How should I care for my pet ducks?

Ducks are generally very social and curious birds who can bond closely with people when kept as pets. Ducks are waterfowls, which means they are semi-aquatic, and prefer to spend most of their time in or around water. If you have chosen to own ducks, the following article will provide you some advice on how to look after them.

Is keeping a pet duck right for me?

The most common reasons for keeping ducks are for their companionship, for food (eggs), or as a hobby (showing).

Ducks are very social pets that need lots of care and attention. They typically live in pairs or a flock around water so ducks being kept as pets need other duck companions. Ducks need daily access to a good quality water source that they can fully submerge themselves in to perform all their water related behaviours, such as preening, bathing, and swimming. Ducks also need plenty of mental stimulation and environmental enrichment because they are curious and can be quite destructive and messy when exploring around the garden and using their water source.

So, if you are looking for these qualities, having a few ducks as pets may be a good choice for you.

How many ducks should I have?

Ducks live in pairs or in a flock where they can socialise and help each other find food and stay protected from predators. When in a flock, ducks maintain a strict social hierarchy and will form close connections and bonds with specific other ducks in the flock. When keeping ducks as pets it is therefore best to always have more than one duck or at least other poultry species, such as chickens, so that they can keep each other company. It is important to remember that pet ducks are not always from the same natural flock so may not initially be compatible with each other. It is important that pet ducks are introduced to each other slowly and safely to ensure they have time to get to know one another and form social bonds.

Where can I keep ducks?

Pet ducks can be kept in a variety of housing types in your backyard.

There are legal restrictions on the keeping of backyard poultry, including ducks. It is important to check with your local council regulations whether there are any restrictions on the number and types of ducks that can be kept and the size and location of backyard poultry housing.


Some of the common housing types used are a fixed shed with an enclosed or open run area with deep litter, or a mobile house that is moved around the garden. The indoor shed area for ducks can be a permanent house structure with deep litter covering the floor or moveable house, such as an A-frame coop with wheels, which is moved around the garden every few days. Ducks should always also have access to an outdoor run area and be able to access to water that they can submerge themselves in during the day.

The indoor coop area should be secure and protect ducks from predators, as well as any adverse weather conditions. Ducks should be provided as much space as possible; as a guideline, the minimum indoor floor space for ducks should be 1m2 per 1-2 ducks. Indoor housing areas should be well-ventilated and made of appropriate materials to make sure it doesn’t get too hot or cold inside. Ducks tend to prefer colder temperatures and have a thermoneutral zone which ranges from 7 to 23°C (this is the temperature range in which they are comfortable and do not need to expend extra energy to maintain a normal body temperature). In commercial duck farming, the suggested optimal ambient temperature for ducks is from 10 to 15°C.

Ducks enjoy grazing and foraging in the gardens searching for grass and insects. While exploring, ducks will often make holes and leave little mounds of dirt throughout the garden. If you do not want your garden to become a playground for your ducks, then it is a good idea to fence off the area and keep your ducks contained in an outdoor area where they can make a bit of a mess while exploring.

Ducks may be locked up in coops during the night to keep them safe. A smaller house enclosure may be suitable if ducks have access to a large free-range area and water for bathing during daylight hours. Where ducks are kept in an enclosed area all the time, the outdoor area should provide lots of room for ducks to explore and forage, as well as have a water source for bathing and swimming.

Litter and floor cover

Keeping the indoor coop area and outdoor run area clean is important to keep your ducks healthy. The floor of the indoor coop should be covered with soft litter 10-15cm deep to keep ducks comfortable and absorb excess moisture from their faeces. Ducks go to the toilet a lot and can make a mess drying off after spending time in the water. Therefore, the choice of litter and design of the littered area should be easy to clean. The litter should be regularly changed and topped up at least daily to ensure it is kept fresh and clean for your ducks to use. Bacteria can quickly start to grow in dirty litter that isn’t changed regularly, which can cause ducks to get sick with infections. Ducks can also develop sores and infections especially on their feet when kept on moist and dirty litter.


As waterfowl, ducks are semi-aquatic, so they should have access to a clean water source in which they can fully submerge to perform all their water-related behaviours. They will typically spend several hours each day performing water-related behaviours, such as preening, bathing, floating in the water, and resting near water. Being able to preen and bathe in water is very important for ducks to keep their eyes, nostrils, and feathers clean and good condition.

