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Duck Lifespan: How Long Do They Live? (Pets & Wild)

Mallard duck swimming in the water

Although ducks are raised for their eggs and meat, many homeowners enjoy keeping them as pets. They’re not as lovable as dogs and cats, but ducks raised from hatchlings will follow their owners around the yard and show affection with a spirited cry or nudge from their heads. Ducks enjoy longer lives than some of their avian relatives, but they live much longer in captivity than in the wild.

Wild and domesticated ducks face constant threats from predators like hawks, foxes, and coyotes. When ducks are kept as pets, their wings stay clipped so they cannot fly away. Having flightless birds is advantageous to the owners, but it’s not to the birds themselves since they cannot run fast or fly away. If you’re considering raising ducks as pets, we would like to discuss the life cycle of the birds to show what’s required to keep them safe and healthy.

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What’s the Average Lifespan of a Duck?

There are numerous species of ducks living around the world, but we’re going to focus on the life of mallards since they are one of the most common breeds kept in captivity. Mallards live 5 to 7 years in the wild, but the birds can live over 10 years in captivity. Typically, the smaller species of ducks live longer than the larger ones. Bantam ducks live longer than most species, and on average, they can live for 10 to 12 years. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest living ducks were a pair that lived to be 49 years old. The record is unlikely to be broken anytime soon, and a mallard is lucky to live up to 20 years.

Why Do Some Ducks Live Longer Than Others?

If ducks are raised with the proper diet, shelter, and protection from predators, they can live longer than they would in the wild. Without the freedom of flight, domesticated ducks are vulnerable to attacks, but when their caretakers take steps to maintain a safe environment, ducks enjoy longer happier lives. Ducks are not as difficult to care for as other farm animals, but these factors determine the bird’s health and lifespan.
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1. Nutrition

chicken and ducks eating
Image Credit: Ariene Studio, Shutterstock

Although some amateur homesteaders choose to feed chicken feed to their ducks, ducks require a different diet than chickens. Ducks grow quickly, and they need niacin in their diet to maintain healthy development. Agricultural supply stores and online merchants do not carry many brands specifically called duck food, but they sell waterfowl food suitable for ducks and geese. Purina makes one of the few waterfowl products labeled as duck food.

In the winter, ducks will eat more feed than in the summer. The birds are omnivorous, and they love to munch on summertime insects. If you have a pair of ducks, they can reduce your exterminator bills by significantly decreasing the insect population. Duck parents who have problems attaining waterfowl feed can substitute chicken feed as long as they add a little brewer’s yeast to the feed. The yeast provides the essential niacin and prevents issues with the bird’s joints.

In addition to waterfowl feed, ducks need plenty of fresh vegetables in their diet. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, and corn kernels are some of the bird’s favorite delicacies. Since the creatures will not eat greens when they’re wilted from the heat, caretakers place them in clean water to keep them fresher.


2. Environment and Conditions

Domesticated ducks are pretty hardy when compared to other avian species. They can tolerate cold and hot temperatures, but they need adequate shelter to protect them from below-freezing temperatures. Ducks are prized for their adaptability to various environmental conditions, and they’re not as susceptible to diseases related to ticks and fleas as chickens are. Since ducks spend most of their waking hours playing in the water, they drown out many of the parasites that attempt to feed on them.


3. Enclosure Size/Living Quarters/Housing

Ducks in a duck pen
Image Credit: seehafershores, Pixabay

Each duck that resides in a shelter should have at least 4 square feet of space to move around the interior. If you have two mallards, a small building that’s the size of a small toolshed or she-shed should accommodate the birds. The building does not need to be insulated very well, but it needs a sturdy roof and solid floor to keep predators at bay. Foxes and coyotes can dig under the building to reach the ducks, and you need a floor covering like concrete or vinyl to keep the ducks safe.


4. Size

Adult male mallards can weigh up to 3.5 pounds, and they’re typically 20-26 inches long. Females are only slightly lighter and shorter than males. If a duck weighs less or more than the average weight, it likely has a medical condition and may not live as long as a normal bird.


5. Sex

Male mallard duck standing near the water
Image Credit: AnnaER, Pixabay

Male mallards (drakes) have a more colorful appearance than their female counterparts. Both sexes have a blue speculum spot on their feathers, but drakes have a dark green iridescent head, bright yellow bill, and grey body. Females have a brown head, brown and orange bill, and a brown body. Males have a curved tail feather called the drake feather that females lack.


