One of the great things about owning a duck is watching them eat. There’s just absolutely no way it isn’t adorable or hilarious or both every time! Feeding ducks can be surprisingly soothing, and feeding ducklings can be a great activity for young kids to get them interested in animals and nature.
Of course, that begs the question – what exactly do ducks eat? You may have tossed them the odd bit of bread while strolling through the park, but if you’re going to keep ducks as pets, you naturally need to make sure they enjoy a better and more well-rounded diet. That said, you also want to make sure you don’t go too far in the other direction and make the diet so various that you accidentally end up feeding your ducking things that will cause them harm or upset their stomach.
So, with that in mind, let’s whip up a quick look at what baby ducks can and should eat, and how you can craft the perfect diet for them.
Feeding Small Baby Ducks 101
One of the first things you have to recognize about feeding little ducklings is that, just like human infants, they need to have food that is both nutritious and easy for them to eat. You wouldn’t expect a human baby to chow down on a big slab of protein-rich steak, and you cannot expect ducklings to do the equivalent of that, either. It is therefore important to make sure that you are feeding ducklings items that are both small enough for them to eat and soft enough that it does not bother them. Ducks can’t just “take a bite” out of something, and that’s especially true for ducklings. It needs to be small enough to fit inside its mouth with ease.
Having established that, you might think that feeding your baby duck will still be easy. All you have to do is make sure you take whatever you want to feed them and cut it up into duckling-friendly slices. However, while that’s a good first step, it’s also important to recognize that, just like human babies, ducklings need a lot of nutrients to help them grow. Some foodstuffs, such as mealworms, might be small and easy to feed to ducklings, and indeed there’s nothing wrong with giving some to a duckling once they’re a bit older. That said, these do not have all of the nutrients necessary for healthy eating.
Easiest answer, therefore, is to find grower’s feed specially formulated for ducklings. Just as baby formula is specially formulated to be easy to digest and contain all of the nutrients necessary for a growing baby, the same holds true for grower’s feed for ducklings. They tend to be especially rich in Vitamin B and niacin, though you’ll want to check to see what a given mixture includes for yourself.
You can expect this to be a regular part of your ducklings’ diet until they are about 16 weeks old.
Fruits and Vegetables
Once your baby duck has started to grow a little bit within that 16-week window and beyond, you can start giving it additional foodstuffs. One of the best selections here, as with humans, are fruits and veggies. Not only do ducks like them, but they are good for them.
Ducks love fruit in particular, so if you’re looking for a way to perk them up and put them in a good mood, a bit of fruit is a great way to do it. Fruits tend to contain plenty of natural sugars. While this is part of what’s responsible for making your ducks so happy, it’s also why you’ll want to make sure that you use them more as a treat than as a regular entrée in their own right.
Fruits can be very easy to serve to ducklings. Simply let them eat it out of your hand or, if they are a bit shy, leave it on the grass. Additionally, if the ducklings are a bit older and can float on water with confidence, you can toss them into the water and let them float there, giving you the glorious sight of baby ducklings gleefully gobbling them up.
Tomatoes are a good choice fruit-wise, though you’ll want to make sure that they are fresh and do not contain either the leaf or the vine, as these can make your duckling sick.
Peas are another good choice here. As with human babies, you’ll want to mash them up and serve it to them that way so as to make it easy for the ducklings to digest.
The same holds true with bananas. Simply mash them up, ditch the skin, and you are good to go.
Peaches, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, and other berries are all great selections.
On the veggie side of things, one potentially surprising choice is pumpkin! You may not think ducklings can digest something so massive, or with an outer shell so comparatively sturdy. That said, as long as you really mash up the pumpkin innards, your baby ducks should be good to go.
Then there are leafy greens. Ducks do not chew their food, so you’ll want to make sure that any leafy vegetables you feed them have already been torn into tiny pieces. Don’t expect your duckling to simply nibble away at a giant hunk of lettuce or kale. That said, in smaller pieces, they can be another good treat for them, especially since they’re so easy to float on the water and serve that way.
Radishes, turnips, and cucumbers can all be good choices to give your duckling a nice, varied diet.
Dairy and Ducklings
What about milk? While it isn’t necessarily as good for ducks as fruits and veggies, it shouldn’t really do any harm, either. That’s true of a lot of dairy products. That said, these are still things that their digestive system isn’t quite designed for, so it’s best to wait until the ducklings are a couple months old before you introduce them to milk and other dairy products.
The biggest reason you may not want to do this is less about the ducklings than yourself. Ducks’ “leavings” aren’t famed for being very easy to clean as it is, and dairy can add an “odor problem” to the mix if they prove to be, shall we say, “quack-tose intolerant.” Still, milk and soft cheeses can be a nice occasional treat to introduce some variety into your ducks’ lives.
Protein and Ducklings
None of the treats mentioned above are too high in protein, which brings us back to mealworms. They are a good choice for adding some protein to your baby ducklings’ diet once they have gotten past relying on grower’s feed. What’s more, they are far from alone in that regard. Crickets can be another good choice in that respect, as can different kinds of worms and beetles. Dried shrimp can also work pretty well in that regard.
Protein is especially needed once your ducklings mature a little bit. Once they reach the stage where they should be following their mother on adventures, they’re ready for more protein.
In serving up all of these different treats for them, it is important to remember that ducks’ bills aren’t the same as chickens’ and lack a hard pointed end. As a result, while chickens can peck-peck-peck away at harder treats to chip away tiny easily-digestible bites, ducks need things that they can swallow whole. You’ll thus want to keep that in consideration when it comes to serving them huge clusters of mealworms along with any of the other items on this list.
Assorted Other Duckling Food Possibilities
Finally, let’s round up some of the most common questions about what ducks can and can’t eat and answer them here.
First – oatmeal. It’s understandable why you might see this as a natural choice for ducklings. After all, it is made up of tiny particles that can be swallowed with ease even before it is cooked, and serving it after it’s been made into a nice warm mush can be a great way to introduce your ducks to something new and exciting. That said, this is another type of food that is best to serve when your ducklings are a bit older, not necessarily because it’s dangerous, but just because it doesn’t have as many nutrients as other items listed here.
Instead, you might want to consider offering cracked corn or some wheat and barley.
A word of caution when serving fruit to very young ducklings – make sure you have purchased seedless varieties, or take the seeds out yourself, lest you risk a choking incident.
Finally, it’s worth noting that ducks are highly social animals, so it’s best for your ducklings to eat together. This can encourage appetite as well as give them a sense of community.
By following these dietary steps, you can make sure your duckling has its pick of a wide buffet of different foodstuffs, allowing it to grow up and become a great pet for years to come.