.

Be sure to cut up the fruit into bite sizes to help the ducks in digestion.

Fruits to avoid for ducks include citrus fruits such as limes, lemon, grapefruits, and oranges.

These citrus fruits will lead to thin-shelled eggs as they disrupt calcium absorption.

In addition, mangoes are not recommended for ducks as they can lead to throat irritation. I’ll outline this inappropriate food for ducks down below.

5. Rice, seeds, and Oats

Rice (cooked or uncooked) is good for ducks. The myth about uncooked rice being bad for ducks’ tummies is just that – a myth.

Most fruits have seeds and ducks eat fruits. So, most seeds are edible food for ducks.

But by themselves, ducks love nibbling on seeds, and seeds make good, nutritious treats.

These seeds include birdseed, millet, and sunflower seeds. For those that are concerned that seeds can cause choking for ducks, I’d suggest grinding the seeds first and then feeding the ducks.

Sunflower seeds are okay, whether shelled or non-shelled. However, salted or flavored sunflower seeds are generally not recommended.

You could try to rinse off the salt or flavor and that will set things right. Sunflower seeds are a great treat for ducks and, if you’re intent on varying up the diet and don’t mind a little extra fee, it can be a good way to bring excitement to these birds.

Just check to ensure that your ducks like sunflower seeds before you go full-on with the purchase.

Millet seeds are an alternative. Certainly less expensive than sunflower seeds and even corn to some degree.

There are golden and Japanese millet seeds that are usually extracted from these millet varieties If you have a garden space, planting a few millet plants may be more useful because these plants self-seed frequently, and the ducks can trot about and forage for millet seeds that fall in that area.

Bird seeds are also a popular treat for ducks and they are available in pet stores or supermarkets.

Steer clear of cherry seeds and apple seeds (most times) because they are claimed to have toxins (primarily cyanide) that can harm your ducks.

Cherry seeds are especially toxic even in small amounts. But you can still feed cherry fruits to ducks – just take out every single one of those toxic seeds first.

Important: With seeds and fruits, it is important to guard against impacted crop.

Impacted crop is a disease among ducks whereby the normal functioning of the crop (a digestive organ in ducks) is disrupted by foreign objects or food, resulting in the food passage being partially or fully blocked.

Impacted crop is a deadly disease among ducks because it may progress to where the duck cannot pass stool or eat – which leads to death by starvation, sadly.

However, there are still milder forms of an impacted crop that usually abate within 24 to 48 hours.

Causes of the impacted crop disease include cherry seeds, apple seeds, feeding too many seeds at a time.

Unhulled seeds fed in large quantities are dangerous because these seed hulls are indigestible and can accumulate in the duck’s crop, thereby causing impacted crop.

Ingesting strings, plastics, or rubber bands may also cause impacted crop.

Signs that your duck may have an enlarged crop, decreased droppings, neck twisting, a loss of appetite, strong-smelling watery vomit, and difficulty in passing food.

If you notice these symptoms, massage the area gently and provide grit (substance), olive oil, and lots of fresh water.

To prevent impacted crop, reduce the amounts of seeds you feed at any given time and remove choke hazards such as strings, plastics, and rubber bands from the duck’s roaming field.

When they are foraging for themselves, you may not have control over how much seeds they take.

Nonetheless, you can control how much time they spend foraging in that area and you can also help them to digest the seeds better.

You can improve the ducks’ digestion of seeds by feeding them yogurt – this improves the probiotics of the ducks. Also, provide an adequate supply of freshwater and grit.

Lastly, regarding oats, flapjacks, instant porridge oats, and rolled oats are good, nutritious sources for ducks.

Rolled/Cooked oats are great for feeding ducks in the cold season because they have a higher fat and oil content than other forms of grain. Rolled oats are also great for young ducklings.

6. Stockgain

Want to boost the nutritional value of your feed, then check out Stockgain. I may be sounding like a commercial on this one but trust me, this is the good stuff.

Stockgain is a sweet, sticky molasses-like tonic of nutrients and electrolytes that is usually served to horses, poultry, and other farm animals in order to boost their nutrients.

It also helps fussy eaters to eat again – the texture and the taste of this product is good for animals.

To serve Stockgain, you’ll have to mix it with water and dole it out in modest amounts daily.

Waterfowl rearing expert Nyiri Murtagh recommends mixing 10 ml in 2 liters of drinking water and providing the mixture to the ducks on an ad-lib basis.