The water ducks use for bathing and swimming needs to be kept clean to prevent algae and bacteria overgrowing, which can make ducks sick. The types of water sources in backyards that can be used include deep troughs, showers, pools, and baths. Ducks use different water sources and depths for different water-related behaviours; for example, ducks have been shown to prefer using showers for drinking and dabbling, and baths for bathing ​[1]​. Ideally, ducks should have access to shallow water (10-20 cm) where they can dabble and submerge their heads, as well as deeper water (>20 cm) to swim and float on ​[1]​.

Ducks tend to spend time in and around water for multiple short periods throughout a day, so they are regularly getting in and out of the water. Therefore, the water source should allow ducks to easily get in and out of the water and avoid slipping or injury. Ducks also enjoy resting and socialising next to and around water so the ground area near the water sources should be well-drained and managed to prevent it from getting wet and muddy.

Ducks should always have constant access to a separate clean drinking water, such as bell or nipple drinkers, because the water ducks use of bathing and swimming tend to get dirty very quickly.

Nest boxes

Nest boxes are used by female ducks to lay their eggs. Some breeds of ducks are similar to hens in that they will lay eggs without a male duck present (drake), so the eggs are unfertilised. If you are choosing to keep female ducks that lay eggs, you will need to provide them nests in the indoor coop for egg laying. Ducks can lay eggs at different time throughout the day and can share nest boxes. As a guideline, ducks should be provided at least one nest box for every 1-2 female ducks.

The size of nest boxes will depend on the breed and size of ducks you own. As a guideline, nest boxes should be at least 40 cm x 40 cm ​[2]​. Ducks prefer to lay eggs in an enclosed nest where they can feel safe and secure, which means nests boxes should be enclosed on three sides and possibly have a roof. The floor area of nest boxes should be covered with suitable litter to act as nesting material, such as wood shavings, straw, or rice hulls. The litter in nest boxes should be regularly changed and topped up to keep it clean and encourage the ducks to use nests for egg laying.

What should I feed my ducks?

Ducks are not chickens, so they should not be fed chicken feed, or feed made for other kinds of poultry because they have species specific nutritional needs to maintain their health at different life stages. The nutritional needs of your ducks will be affected by many factors, including breed, age, sex, reproductive status, health status, and general level of activity. The dietary requirements of domestic duck breeds for commercial duck meat and egg farming have been well studied, which provides useful information on how to meet the nutritional needs of pet ducks.

Feed can be provided in containers or trays with sufficient space so that all ducks can eat at the same time. The containers should not easily be tipped over, not easily soiled, and multiple containers should be provided (just in case one is knocked over/soiled/broken). The feed should also always be kept away from the water source for bathing and swimming (at least several metres) to prevent the feed getting wet and spoiled.

Ducks are omnivores, which mean they eat a mix of grasses, grains, small insects, and aquatic animals. Feeding your ducks with a good quality commercial duck feed that is age appropriate is a great way to ensure their nutritional needs are met. Modern commercial poultry feeds in Australia are pelleted (compressed into thin cylinders and cut to appropriate lengths and shapes).

Ducklings are fed a starter diet for the first few weeks of life, which is usually in a mash or crumble pellet form. The starter diet is a high nutrient feed with higher protein levels to support ducklings as they quickly grow. Once ducklings are around 2-3 weeks of age, they are transitioned onto a grower diet. The grower diet is usually in a crumble or pellet form and has similar amounts of energy but lower protein levels than the starter diet. From around 8 weeks of age, egg laying ducks can be fed an adult breeder diet which has slightly lower energy and protein levels but higher calcium levels to cater for the demands of egg production ​[3]​. It is also useful to feed ducks grit to help with digestion (insoluble grit) and as an additional source of calcium for egg- laying ducks (soluble grit).

You may choose to feed your ducks some vegetables (e.g., cooked or raw leafy greens and pumpkins), fruit (e.g., melons and berries), and non-toxic garden plants. These types of treats should not exceed 10% of ducks’ daily feed consumption, or there is a risk of creating a nutritional imbalance.

A note about feed additives

Additives are primarily added to diets to improve the efficiency of the bird’s growth and/or laying capacity, prevent disease, and improve feed utilisation. Hormones have not been used in poultry feed in Australia since 1963. Growth-promoting antibiotics (often referred to as ‘growth hormones’) were phased out in Australia in 2005. Any additives used in feed must be approved for use and then used as directed with respect to inclusion levels and duration of feeding.

Commonly used additives include drugs to combat intestinal parasites (medicated chick starter), prebiotics and probiotics, enzymes, antioxidants, and feed acidifiers. Claims that commercial feeds are full of hormones and antibiotics are well out of date.

