What Do Ducks Eat?

Ducks have varied diets depending on the species, but most domestic ducks eat a combination of grains, plants, insects, small fish, and invertebrates. Understanding what ducks eat by species and age helps duck owners provide proper nutrition.

An Overview of Duck Diets

Ducks are omnivorous birds that eat a diverse range of foods. Here are some key things to know about what domestic ducks eat:

  • Young ducklings – require high protein diets and eat small insects, larvae, worms, and crumbled feeds high in protein.
  • Adult ducks – transition to grains, plants, fruits, insects, small fish, and invertebrates. They need less protein than ducklings.
  • Foraging – most domestic ducks forage for food and have varied appetites. Allowing ducks to graze gives them nutritional variety.
  • Grit – ducks need small rocks and grit to help grind and digest grains and plant matter.
  • Fresh water – ducks require fresh, clean water not just for drinking but also for feeding as they sift and strain for food.
  • Species variations – different duck species have slightly different nutritional needs based on their size, metabolism, and foraging behaviors.

Understanding the unique dietary needs of ducks by species and age helps duck owners provide a nutritious diet.

What Do Ducklings Eat?

Ducklings require a high protein diet for their rapid growth and development. For the first few weeks of life, ducklings should be fed high protein starter feeds specifically formulated for ducks. Here are some key foods for ducklings:

  • Starter Feed – Look for a feed that is at least 20% protein but ideally around 22-24% crude protein. This gives ducklings the amino acids required for muscle growth.
  • Mealworms – These are an excellent source of protein for baby ducks. They are soft and easily digestible.
  • Crumble Feed – Ducklings have small beaks requiring a crumbled feed they can eat. Avoid large pellet feeds.
  • ** Greens** – Ducklings benefit from finely chopped greens like kale, swiss chard, or dandelion greens. These provide vitamins.
  • Oats – Whole or rolled oats offer carbohydrates for energy and fiber for digestion.
  • Grit – Provide sand-sized grit to help ducklings digest their feed. Chick-sized grit works well.

After 4-6 weeks, ducklings can transition to a lower protein grower feed with about 16% protein. Supplement with bugs and greens.

What Do Adult Ducks Eat?

Once ducks mature, they require less protein and subsist on more varied diets. Here are some top foods for adult ducks:

  • Pellets – Look for a pellet feed with 16% protein content. This gives balanced nutrition.
  • Cracked Corn – Whole corn is hard to digest so offer cracked corn instead. It gives carbohydrates.
  • Produce Scraps – Ducks enjoy vegetable peels, ends, and blemished produce. Great nutrition!
  • Leafy Greens – Chopped kale, chard, lettuce leaves provide vitamins. Rinse greens to remove dirt.
  • Earthworms – These are a natural protein source ducks love foraging for. Digging for worms provides enrichment.
  • Crickets – Live insects are relished by ducks. Crickets are full of protein.
  • Fish Food – For ducks with pond access, fish food pellets supplement their diet.
  • Oyster Shell – This gives adult ducks a long-term calcium source for egg shell strength.
  • Grit – Essential for all adult ducks to grind and digest fibrous foods.

Adult ducks enjoy grazing and foraging. Allowing access to pasture, grasses, and insects provides nutritional variety.

Dietary Needs of Duck Breeds

While all domestic ducks have generally similar diets, their nutritional needs vary slightly by breed.

Small Breed Duck Diets

Small duck breeds like Call Ducks, East Indies, and Bantam Ducks have faster metabolisms and require nutrient-dense feeds.

  • Higher protein – Small ducks need about 2% more protein in feeds.
  • Added nutrients – Fortified feeds prevent deficiency in vitamins and minerals.
  • Extra calcium – Smaller ducks prone to thin shells need calcium supplementation.
  • More frequent feeding – Offer small portions 4-5 times daily to match fast metabolism.

Muscovy Duck Diets

Muscovy ducks originate from South America. They have unique nutritional preferences.

  • More protein – Muscovies need at least 16% protein in adult feeds.
  • Less corn – They do not digest corn as easily as other ducks. Prioritize pellets.
  • More greens – Generous leafy greens keep them healthy. They love plants!
  • Added niacin – Muscovies require more niacin than most ducks. Deficiency causes leg problems.
  • Less calcium – Muscovies get sufficient calcium from their standard layer feed.

Aflac Duck Diets

Though a marketing gimmick, the popular Aflac duck represents the American Pekin duck. Here is what they enjoy:

  • Pellets – Offer a high quality 16% protein pellet as the dietary foundation.
  • Scratch Grains – To supplement, provide a scratch mix of corn, barley, oats.
  • Leafy Greens – Chopped kale, chard, spinach provide nutrients. Rinse well.
  • Insects – Allow foraging for worms, crickets, slugs, and bugs to mimic wild diet.
  • Fruits/Veggies – Ducks relish produce scraps like melons, squash, broccoli stems, and more.
  • Grit – Support digestion with oyster shell and grit.

The Aflac duck thrives on a diverse diet with pellets supplemented with produce, leafy greens, and insects. This matches the diet of its Pekin duck cousin.

