Q. HELP! I just found a stranded baby duck. Could you please tell me how I can care for it. How can I tell if it’s a male or female? Thanks.
A. I hope the little baby is doing well and that this email will get to you in time to do some good.
(NOTE: You cannot really tell the sex of baby ducklings until they are older, but I’m just going to call your duckling a “he” for now.)
He is too young to be taken to a pond and released on his own. Besides the fact that other larger birds will kill and eat him if turtles, cats, dogs, raccoons, etc, don’t get to him first, he won’t be able to keep warm on his own. A chilled duckling is a dead duckling.
Neither will he be able to produce the waterproof oil to protect his feathers from getting wet, soggy — and ultimately, that will drown him. Baby ducks can drown if they are too young to produce the oil. When they have a mother around, the oil from her feathers coats the babies allowing them to swim around and not get waterlogged.
So, get used to the idea that you are now a ducky mommy. :- )
He’ll imprint on you and be a devoted pet. My ducks are adorable pets and I love them – they are amazing and are very affectionate.
For a sufficient baby duckling home you’ll need a box (preferably a roomy Rubbermaid) lined with paper towels or facial tissue, etc. Do not use newspapers as this will be too slippery for the baby bird and cause a crippling condition called spraddle leg.
To prevent spraddle leg, you need some kind of flooring that has traction — I have had success with a layer of newspaper on the bottom and paper towels on top for traction. This makes everything easy to discard and replace when soiled. If you’re willing to do a lot of washing, an old cotton towel with low nap fiber can replace the paper towels. I’ve also used the paper wrapping around the individual bulk toilet paper roles.
You also need a lamp. Any lamp with a 75 watt light bulb will do but a desktop lamp works best because it shines the light directly down. You need to somehow suspend this lamp over the box – making sure it is not too close so the baby bird will hit its head but not too far away so that the box does not get warm. I would also recommend hanging this lamp over one corner of the box so that the baby bird can adjust its position and move away if it gets too hot. It may be a good idea to put a thermometer into the box in order to see the temperature. It should be around 75 – 80 degrees in the box.
Baby birds need this kind of heat ( a substitution for a mother’s warmth) for the first couple of weeks but you can decrease the temperature five degrees a week for five weeks. Your bird will grow fast and feather fast so in almost no time at all it will not need any heat. Ducklings and chicks need warmth to survive and grow up until they are about 6 weeks old or have feathers. Without warmth, they won’t last very long.
Here is a link to a picture of the kind of brooder I trying to describe:
However, unlike in the picture, I really wouldn’t put the top on the Rubbermaid as baby ducklings/chicks need a lot of air and there isn’t much ventilation in the brooder shown. But I think you get the idea…. Also I suggested Rubbermaid containers because baby waterfowl have an addiction to water and will make a cardboard box soggy in no time.
Place the brooder on a level surface in a position which is not prone to great fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Keep it from direct sunlight and away from central-heating radiators. And, keep it somewhere where you wouldn’t mind a smell and where it won’t get accidentally moved or bumped.
Duckling food is available from some feed and pet stores so call around. DO NOT use chick starter which is for baby chickens as most contain medications that can kill ducklings.
If you cannot find duckling food, you can do fine with things that may be in your kitchen cupboard. Crumbled bread or cornbread with water or milk will make a quick meal for baby birds. But although bread is fine, but is not a recommended “meal” for ducks or ducklings as it does not have a whole lot of nutrition.
Cottage cheese and oatmeal is good. Chop up a hardboiled egg a day for protein (make sure to crumble the shell into fine pieces too for much-needed calcium). Also, chopped up greens (from garden or store), or blades of grass (make sure no chemicals have been used ) are good. Meals such as corn meal or even bird seed ground to a powder in a coffee grinder are good too — served mixed with a little water to make a paste so the bird cannot get the powder caught in its nose and suffocate. If you cannot get oystershell from any feed store (sold often for chickens) then save your eggshells from cooking or baking, wash them and crumble them and feed with all meals. Calcium is important to baby birds. Also Brewers Yeast sprinkled on the meals is another good supplement that provides Niacin which will keep the baby’s legs from developing any deficiencies. If you can find worms, slugs, snails, or pillbugs then feed these to your bird too for protein! It will absolutely love them! But make sure any slugs or snails you feed haven’t been poisoned with any poisoned bait. Crumbled dry dog food, moistened with water can be served occasionally. Processed human baby foods are good too.
For nutritious benefit, try rolling pieces of hard- boiled egg in Brewer’s Yeast before feeding it to the ducklings. Brewer’s Yeast has Niacin which will make the baby’s legs strong and straight. Ducklings grow so fast that their legs have a tendency to go bow-legged and Niacin supplements will prevent that.
Always provide fresh water in a shallow pan. You must be careful with water because without the protective oils produced by a mother duck, a duckling’s down soaks up water like a sponge and the bird can drown. So never leave the baby bird unattended near deep water sources and make sure its drinking supply is in a shallow reservoir type (often found in pet stores). Your baby bird will splash the water about and try to swim but as long as it can get out of the shallow pan if it falls in, then the bird should be fine. Make sure water is provided at all times because baby waterfowl will drink A LOT of water.
My ducklings would get so covered in food that I would have to put a shallow baking pan full of water in the enclosure to allow them to bathe. You can do that with your little birds, just be sure they are able to stand up in the water so they won’t get soggy and drown. Also, do it on a warm day, towel they dry after and let them sit in front of the lamp so they don’t get chilled. Chilling is the number one factor of death in baby birds. But they enjoy splashing in the water a bit — and you will enjoy watching they play! I loved watching my ducklings play in the water as babies — I just had to supervise them just in case.