What does a healthy duck look like?

Ducks are a prey species (i.e., at risk of being eaten by other animals), so like other poultry species (e.g., chickens) they have evolved to hide signs of illness or injury from potential predators as a survival instinct. This means sick ducks may appear to look healthy until they are so sick, they can no longer hide their illness or injury.

You should check your ducks daily for any signs of disease or distress. This starts with observing them while they are undisturbed and before you handle them. Then a closer exam can be conducted if you identify any abnormalities or concerns.

When observing your ducks from a distance you can assess their respiratory rate and effort, gait, and general demeanour. Dirty eyes and nostrils and any sneezing, head shaking, and difficult breathing can indicate a respiratory tract disease. The eyes and nostrils of ducks should be clean without any staining or discharge. Feathers over the body and wings of ducks should also be in clean and in good condition, without missing or broken feathers or skin lesions. Dirty feathers and missing feathers can indicate an illness, parasitic infection, and injurious pecking behaviours in ducks.

Ducks commonly suffer with foot and leg health problems when housed on hard concrete floors or with moist, poor-quality litter. Any signs of lameness or reluctance to walk should be examined further because it could indicate a foot injury or disease. If there are concerns, ducks’ feet should be assessed for any signs of injury, lesions, swelling, and discolouration, which could indicate a bacterial infection, such as bumblefoot.

The droppings of ducks can also provide helpful information on their health status. Normal duck faeces are more watery than chickens and will usually be some shade of brownish to greenish. Faeces are passed with urates (usually white) and urine (usually clear). Ducks also pass caecal droppings several times a day, which are typically soft, darker in colour (not always), and bad smelling. Don’t mistake caecal droppings for diarrhoea or something being wrong.

How should ducks be handled?

The feet and legs of ducks can be very fragile and easily injured, so when trying to pick up a duck they must never be caught only by the legs. Instead, ducks should be quietly approached to have a hand placed on their side of their body (over the wings) and then lifted up. Once holding the duck, you can slide one hand under the body and firmly hold the legs between your fingers while supporting the breast on the palm of the same hand. The wings of the duck can then be controlled by your opposite hand or by carefully holding the body against your own [4]. Ducks can have strong sharp claws, so it is worth considering wearing gloves to protect yourself from getting scratched.

Preventative health care

Like chickens, ducks are often – incorrectly – considered low-maintenance pets. In fact, no pet is low-maintenance, especially ducks. These suggestions may help you to keep your ducks happy and healthy for many years to come.

  • Take ducks immediately to veterinarian with poultry knowledge immediately after purchase, then at least once annually for examinations.
  • Provide prophylactic (preventative) treatments as recommended by your vet – internal and external parasite control (e.g., worms, mites, lice etc), vaccinations, etc.
  • Feed a fresh, high-quality commercial diet according to the manufacturer’s recommendation with the occasional vegetable scraps and insects as treats.
  • Provide clean, fresh uncontaminated drinking water that is change frequently and kept separate from ducks’ bathing and swimming water source.
  • Provide access to an open water source that ducks can fully submerge themselves in during daylight hours.
  • Provide stimulating environmental enrichment by offering social interaction, and foraging opportunities.
  • Avoid spraying the yard (or anywhere your ducks go) with insecticides and other poisons.

Using medications

An important fact to be very conscious of when medicating your ducks with anything is that the Federal Government considers ducks a major food-producing species – alongside cattle, pigs, sheep, etc. There is no distinction made between commercial poultry flocks and backyard flocks.

As such, the use of medications for pet ducks is highly regulated by the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA). This is done for very sound reasons – to prevent residues of antibiotics and other medications ending up in our food, which can lead to allergic reactions, cancer, and – most importantly – the development of strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.


​​[1] Babington S, Campbell DLM (2022) Water for Domestic Ducks: The Benefits and Challenges in Commercial Production. Frontiers in Animal Science 3:782507

​[2] Makagon MM, Riber AB (2022) Setting research driven duck-welfare standards: a systematic review of Pekin duck welfare research. Poult Sci 101:101614

​[3] Chen X, Shafer D, Sifri M, Lilburn M, Karcher D, Cherry P, Wakenell P, Fraley S, Turk M, Fraley GS (2021) Centennial Review: History and husbandry recommendations for raising Pekin ducks in research or commercial production. Poult Sci 100:101241

​[4] Humane Slaughter Association (2021) Catching and Handling – Ducks.

Updated on June 20, 2024
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