Duckling Diet Schedule and Amounts

Raising healthy ducklings requires paying close attention to their diet. Here is a schedule showing how to transition duckling diets by week:

Weeks 1-2

  • Feed – Duckling Starter Crumble, 24% protein
  • Amount – Unlimited, keep feeder full
  • Supplements – Mealworms, chopped greens

Weeks 3-4

  • Feed – Duckling Starter Crumble
  • Amount – 6-8 oz per duckling daily
  • Supplements – Mealworms, greens, oats

Weeks 5-6

  • Feed – Duckling Grower Pellets, 20% protein
  • Amount – 6-8 oz per duckling daily
  • Supplements – Greens, fruits, veggies, insects

Week 7 Onward

  • Feed – Layer Pellets, 16% protein
  • Amount – Unlimited
  • Supplements – Scratch grains, produce, insects

Following this gradual transition in feed prevents digestive upsets and supports healthy growth. Monitor duckling weight weekly and adjust amounts accordingly.

What Vegetables Can Ducks Eat?

Ducks relish leafy greens and certain vegetables fed in moderation. Here are some top vegetable choices:

  • Lettuces – Romaine, green leaf, red leaf, butterhead. Rinse dirt.
  • Spinach – High in vitamin K, manganese. Cook lightly to release nutrients.
  • Kale – Excellent source of vitamins A, C, K. Chop leaves into small pieces.
  • Swiss Chard – Leafy greens full of healthy antioxidants and nutrients.
  • Bok Choy – Nutrient-dense cruciferous veggie. Chop leaves and stems.
  • Carrots – Grated raw carrots give ducks fiber, vitamin A.
  • Squash – Small amounts of cooked, mashed squash offer nutrition.
  • Sweet Potatoes – Provide vitamin A, potassium, fiber. Cook and mash.
  • Peas – A duck favorite. Offer fresh or frozen.
  • Bell Peppers– Red, yellow, orange peppers offer vitamin C and carotenoids.

When introducing new vegetables, go slowly to allow ducks’ digestive systems to adjust. Most veggies should be chopped small or mashed for easier eating and digesting.

What Fruits Can Ducks Eat?

In the wild, ducks seek out sweet, nutrient-dense fruits. Domestic ducks also enjoy fruits in moderation. Here are some top fruit choices for ducks:

  • Melons – Watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe. Offer bite-sized chunks.
  • Berries – Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries. Whole or slightly mashed.
  • Apples – A favorite treat. Core and chop apples to prevent choking.
  • Bananas – Provide potassium and magnesium. Mash ripe bananas.
  • Grapes – Halved or quartered grapes to prevent choking.
  • Oranges – Sweet, juicy citrus. Peel and divide into segments.
  • Pears – A tasty source of vitamin C and fiber. Dice pears into small pieces.
  • Pineapple – Contain bromelain to aid digestion. Chop into bites.

Fruits are generally safe for ducks when fed in moderation 1-2 times per week as a supplement, not a staple. Chop fruits into bite-sized pieces and introduce new fruits slowly.

What Human Foods Can Ducks Eat?

Ducks will eat almost anything, but not all human food is safe for ducks. Here are some common human foods ducks enjoy:

Safe Human Foods for Ducks

  • Chopped greens – Lettuce, kale, spinach
  • Vegetable scraps – Carrots, broccoli, beans, peas
  • Fruits – Berries, melon chunks, apple slices
  • Cooked rice – Plain rice cooked with extra water
  • Baked sweet potato – Natural source of vitamin A
  • Cooled cooked pasta – Wholegrain pasta only
  • Whole grains – Cooked barley, farro, quinoa
  • Plain yogurt – Provides probiotics

Unsafe Human Foods for Ducks

  • Chocolate – Toxic to birds
  • Raw beans – Contain hemagglutinin causing poisoning
  • Avocado – Persin toxic to waterfowl
  • Dried fruit – Risk of choking on small pieces
  • Raw dough – Risk of bloating and toxicity
  • Salty foods – Can cause kidney problems
  • Spicy foods – Can irritate digestive tract

Scrutinize human food carefully before sharing with ducks. When in doubt, don’t offer it.

What Protein Sources for Ducks?

Protein is crucial for duckling growth and important for adult duck health. Ducks relish these natural protein sources:

Insects and Worms

  • Mealworms
  • Earthworms
  • Crickets
  • Grubs
  • Slugs
  • Caterpillars

Ducks love foraging for live insects and worms. These provide amino acids for strong muscles and tissues. Start with small mealworms and work up to larger insects for ducklings.

Aquatic Foods

  • Tadpoles
  • Snails
  • Small fish
  • Shrimp
  • Crayfish
  • Aquatic plants

For ducks with pond access, small fish, snails, shrimp and other water creatures offer natural protein they forage for. Ensure good water quality if ducks are foraging in ponds.

Small Aquatic Animals

  • Frogs
  • Toads
  • Newts
  • Salamanders

Ducks will swallow small amphibians whole giving them a protein boost. Frogs and toads are part of natural wild duck diets. Ensure any amphibians are free of chemicals if in suburban areas.

