You found some abandoned ducklings or you found a baby duck. Now, What Do You Do?
I get asked this question a lot. And it’s not a simple answer. Depending on where you live, and what kind of duck it is, it may or may not be legal for you to keep it. Read on for what you should do if you found a baby duck.
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A few years ago, I got a call from my daughter. She said she had gotten a call from a friend asking her to take some orphaned Muscovy ducklings to the wildlife rehabilitation center. (the mother had been hit by a car)
My daughter was glad to help. But when she got to the center, she was told that because it wasn’t a native animal, (Muscovy’s have migrated from South and Central America) they would not take them.
So, I got THE call. “Mom, can I keep them?” Yes, she actually said that. So, she brought them home and we started on this journey of raising ducks.
Please understand that just because I did it, doesn’t mean it is always legal to do. In fact, that is why if you find a baby duck, the first step should be to call the rehab center to make sure what you are doing is legal. Here in the U.S., it is not legal to keep migratory waterfowl. However, Muscovy’s seem to fall through the cracks, and try as we might, no one wanted to give me a straight answer about keeping them, but no one wanted to take them either.
So, if this happens to you. Do your due diligence and see what the rules and laws are in your state or country before you decide to raise an abandoned duckling….or 8, like we did.
I Found a baby duck. Now what?
If you happen to find abandoned ducklings, if at all possible, just observe them for a while. If the mother is in earshot, she will return if she is able to. Keep your distance or she may be scared off and not return. If she does not come back, or you know she is dead, and only then, you can act.
Call a wildlife rehabilitation center and find out what they want you to do.
Can Abandoned Ducklings Survive Without Their Mothers?
Generally, a baby duck will only survive alone for a day or two.
Since a duckling cannot survive on its own without warmth and protection from predators, the first priority is to keep it warm. Very young ducklings cannot regulate their own temperature because it does not yet have its adult feathers. A heating pad will often work well to keep your duckling warm for the short term.
Remember, however, you will likely terrify the duckling as you look like a huge predator. So be gentle and speak softly. Handle it carefully as its legs and internal organs are very delicate.
Putting the baby duck in a cardboard box with an old towel in the bottom will make transport easier. It will also help contain the mess as ducklings can poop more than you would ever imagine.
The next need the duckling has is for water. Dip its bill into a dish of water and then set him down beside it, to see if he needs to drink. Don’t try to force him to drink and don’t put him in the water so he can swim. That will just make him colder. Swimming is not a necessity for ducklings. Drinking water is.
If the rehabilitation center or wildlife official will not take it or tells you that you can keep it, then there is one more hurdle you must cross.
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Know The Local Law Too.
Many cities and suburbs have laws against raising chickens and ducks. Don’t assume. Check it out so you don’t get a fine or have to rehome on very short notice.
And don’t neglect to ask your neighbors if they live close to you. A little forewarning (and the promise of some free eggs) goes a long way to make peace with the neighbors. If they know ahead of time, they are much less likely to complain.
If this checks out too…
Congratulations You Are A New Duck Mommy Or Daddy.
From here on out, I’m assuming you have checked with the wild animal rehabilitation center and it is legal for you to keep your new abandoned ducklings.
Please understand, wild animals that are raised in captivity rarely survive in the wild. Without a mother to teach them they don’t learn the lessons of how to survive. So, if you are going to rescue ducks, plan on keeping them permanently.
Caring For Abandoned Ducklings.
Ducklings grow quickly, but in the first few weeks, they need a lot of care.
For the first night or two, until you get all the needed equipment, this is what will suffice.
- A heating pad to keep them warm if it is below 75°F
- A box, tote, or spare bathtub to keep them in.
- A shallow water dish. Add a little sugar to give it an energy boost.
- A shallow food dish.
- Emergency Food – For the first few nights you can feed moistened oatmeal or cat food, and you may add some finely chopped salad or herbs. Cooled Scrambled egg is a good option too.
- A safe, quiet place, far away from family pets and small children.
- If it is a single duckling, you may want to consider buying it a buddy. Ducks are prey animals and feel more secure in a group. In fact, they will get very stressed out without one.
A few years later an animal rescue place, who knew I had ducks, called me and asked if I wanted to rescue another. Someone had found a baby duck and brought it in to them. It had been abandoned in a parking lot and was scared half to death.
I took the tiny orphaned duckling in and set it all up for the night. He cried all-night-long. My daughter said he was singing a solo. It stuck and he was dubbed “Solo, AKA, Hans Solo” I couldn’t let him suffer like that so the next day I went down and purchased a buddy for him. “Chewy”, (yes, Chewbacca) became one of my favorite ducks and my little Solo grew up to be the drake that sired many broods of ducklings.
Set Up To Keep Your Orphaned Duckling.
You have your ducklings safe for the night. Now what?
You are now the mommy or daddy so you have to provide all that a growing duckling needs to grow strong, healthy, and happy. Here are the things you will need.
Brooder – A brooder is simply a place in which to raise your ducklings. There are many things you can use from a bathtub to a Rubbermaid tote or purchase an all-in-one brooder. You will need at least 2 sq ft per duckling. They will need to be in it for 6-8 weeks.
Bedding – Non-slip, easy to change, and/or clean.
Temperature control – A heating pad will only work in a pinch. (and they will probably ruin it) Get a heat plate if at all possible.
Food and Water – I already mentioned the food and water bowl. Please read “What To Feed Ducklings” for all the important information on their special nutritional requirements. Ducks of all ages MUST have water at all times that they have food. They choke easily without water to wash food down.
Ducklings don’t need swimming water.
Ducklings are fun to watch swimming and they love it, but they can drown very easily and get chilled quickly. Their mothers will smear them with oils that help to waterproof them. (though, ducks of all ages can tire and drown if they can’t get out of the water) And a mother duck would be there to warm them.
If you provide them with swimming water, make sure you dry them and put them under a heat source to warm back up.
Setting Up A Duck Coop
When you have found a baby duck (or 8) and decide to keep them. Don’t wait to get a coop. These little guys grow fast and will be all grown up and needing more space before you know it. (and you will be ready to get them outside.)
More About Keeping Ducks.
There is so much more to this new duck adventure. So sit down and read all about it. I hope these articles will fill in all the gaps for you.
What If Your Duckling Doesn’t Make it?
If you have found a baby duck, and you have done everything right, but your new orphaned duckling fails to thrive or dies, don’t blame yourself. Often animals will abandon their young if there is something wrong with them. Sad as it is, this is just the way of nature, and most of the time there is no way of your knowing that something was wrong. And probably nothing you could have done about it anyway.
If you have kept it warm and provided it with water and food, then you have done all you could do for the little one.
If you enjoyed this article, read more about raising ducks on the homestead.