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What Do Ducks Eat in the Wild and as Pets?

Ashley Bates

Domesticated ducks live a very different lifestyle than their wild cousins. Everything is reformed—from their migratory behavior to their use of flight. But one interesting aspect of the differences lies in their diet.

Naturally, the nutrients will be similar, but there are notable opportunistic food sources to both. So, what is the difference between domesticated and wild duck diets? Let’s talk about it—and let’s see what this means about housing and feeding a wild duck in captivity.

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Wild Duck Diet

Ducks are natural foragers who have no trouble sifting out their own food sources in the wild. In addition, ducks are omnivorous creatures, meaning they eat both plant and animal material. In their natural habitats, ducks snack on a variety of wild plants, insects, and fish.

When ducks are free to explore, they naturally find food sources that work for them. For example, they eat greens both on land and in water. Their diet will depend on the season and the area they live.

The particular species of duck also has a significant impact on what they eat. For instance, some duck’s beaks are designed to rip and tear fish—while others primarily peck at wild greens and small invertebrates.

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Image Credit: Makenna Mae, Shutterstock

Animals

Though the geographical location is a determining factor, ducks will mainly feed on small animals or organisms like frogs, crustaceans, insects, and fish.

Plants

Wild ducks will eat just about anything—even some things that aren’t so good for them. But in nature, they devour aquatic plants, wild rice, coontail, and wild celery.

Grit

To aid in digestion, ducks eat tiny bits of gritty material like gravel, sand, and stone.

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Domesticated Duck Diet

Most owners who have ducks feed their little ones a combination diet of natural rough and commercial feed. Ducks love to forage. You will find them with their heads stuck under lots of shrubs and bushes, eating a variety of greens and insects.

Just because they are domesticated doesn’t mean they don’t need their fair share of greens. If your ducks can be safe, allowing them to roam around in the plants and water will make their lives all the better.

On the water, they love to eat aquatic plants, small fish, and crustaceans, too. You might also find them in all sorts of garden plants or plucking ripened fruits on the ground.

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Image Credit: Denise E, Shutterstock

Animals

If your duck is in an enclosure, they probably will only snack on insects unfortunate enough to make their way into the death zone. But if they have an accessible pond and free-range access, they will eat much like their wild cousins—frogs, crustaceans, and fish.

Plants

In addition to all the plants they can snack on in nature, you can also feed your flock tasty garden veggies. Ducks love a variety of goodies like cucumbers, broccoli, corn, leafy greens, and squash.

Grit

Domesticated ducks still need adequate grit in their diet. But, instead of them searching for it themselves, you can buy bags of grit at the store to give to your flock.

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Can Wild Ducks Eat Commercial Food?

If you find an abandoned baby duck in nature, your first reaction is to find out how to help. Next, you know you must make sure they stay fed and hydrated while you try to find a suitable facility to take the animal.

If you have wild ducks in your yard, you might also wonder if there are any treats you can serve up to keep them coming around. You absolutely can! Ducks will love the tasty snacks, and their bodies could benefit from the nutrition.

In the meantime, is it okay for the little duck to eat commercial feed? Since it was formulated for ducks—absolutely. But it would help if you also encouraged fantastic foraging habits.

ducks eating
Image Credit: ChaniDAP, Shutterstock

Foods to Avoid Feeding Ducks

Even though you might have sat with your grandparents on the park bench feeding ducks soft pieces of bread, is this really the healthiest choice? The truth is, commonplace scraps can actually be really dangerous for ducks.

Bread

It might have been commonplace for years to feed ducks bread at the park—you really shouldn’t do this. Bread has all kinds of ingredients that are unhealthy and nutrient-depleting to ducks.

Sweetened Cereals

Even though unsweetened grain cereals, like Cheerios, are perfectly fine to feed ducks, sweetened cereals are no-nos. Sugar isn’t a natural part of your duck’s diet, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Ducks eating
Image Credit: egschiller, Shutterstock

Pastries/Donuts

It may be tempting to throw out yesterday’s bad breakfast decisions into the yard—but it’s best not to. Donuts and other delicious baked delights are full of sugar and other harmful ingredients that can wreak havoc on your duck’s digestive system.

Spoiled Meat/Plants/Grains

While ducks might be able to gobble up fruits or veggies that are a day old, you shouldn’t ever offer spoiled food. If it has mold, decay, or a foul smell, discard it in the compost and not in your duck’s dish.

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Final Thoughts

While ducks in the wild versus those in captivity have slightly different diets, they also mirror one another. So, it’s perfectly fine to feed wild ducks the same you would do for backyard pets. Toss out some leafy greens, whip up a little veggie medley—you just might make friends with a wild flock.

If your ducks can’t free range for any reason, make sure they have a wide variety of greens, veggies, fruits, and meat to pick at.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

Ashley Bates

Ashley Bates is a freelance dog writer and pet enthusiast who is currently studying the art of animal therapy. A mother to four human children— and 23 furry and feathery kids, too – Ashley volunteers at local shelters, advocates for animal well-being, and rescues every creature she finds. Her mission is to create awareness, education, and entertainment about pets to prevent homelessness. Her specialties are cats and dogs.