Waterfowl Pets Q & A: Ask and I will answer (or I will ask Augie)

This post is updated with new questions and answers as they are received, because the curiosity of others is my instructor.

1. How much land is needed per duck?

That depends on the management system you have in place. If they have access to your yard at times during the day...with supervision, then you can keep more of them because they can get out and run around more often--particularly if you are home all the time to tend to them like I am. Some municipal codes state that one needs, for example, 500 sq ft. per duck. In a duck coop, if they are penned due to cold or overnight, it is recommended they have 3-4 sq ft. per duck. Not all breeds require water for swimming, but for those, like wood ducks, who require it, they recommend 10 sq ft. of swimming area per duck. Runner ducks, however, do not require swimming areas, though they do enjoy it. Ming, the little guy in this photo, rarely, if ever, swims. He dips his head in the water and then proceeds to run around on the lawn like he's in the water. Ducks have a routine which basically goes as follows: eat/mate, frolick (in or out of water), bathe, preen and groom, sleep. They almost always sleep after preening and grooming--this is their least active time. It is said to be difficult to make ducks active once they have settled in to preen. So it is ok for them to spend some time in an enclosure, for this is their eating/preening time, but they love it when the yard gate opens and they have time in the yard.

2. Shanti how many ducks do you have?

I have ten ducks: 4 drakes (quiet) and 6 pullets (loud). And one Toulouse/Embden goose (quiet). (This does not mean that geese are quiet or all duck pullets/hens are loud. This is the case with my animals. Each one has it's own volume control.)

3. Do they take air trips?
They have been taking short air trips of about three feet lately. The Indian runners do not fly and the Cayugas are simply too heavy with a short wingspan. Neither are flying breeds. But, some do fly, like the little Call ducks and the other species of duck from S. America called the Muscovy. Muscovies have tremendous wingspans, but they are quiet and affable and can easily be taught to play fetch and other games. My goose, Lucy, who is a Toulouse/Embden cross, stretches her wings and runs about, but she does not fly either. She is a domestic barnyard goose.

4. I love watching your fowl family grow! Tell me, where are their ears?

Their ears are located on the sides of their heads, buried beneath their feathers. If you visit a pet store and see a bearded dragon, or most other lizards, you will see two open holes, one on each side of their heads--these are their ears. It is one more clue to the fact that birds are close relatives of reptiles--their ears are in the same place as lizard ears.

5. My friend recently asked me, "Shanti, do you turn the straw in the duck coop?"

Yes. I have a pitch fork I use to turn the straw in the duck coop. The coop has a cement floor, which is probably not the best type of floor to have; however, I put a thick layer of straw down. The real issue is the water container which sits atop a couple of cinder blocks with a thick board as a support shelf. During the night the duckies have a fun time in their water so that the area around the water container becomes a soupy mess of straw. Beneath the straw, on the floor, the water combines with other elements like poop and turns into ammonia if it is not constantly cleaned. The solution, so far, that's working best consists of a plastic sled placed along the shelf where the water container is located. I put straw beneath it and then straw inside it so the ducks do not slip as they enter and exit the coop. (The sled is something they have to walk on to get in and out.) This way the sled catches most of the water they splash around during the late night and wee hours of morning. I can easily remove and replace the straw. This takes care of the formation of ammonia in this one area. The packed down straw that has been pooped on must be bagged and removed quite frequently and replaced with fresh straw in order to prevent ammonia build-up. It's a constant chore and one that has to be taken seriously as ammonia fumes are toxic and unhealthy.

6. What are healthy treats for ducks?
Healthy treats consist of dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli. If you begin feeding your ducks particular foods, even edible weeds, at a young age they may grow up to like that food. For example, some people give their ducks peas, watermelon, and even carrots. Only some of my ducks will touch carrots, most won't touch watermelon, and only a couple like peas, but they love a particular weed that grows in my yard and can't get enough of spinach.

My ducks won't touch bread. Bread is bad for them anyway as it lacks nutritional value. You will often see people feeding bread to ducks in the park. This is a bad thing to do as it interrupts migratory patterns for wild mallards and other waterfowl who will end up sticking around during harsh winters because they're used to the easy bread meals. Unfortunately, many then freeze to death.

If you see ducklings or domestic waterfowl at a local park be aware that they are unequipped to survive the winter and were dumped by irresponsible humans. These domestic birds need to be rescued and placed in a forever home where they will be properly housed and fed.

7. What kind of plants can I put in a waterfowl pen?