Baby ducks are some of the cutest little birds you will ever lay your eyes on. Born as little bundles with down coats, it’s not long until they take their first swim. They dote on their mothers and follow her every move, there is something entirely uplifting and wholesome about watching them learn.
Here are some interesting baby ducks facts, as well as some answers to frequently asked questions and some images of these majestic baby birds!
Baby Ducks Facts
Baby Ducks Are Called Ducklings
Similarly to baby swans and baby turkeys, baby ducks have their own name. They are known simply as ‘ducklings‘. Before this though, they are called ‘hatchlings‘ and are born from eggs, which are laid in a clutch inside a ‘nest‘.
As they grow, a male duck is known as a ‘drake‘ and a female is known as a ‘hen‘ but is most commonly just called a duck. A group of baby ducks are collectively known as a ‘brood‘ of ducklings, especially when they are on land and very young. In the water, they are sometimes collectively known as a ‘flock‘ or a ‘waddle‘ of ducklings. As adults they may also be known as a ‘raft‘ or a ‘paddling‘ of ducks.
Different Baby Ducks Have Different Coats, But None Have Feathers
Depending on the duck breed, ducklings can vary significantly in appearance. Mallard ducklings, for example, commonly have yellow bellies and necks with darker down across their heads, wings and backs. These darker patches typically appear as stripes running down their bodies.
Compared to other ducklings, Pekin ducklings are much fairer-haired. While eider and Goldeneye ducklings tend to be darker in colour, young Muscovy’s or white breeds tend to have creamy yellow down. They all, for the most part (except white feathered birds) resemble the coloring in their down, that they will adopt once their feathers come in.
All ducklings hatch with a fluffy down that keeps them warm, and no matter what the breed, it is a few weeks until they will get their feathers. When the feathers do eventually come in, the male has a feather near the tail that curls upwards. This is known as the ‘sex feather’ and can tell males and females apart at this young stage before any separate coloring comes in.
Ducklings Imprint On Their Mothers
Similarly to baby swans, baby ducks imprint shortly after birth. Imprinting is essentially when a duckling programs itself to follow one guardian (it’s mother) based on the first large moving object that it sees. The mothers are very protective at this time, as they need the imprinting to lock on to a parent and not a stranger.
Ducklings usually imprint in the first few hours of life – 12 to 36 hours after birth. This is known as the ‘sensitive stage’ or ‘critical stage’. The window can sometimes extend to a few days, but imprinting usually happens early on. Once they have imprinted, they will follow their responsible guardian around very closely, particularly for the first few weeks.
It’s important that they imprint on their mother with her parental instincts and not an imposter, but they are known to imprint on any large animal or person that is close to them in the first few hours of life. When ducks are kept as pets, humans can create a strong bond with them by staying close to them during the critical stage, so they imprint on to their carer.
Ducklings Stay Close To Their Family
Once a duckling has imprinted, they will stick to their mother and their siblings like glue. They will follow their mother, often in a straight line so they can learn diligently, where to travel to for safety, for food and for shelter. This instinctive mechanism helps them to steer clear of danger early on while they are still learning about their environment.
Ducklings Spend Most Of Their Time Eating
In the early stages of life ducklings can spend as much as 60 – 70% of their time eating food. They grow quickly and need a lot of food to fuel that growth. A duck’s skeleton is fully grown by the time they reach about 90 days. They need lots of food to grow and maintain their feathers too.
Male Ducklings Are Quieter Than Female Ducklings
Though both genders of duck make noise, females usually quack louder and are more active than males. Also, until they are old enough to develop different colors, this is often how experts tell female ducks apart from males.
Baby Ducks FAQs
What Is The Lifecycle Of Baby Ducks?
Ducks start their lives in eggs, and these eggs are laid in clutches at a rate of about 1 or two per day. Once a clutch has been laid, they incubate for around 28 days on average. It does vary from species to species but this is the average.
Once hatched, they will spend their first night in the comfort of the nest, close to their mother. Around 10-12 hours later, or the next morning, they will venture out for their first swim. By 50-60 days old the ducklings will fledge and leave the comfort of their parents side. They will be skeletally mature at this stage, but don’t reach sexual maturity until around their first year of age.
The average lifespan of a Mallard duck in the wild, is around 5 -10 years but they can live over 20 years. Wood ducks live 3 to 4 years on average, but can live to reach 15 years of age. The oldest recorded duck so far was around 26 years of age.
How Many Baby Ducks Are Born In A Nest?
The average clutch size for a nest of duckling eggs, is 8-15 eggs, but this does vary depending on the species and the season. Ducks can lay several clutches of eggs across the year, and some are better layers than others.
Mallards for example, only lay an average of 60 eggs across a year, with the highest deposit of eggs between spring and summer. But some breeds such as the Khaki Campbell can lay well over 300 eggs per year, more than many commercial chicken breeds. For those living wild, and not in commercial or homestead settings, you can expect nests to have around 12 eggs in the spring or summer, and as few as half of that off season.
Some will only have one brood per year in the spring/summer season, while others can have two across the year. Those bred for commercial eggs and meat are chosen because they can lay year round in large quantities.
Only 30 to 50% of those born in the wild will hatch and live to see their first year.
How Big Do Baby Ducks Grow?
There are over 130 species of duck across the world, and they can vary in size by quite a lot. Across the species, ducks are categorized into 4 groups – heavy, medium, lightweight, and bantam weight. Most ducklings are light to medium, and weigh only a few grams when they hatch.
For example, a medium sized bird like a baby mallard duckling weighs around 30 – 40 grams and will grow to weigh up to 1.6 kg in maturity. A small duckling like the call duckling weights around 15 grams at birth but will weigh around 600 grams in maturity. Large ducklings such as the Muscovy duck can grow to be over 6 kg in maturity!
What Do Baby Ducks Eat?
Generally, ducks are omnivores and will eat various things depending on their watery habitats. When they are newly hatched, baby ducks will eat mostly insects. As they get older, they will start to eat more plant material. This can include things like leaves, grass, and seeds.
Some ducks such as mergansers and Pekins will also eat small fish, amphibians, and crustaceans. Whereas Ducks such as mallards and pintails consume primarily aquatic plants including pondweeds, duckweed and algae.
Many baby birds can’t start feeding themselves until much later, but ducklings only need a few days before they can do it all by themselves. They just watch their mother closely for guidance about what’s okay or not to eat.
Where Do Baby Ducks Live?
Baby ducklings can be found in the wild and on farms, on every continent around the world, except Antarctica. They spend the first few days of their life in a nest, which is usually built either on water, or within thick vegetation very close to water. They can sleep on land or in water, and when very young, will always be found close to their parents.
Some species of duck are migratory, and will fly to more temperate climates for the winter season, where there is plenty of food available. Others are known to stay in the same watery habitat year round, particularly where winter temperatures do not get too low and food is not seasonally scarce.
What Are The Natural Predators Of Baby Ducks?
Adult ducks have their own set of predators to worry about, such as coyotes, foxes and badgers. Young ducklings, and vulnerable mothers sitting on their eggs have many more predators to worry about though.
Opportunistic hunters such as weasels, raccoons and mink will gladly devour a clutch of eggs given the chance. But even close neighbors such as gulls that may live on the same pond or lake are also known to bully their way into a clutch of eggs.