Happy Easter Everybody–Thoughts on Ducklings and Chicks

Gift ducklings and chicks for Spring - some ideas, and a blessed holidays to all.

The spring religious holidays of Easter and Passover provide time for reflection and renewal. To all of those who celebrate these events, I wish you peace.

I have done domestic waterfowl for upwards of 20 years here in St. Louis.  Domestic waterfowl are ducks and geese who have been bred for generations as food and as a result, are bred to be too heavy to fly. The most common are the "Aflac" ducks, the white Pekin ducks that are fuzzy, little yellow ducklings that people buy at Easter.

Folks are often charmed by the peeping innocence of these babes and buy them on impulse as gifts, frequently for children. However, they are not called waterFOWL for no good reason, and quickly it is realized how messy and needy these infants are, and buyer's remorse sets in. Usually the ducklings are turned loose in public parks under the mistaken assumption that this is a natural environment for them.

Without the oil from the feathers of their mothers, ducklings' down is not yet waterproofed. Being prey animals and susceptible to dogs, fox, raccoon, crows, etc., their only safety recourse is to flee to water, where the weight of their down pulls them under and drowns them.

Additionally, domestic waterfowl require a balanced, pelleted diet that is not gleaned by being fed popcorn, white bread, or grass, so these ducklings often suffer developmental problems IF they manage to survive to adulthood.

My most heart-breaking scenario, when I am working on my own time with any volunteer that I can find to help me, are the imprinted babies. They are the ones that hatched early enough and were handled extensively enough to believe they are pets, and they run terrified to any passing human for safety and help.

I rescued a duckling one year that ran up to a woman walking her dog, and the dog attacked her. My vet bill (personal, out of my own pocket for a duck that was not mine) was quite high.

Another year, I was called to Carondelet Park to pick up a gosling, who was in a box labeled "Do Not Eat Me, I am a Pet." This goose spent several months here until I found her a wonderful home with a retired veterinarian who had a lonely male of her same breed.

So please pass this information on to anyone who knows someone who has bought ducks or chicks for Easter, and then do not know what to do with them. If you know anyone who finds themselves in this situation, have them contact the Humane Society of Missouri, which has a barnyard adoption division called LongMeadow, in Union, MO.  The local branch at Macklind Avenue can assist in transport if distance is an issue.

Also, consider sponsoring a barn buddy–this is a wonderful idea for a gift for a pet lover in your life who does not want a present to open, but keep a present that aids an animal all year long.

Happy Spring!


WyndSong Border Collies and Canada Goose Management


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Doug Miner April 08, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Dorene, In Maplewood we can keep ducks as well as chickens. Can they coexist easily? Do ducks have different needs than chickens?
Dorene Olson April 09, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Hi Doug - excellent question! Yes, ducks and chickens can be housed together with minimal to no issues. I am on a rare heritage turkey list, since I have two rare pet turkey girls, and there is an issue with a disease called blackhead that is problematic between turkeys and chickens that one must be aware of. This is a poultry-only disease, non transmissable to humans or other mammals, so there should be no concern for children on impared individuals. I have heard of barnyard squabbles where ducks and turkeys have had to be separated, and I have seen my turkey girls absolutley pummel one of my newer, adopted chickens that is housed separately from them and I needed to save her, so gradual introduction is highly recommended. All new birds should be quarranteened for a minimum of 14 days, and with chickens, introductions by adding a new bird to the roost at night in the dark is standard, but I always like to house the new one(s) in a wire dog crate with a blanket draped so that the newbie has a hiding place if s/he gets tired of being stared at and needs some privacy and a safe place to retreat. Ducks need at a minimum a bucket where they can immerse their entire head and expel air through their nares (nostrils). I think that it is a sin to not at least provide them with a baby wading pool for their splashing and bathing pleasures. They make an area very muddy very quickly and I would take care to provide a brick for any errant chicken who might fall in. Dorene
Dorene Olson April 09, 2012 at 02:42 PM
oops, sorry! a few typos up there, hit "send" too fast. I wanted to add that I was at a huge chicken show in Cape last month and there was a simultaneous duck show, specializing in Call ducks, which are miniature ducks. They started a sudden "fake bath" game, and the entire row of them began bathing in their shavings. Being intimate with how ducks and ducklings physically behave in the water, I was highly amused by their antics and impressed at the precise mimicry! This also reinforced my adamant belief that ducks always need access to bathing water - when I rehab or raise ducklings, they are always in my bath tub. Dorene
Dorene Olson April 09, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Another thought: There is a VERY important difference between ducklings and chicks, and that is the use of medicated feed. Chick feed can contain an additive of a medication called Amprollium, and I reget to say that I am going to be lazy and not verify that spelling. "Medicated feed" does not mean that it contains general, broad spectrum antibiotic, but rather this specific ingredient that treats coccidia, a very common chicken intestinal pest. Holistic minded folk steer away from medicated feed, and I prefer to check for parasites and then choose a wormer specific to what my bird has and not some general, broad spectrum poison, but it is standard for baby chicken chow to contain this ingredient. Ducklings, however, are very sensitive to this type of feed and SHOULD NEVER BE FED BABY CHICKEN CHOW!!! You need to specially request and then VERIFY that you are getting NON MEDICATED chow for ducklings. Other than that, they can be quite hardy. If you get a baby duckling that has been incubator hatched and not naturally hatched under its hen mother, then it will not yet have an activated pineal (preen) gland and will not be water proofed. If it is raised with its mother, the oil from her feathers will have coated its down, making it water proof. Until they get oil spread over their bodies by actively preening, their down is succeptible to the weight of water and they will be pulled down and drowned, so it is imperative to supervise swimming at first. Dorene
Doug Miner April 10, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Hi Dorene. Thanks very much for your reply regarding keeping chickens and ducks together in a backyard. I liked your first sentence, but the seven paragraphs that followed have made me think that I'll just stick with chickens for now. Best, Doug PS-Thanks for the great blogs!


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