What Do Ducks Eat?

Ducks are waterfowl closely related to geese and swans. Like all waterfowl, they have webbed feet, broad bills, and striking plumage in various colors. Ducks are always found in aquatic habitats, including wetlands, ponds, lakes, and rivers. 

All ducks are omnivores and eat many foods, including aquatic plants, insects, worms, seeds, vegetables, small fish, mollusks, crayfish, and fruits.  These birds are drivers of seed dispersal and can help control excessive aquatic plant growth.

Ducks are excellent at foraging for food and will eat almost anything they can find. Some ducks waddle along the shore, searching for food, some bob upside down in the water to reach food below the surface, and others dive underwater to grab food far below the surface.

What Do Wild Ducks Eat?

Wild ducks are typically separated into two different groups, depending on how they forage for food. One group of ducks is the dabbling ducks that forage at the water’s surface and the other is the diving ducks that swim underwater to find food.

Dabbling ducks bob their heads into the water to eat vegetation and invertebrates just below the surface. These ducks are very buoyant and their rear ends stick out of the water while they eat. Dabbling ducks include Mallard Ducks, Wood Ducks, and American Black Ducks.

Diving ducks dive completely underwater, either from the air or while floating on the water, to feed on invertebrates and fish. These birds are less buoyant than dabblers and include species such as Hooded Mergansers, Redheads, and Canvasbacks.

what do ducks eat
Young Mallard Ducks

What Do Domesticated Ducks Eat?

Domesticated ducks usually live on farms, in parks, or at zoos where their caretakers provide them with a nutritionally balanced diet that gives them a healthy lifestyle. These ducks typically both forage for food and eat specialized duck feed. 

People have domesticated several species of wild ducks that they keep as pets or raise for eggs or food. Muscovy Ducks and Pekin Ducks are two of the most popular species in the United States raised by hobby farmers in backyard spaces. 

Most people feed their ducks a brand of duck feed to supplement their foraging. These feeds contain calcium, phosphorous, and a balance of healthy proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. People also include vitamins to ensure the eggshells of laying ducks are strong. 

Domestic ducks usually forage on grasses, seeds, insects, worms, grains, vegetables, and fruits without the peels. It is necessary to provide ducks with a healthy diet to avoid malnourishment or obesity, which can shorten their lifespan.

What Do Baby Ducks Eat?

Ducklings leave their nest with their parent within one or two days after hatching. These babies are also omnivores and learn quickly from their mothers how to forage for insects, worms, small fish, seeds, and plants

People who raise ducklings must always provide them with a clean water source, such as a shallow pan of water. Commercial feed for ducklings is higher in protein and calcium than adult feed. It can help supplement their daily foraging for food, giving them a healthy start in life. 

What Do Ducks Eat in Winter?

Many ducks annually migrate, some for very long distances, in search of food that will allow them to survive the winter. These overwintering areas may attract large groups of ducks and other waterfowl. 

During the winter, most plants stop producing fruits and vegetables, so ducks switch to a diet containing more seeds, such as acorns, aquatic plants, insects, corn, rice, and wheat. People who live near water can let their gardens go to seed and provide another food source.

At many houses in winter, people offer birdseed that contains sunflower seeds and cracked corn, which may attract ducks to their yards. While offering supplemental feeding to wild ducks in winter can help them, limiting how much food is provided prevents dependency.

What Should Ducks Not Eat?

Because ducks are omnivorous, they can safely eat many foods; however, some foods are harmful. Before feeding the ducks at a public pond or park, people should learn which foods they should avoid feeding them.

Many people feed ducks leftover bread or crackers when they find themselves around these adorably quacking characters. Many ducks associate humans with food and approach them fearlessly, looking for a free handout. 

Unfortunately, many foods that people traditionally feed wild ducks have little or no nutritional value and can even harm these birds when they eat them regularly, especially at the expense of more appropriate foods. 

Ducks should not eat bread and crackers because these foods are high in carbohydrates and do not provide the proper nutrition required for a duck to survive. When ducks fill up on bread, they are too full to eat nutritious foods and eventually become malnourished.

In addition, ducks should not eat moldy foods, which can cause gastrointestinal distress and, eventually, death. Unfortunately, uneaten bread in a damp environment grows mold quickly, and ducks may find uneaten pieces after it has become moldy. 

People should avoid feeding ducks avocado, chocolate, popcorn, citrus, and foods high in sugar, salt, and fat. These foods may contain toxins or contribute to a nutritional imbalance that can significantly decrease a duck’s lifespan.

A high-protein and high-carbohydrate diet can cause a wing deformity called Angel Wing, which prevents ducks from flying. This deformity can be reversed in ducklings because they are still developing but irreversible in adults whose wing growth has ceased.

Why Should I Avoid Feeding Wild Ducks?

Humans often unintentionally hurt ducks by supplementally feeding them nutritionally imbalanced foods. However, several other reasons exist to make supplemental feeding wild ducks inadvisable.

Feeding wild ducks often makes them dependent on humans for food, leading to starvation when human food is unavailable. This is particularly true for ducklings who do not learn how to forage for food properly and cannot find food without human intervention.

Diseases can spread rapidly among waterfowl populations and across multiple species when congregating in areas that receive supplemental feeding from humans. Avian Flu, in particular, can be especially virulent in these closely-packed populations.

Supplemental feeding of wild ducks often attracts predators and pests to areas where they can become nuisances. Rats that carry diseases are attracted to concentrations of uneaten food, while coyotes can become a nuisance that preys on ducks and small pets.

Excessively feeding wild ducks can damage the environment by attracting too many waterfowl into an area that cannot support that number. A high concentration of birds will contaminate the water and shoreline with feces, driving up the E. coli levels in the water.

People can safely feed ducks vegetable greens, tomatoes, cabbage, corn, flowers, apples, pumpkins, cucumbers, grapes, and broccoli.  They can also help ducks by volunteering or donating to organizations that protect and conserve wild ducks and their habitat, such as Ducks Unlimited.

1 thought on “What Do Ducks Eat?”

  1. All the ducklings I’ve raised tend to also go crazy for tadpoles. I’ve raised call ducks, mallard, a variety of pekins, and runners. Pekins and mallard ducklings both go crazy for tadpoles.

    Also raise geese and with my personal experience goslings just ignore the tadpoles. Small frogs on the other hand….


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