6. Genes

Mallards were rarely seen in North America until the beginning of the 20th century. As agriculture expanded across Canada and the United States, mallards competed with black ducks for food and habitats. The black duck population dropped considerably from 1950 to 1980, and the mallard population rose. Sometimes, wild mallards reproduce with black ducks, and that results in a hybrid duck that has mallard and black duck DNA. If you’re able to choose between a hybrid or a pure mallard, the pure mallard has a better chance of living healthy without medical problems.


7. Breeding History

Mallard duck standing by the river
Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

Mallards were first domesticated nearly 4000 years ago in Southeast Asia. Although they’re essential to the world’s agricultural needs, some regions consider mallards invasive species. Interbreeding is a big problem with mallards. When they mate with a black duck or another type, they’re introducing foreign DNA into their offspring. If you’re purchasing duck eggs to hatch, be sure that the breeder uses sanitary facilities and feeds the ducks properly. You’re unlikely to get a DNA test from a breeder but try to select eggs produced from purebred mallards if you can.


8. Healthcare

Ducks are relatively healthy for most of their lives, but they can suffer from joint and mobility problems when they’re mature. Mallards have short, stumpy legs that struggle to support their weight as they age. Since ducks spend most of their lives in water, fresh, clean water is essential for drinking and bathing. The birds are vulnerable to botulism and must have their bathing pool water changed at least once a day.

Ducks are also very susceptible to infections caused by mold. Molding food or contaminated bedding can lead to problems with appetite, depression, ataxia, opisthotonos, and unfortunately death. Unlike many domesticated farm animals, ducks do not need yearly vaccinations or deworming.

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The 6 Life Stages of a Duck

duck laying eggs
Image Credit: Dalibor Sevaljevic, Shutterstock

1. Embryonic Stage

Mallards spend 25 to27 days in the egg before they hatch. Each breed has a different incubation period, and Muscovy Ducks have the longest at 35 days. On the seventh day after the eggs are laid, you can use the candling technique to check the embryo’s progress. Candling involves holding a flashlight against the egg and checking for veining. Fertile eggs will have tiny veins, and an infertile egg will appear clear without veins.

After 10 days, you should see the outline of the embryo developing. The eggshell provides calcium to the embryo, the yolk provides fat, and the white albumen gives the baby protein. In the last days before the embryo hatches, the eggs will start making clicking sounds. This communication signals the other embryos that hatching is near and hastens the development of the embryos taking longer to grow.

2. Hatchlings

Like other birds, duck eggs do not hatch at the same time. It’s a slow, laborious process that can last up to 48 hours. After the ducks hatch, they do not need food for 24 hours. Hatchings are covered with a fine coat of down that they will eventually replace with feathers. Their feathers do not begin to grow until they’re around 3 weeks old. Hatchings need fresh water, but they risk drowning if the water is too deep.

yellow ducklings standing around
Image Credit: hansbenn, Pixabay

3. Juvenile

When ducks are 3 to 5 weeks old, they’re considered juveniles. Their feathers grow quickly during this period, but they cannot fly until they’re at least 5 weeks old.

4. Young Adult

After 8 weeks, ducks become young adults, but males must wait until they’re at least 5 months old to mate. Female mallards typically do not lay eggs until they’re one year old.

5. Mature Adult

Although ducks can live 10 years or more, they’re most active for 3 to 5 years. Mature adults begin to have problems with their legs and joints when they’re 5 to 7 years old.

Blue Swedish Duck
Image Credit: Alexandr Junek Imaging, Shutterstock

6. Senior

Senior ducks require less protein in their diets and more vitamins and minerals. Obesity is a significant issue for aging mallards and Peking ducks, but you can feed seniors waterfowl food with lower protein content to keep them healthy.

How To Tell Your Duck’s Age

Determining the exact age is challenging, but you can look for signs that indicate the bird is a juvenile or adult. Juvenile ducks are in the process of replacing their down with feathers. If you examine the bird’s tail feathers, small notches in the feathers mean the bird is a juvenile. However, in the winter and summer, juveniles lose some of their notched feathers, and they’re harder to distinguish from female adults.

The covert feathers on the mallard’s back are another indicator of its age. If the coverts are rounded and wide, the duck is an adult. Juveniles have pointed or triangular coverts.

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Conclusion

Ducks are not lucky enough to live as long a parrot, but they can live over 10 years with the proper care. Protecting the birds from predators and providing plenty of fresh water and food will help them enjoy a trouble-free life. Ducks are social creatures, and anyone interested in owning a duck as a pet should purchase two. A solitary duck cannot survive if one with a constant companion. Ducks make exceptional pets as long as you understand they’re not as affectionate as domestic cats and dogs. If you’re not bothered by excessive quacking or cleaning a bathing pool, a mallard may be the perfect pet for you.

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Featured Image Credit: NickyPe, Pixabay

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