Fishing Bait

  • Waxworms
  • Maggots
  • Minnows

Fishing bait like waxworms, maggots, and small minnows offer concentrated protein sources ducks love. These closely mimic their wild diet. Check bait is high quality.

Livestock Feed

  • Calf manna
  • Goat feed
  • Laying mash
  • Dog/cat food

Small amounts of calcium-rich livestock feeds, dog or cat kibbles offer alternate protein sources. These are not balanced duck diets long term but work as supplemental protein.

Duck Feed

  • Duck starter feed
  • Duck grower feed
  • Duck layer pellets
  • Duck maintenance food

Commercially formulated duck feeds provide balanced amino acid profiles ducks need. Studies show ducks digest protein sources like fish and meat meals better than plant proteins like soy. Quality duck feed should always serve as the dietary foundation.

How Much and How Often to Feed Ducks

Setting up a daily feeding routine helps ensure ducks get the nutrition they need. Here are some tips:

  • Ducklings – Feed starter crumble frequently, keeping it fresh and full. Refill feeders 2-3 times per day.
  • Adult Ducks – Feed a set amount once or twice daily. For 10 ducks, provide 2-3 gallons of pellets in the morning, 1 gallon of scratch grains at night.
  • Leftover feed – Remove and discard any old, soggy feed daily. This prevents mold.
  • Produce/treats – Offer produce, chopped greens, and other wet foods separate from dry feeds to avoid spoilage.
  • Foraging – Allow ducks to graze naturally on grass, seeds, and insects in addition to regular feedings.
  • Change in seasons – Increase feed in winter when ducks use more energy to stay warm. Reduce slightly in summer.
  • ** Egg laying** – Increase feed for females by 20% while breeding and laying eggs to meet energy demands.

Adjust feed amounts to maintain a healthy weight. Weigh ducks weekly the first month and monitor body condition. Delivering fresh feed consistently prevents overeating.

Where Should You Feed Ducks?

Proper feeding areas help keep your flock healthy. Follow these tips:

  • Use feeders – elevate feeders so ducks don’t soil food. Metal or plastic feed pans work well.
  • Scatter feeds – In grassy areas, sprinkle feeds over a wide area to mimic natural foraging.
  • Provide grit – Place oyster shell and grit in a separate container.
  • Clean water – Ensure fresh water far from feed to limit contamination.
  • Watch for bullying – Aggressive ducks may prevent timid ones from accessing food. Provide multiple feeders.
  • No stale feed – Pick up and discard any old, wet feed daily.
  • Move feeders – Rotate feeding locations to prevent mud pits and mess.
  • Shelter – Offer food in a covered area to keep it dry.

Following these feeding tips will keep your flock happy and healthy. Monitor all ducks are getting their fair share.

Common Duck Feeding Mistakes to Avoid

Even seasoned duck owners can make feeding errors. Here are common mistakes to avoid:

  • Feeding stale, moldy feeds. Ducks can develop fungal illnesses.
  • No grit provided causes digestive upset and malnutrition.
  • Overfeeding leads to obesity, liver problems, early death.
  • Underfeeding stresses ducks and reduces egg production.
  • Feeding dog or cat foods long term. These are not balanced for ducks.
  • No fresh greens leads to vitamin deficiency.
  • Letting feeds get wet encourages hazardous mold growth.
  • Changing feeds suddenly upsets digestive systems. Transition gradually.
  • Feeding ducklings medicated chick starter can be toxic. Use duck-specific feeds.
  • Not increasing feed during egg production drains energy reserves.

With a balanced, varied diet provided properly, ducks thrive. Avoiding common feeding pitfalls keeps your flock in good health.

How Do You Feed Wild Ducks?

Supplementary feeding draws wild ducks for viewing but must be done carefully and safely. Here are tips:

  • Suitable foods – Whole corn, barley, chopped greens, peas. No bread products.
  • Feeding times – Early morning or late afternoon when wild ducks naturally forage.
  • Small amounts – Scatter only as much as ducks will eat in one sitting, no leftovers.
  • Clean up – Remove any uneaten feed to avoid spoiling the area.
  • Temporary feeding – Offer foods seasonally during migration periods when natural food is limited.
  • No additions – Do not introduce any new ducks to avoid overcrowding.
  • Limit human interaction – Provide food then retreat so ducks do not become tame.

Supplementary feeding should not exceed the natural food supplies of wild duck habitats. Carefully monitor amounts to prevent fouling the area or attracting rodents. Never offer moldy, rotten, or unsafe foods.

Frequently Asked Questions About Duck Diets

Here are answers to some common questions about feeding ducks:

What is the best feed for egg laying ducks?

Quality layer pellets with 16-18% protein, 3-5% calcium, supplemented with oyster shell provide the balanced nutrition ducks need for prime egg production. You can also offer some scratch grains.

How much scratch grains should you feed ducks?

Adult ducks enjoy approximately 1/4 cup of scratch grains per duck daily. Use it as a supplement to balance layer pellets, not the main diet.

Can ducks eat chicken feed?

While it won’t hurt them short term, chicken feed lacks some key nutrients ducks need