7. Scrambled eggs

I saved the best for last! It seems a bit ironic, isn’t it? To feed eggs to ducks that laid those eggs?

Anyway, some people have done just that and they say that ducks find scrambled eggs to be a delight.

Not only that, but scrambled eggs are also a good source of protein; which ducks need for a balanced diet.

So, if you have more duck eggs than you know what to do with, there, I just gave you an idea!

Well, in addition to scrambled eggs, eggshells are good food for ducks because they contain substantial amounts of protein and calcium. Simply crush the eggshells and mix into the feed for the ducks.

It’s impossible to exhaust the whole list of good foods for ducks and I know you probably don’t have all day.

But I hope that the above foods provide some ideas for varying the diet of your ducks.

As with human beings – or any omnivore, for that matter – a balanced diet is essential for ducks.

What Do Ducks Eat? (The Definitive Guide)

Why Ducks Need a Balanced Diet

As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to provide your ducks, especially young ones with a balanced diet.

Malnutrition, caused by the lack of a balanced diet, can lead to a condition known as angel wing.

Sounds pretty, I know – but it looks awful. Angelwing manifests itself when the duck is unable to fold its wings by its side (like a regular bird) but instead has them jutting out (like an airplane’s wings).

This condition makes flight practically impossible and it is a disfigurement which means that it’s painful. Angelwing for an adult duck is incurable.

To prevent angel wing, avoid an overreliance on high-calorie foods particularly those that are low in Vitamin E and Vitamin D.

The high-calorie diet provides a bout of energy but no essential nutrients; and the duck’s wings will outgrow its wrist joints thereby causing that deformity.

Due to its high-calorie diet, bread is often regarded as a cause for angel wing though experts have not reached a consensus on this – some ducks have suffered angel wing without ever having been fed bread.

Nonetheless, it’s not a good idea to over-rely on bread. Duck cannot live on bread alone.

Also, the provision of only grass and insects (which is to say you leave your ducks to fend for themselves like their wild counterparts), may compromise the health of the ducks significantly.

The ducks will not lay eggs as they should, nor will they fatten to the appropriate size.

An example of a balanced diet for ducks:

A combination of the following is a good choice of a balanced diet for ducks: millet, sunflower seeds, haricot beans, green beans, wheat, corn, rice, and oats. Throw in kale and your choice of fruits or veggies (such as carrot, beetroot, alfalfa sprouts, cucumbers, and bamboo shoots) and it’s perfect!

What not to feed ducks

Now that we’ve covered what food is good for ducks and the importance of a balanced diet, let’s turn to food that you should avoid feeding to ducks.

1. Bread

Bread is not good food for ducks and it is often regarded as the junk food of ducks.

I’ve already discussed that above and would not wish to belabor the point. Let me just add one more reason to avoid bread for your ducks: bread has very little nutritional value so it’s not worth it in my opinion – bearing in mind the harm that it can cause.

2. Fast food

In addition to bread, fast food items such as chips, sweets, crackers, popcorn, cereal, donuts, pasta among others are bad food for ducks.

They cause the same problems that bread does – a full stomach and then bloating, which means that the ducks will not be able to eat the nutritious meal that they actually need.

3. Avocado

Avocado is delicious for humans but deadly for ducks. This is because it contains toxic persin.

And this now means that the avocado skin, pits, or flesh are not good for ducks. Leaves and barks of avocado trees are also toxic.

So, if you have an avocado orchard in your backyard, it’s best to construct the duck shed away from the avocado tree (where fallen leaves and avocado fruits can be eaten by the ducks).

4. Spinach and Iceberg lettuce

These veggies are not okay for ducks. Spinach, like the citrus fruits discussed above, interferes with calcium absorption.

Meanwhile, iceberg lettuce is okay in small amounts but in large quantities, can lead to diarrhea.

There are better choices than iceberg lettuce if greens are what you have in mind; for instance, more nutritious and safer greens include collards, cabbage, and kale.

The Final Word

Ducks are versatile eaters and it’s more likely that you’ll easily obtain food that your ducks love without going into too much trouble. This post was meant to give you some beginning common ideas on the food that you can use for your ducks.

You’ll likely end up with nuanced ways of feeding the ducks so when it comes to which portions are okay for your ducks, I leave that for you to find out. In this endeavour, moderation should guide you.

The bad food for ducks listed above and those mentioned throughout my discussion (such as citrus fruits) are food to watch out for and keep out of your ducks’ path – especially if you have young ducklings.