The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Many of us have heard and heeded the warnings that ducks should not be fed bread products. Gone are the days when we took kids to the park to feed the ducks stale bread from our own kitchens.
So, if not bread (and that goes for bread products as well, such as crackers or tortillas), then what? What exactly can ducks eat?
This is a relevant question to ask, since the activity of feeding the ducks is still a beloved pastime. In addition, more and more people are interested in having ducks as pets or in raising them for livestock.
In fact, vegetables and plants in general are important staples in a duck’s diet, no matter where they live. In this article, we will look at the ideal diet for a duck, which vegetables are best, and which are edible for ducks, and how vegetables fit into their ideal diet.
What Is an Ideal Diet for a Duck?
Ducks are members of the bird family, and as such, they are complex animals. Ducks are capable of some amazing feats.
For one thing, they can live to be as old as 20 years. They also migrate, flying in formation in an ages-old process that is still a mystery for scientists in some ways.
As complex animals with so many special skills and abilities at their disposal, they have many needs that must be met by the food they eat. This includes their vegetables!
Just like humans, ducks need protein to survive, and that is a main staple of their diets apart from plants. Ducks get their protein from a variety of animal sources.
Many ducks eat small fish or other water dwelling creatures; when they dive their upper bodies under the surface of the water, they’re actually looking for food below the waterline. These include not only fish and crustaceans (such as crawfish) themselves but also fish eggs.
Ducks eat mollusks and insects as well, both in and out of the water. Ducks love worms, snails, and slugs especially, but they will eat pretty much any insects they can find.
In general, ducks tend to eat insects more during the summer months because they are more plentiful in the summer. We certainly notice it too, as we find more mosquito bites on our skin in the afternoons and swat away small flies all night, but for ducks this means a tasty meal rather than a swollen bump.
Finally, ducks also like to eat frogs and small amphibians, salamanders, and tadpoles. Essentially, they will eat whatever small, manageable animal life they can catch and swallow!
Animal sources of food give other important nutrients to ducks besides just protein, including fats, vitamins, and minerals. But it’s still not enough, so what else do ducks need?
Ducks meet the rest of their nutritional needs from plants of all kinds. They especially enjoy water plants, such as pondweed (similar to seaweed, but fresh water), but as we’ll see, they also eat many other types of plants.
They enjoy southern naiad, milfoil, wild celery, and other grasses. Keep reading for more information about the different plants that ducks love to eat.
Different Ducks, Different Diets
One thing to keep in mind if you want to have a pet duck or domesticated ducks: there are several different breeds or types of ducks, and their dietary needs can vary depending on the type. It might be well-worth your time to determine your ducks’ breed and try to adapt their food accordingly.
This is because different types originated in different places and became accustomed to certain types of diets. For example, the northern shoveler eats a lot of algae while the mergansers eat mostly fish.
How to Feed Your Pet Ducks or Domesticated Ducks
Keeping ducks can be really rewarding! You shouldn’t let their diet get in the way of your decision to get a pet duck because you won’t have to deal with lots of little fish and worms.
Instead, pet food companies make duck pellets. Like dog or cat food, duck pellets are specially formulated to deliver most of the protein and fat, and many of the nutrients ducks need.
But adding vegetables to their pellet diet is good for them for a few reasons. For one thing, it gives them variety in their diets, the kind of variety that they would get if they lived in the wild and foraged.
It is good for their digestive system for the same reason. In addition, it may keep them happier, since all creatures enjoy an especially delicious snack or surprise.
Either way, rewarding them with delicious vegetables will also help your ducks (with strong wild instincts) to familiarize themselves with you and grow comfortable.
One duck favorite is romaine lettuce. For another leafy vegetable, try cabbage, but be sure to avoid spinach.
They love corn, cucumbers, broccoli, and beans. They especially love peas, which are very healthy for them, since they are a great source of niacin.
Here it Is: A List of Other Common Vegetables That Are Safe for Ducks
We recognize that you may not always be able to procure the most ideal vegetables for your ducks all the time. Or maybe you have some mushy vegetables to throw outside but are worried about harming the ducks in your environment.
Whatever your reason, the vegetables below are okay for ducks. They may not be ideal for their diets, but they will not be harmful or poisonous, either.
Other Plants That Ducks Can Eat
Apart from vegetables, there are lots of other types of vegetation that ducks can eat safely. You may have seen ducks grazing as they walk, because they eat grass.
They also eat weeds that grow in the same way and leaves from low-lying trees and plants.
They eat almost any plant life that grows on or in the water, including water roots. They especially love algae.
Ducks also eat other plants. They like seeds and grains and even nuts that they can forage.
Finally, in addition to vegetables, ducks love fruits. In the wild, ducks will eat small fruits, such as berries.
If you have a pet duck or a domesticated duck, you can feed it bananas, grapes, melons, peaches, pears, plums, and watermelon. Any fruit is a special treat for a duck.
Can Ducks Overeat?
The short answer is that yes, ducks can overeat.
But their reasons why are different than we might think. Ducks don’t eat for pleasure in the same way that we do, so that is not why they sometimes overeat.
For ducks, the reason is more evolutionary than anything else. The goal of most organisms on earth is merely to survive, so ducks live mostly on instinct, and have very little ability to reason.
Ducks do not think or plan ahead when they make decisions. Therefore, they cannot know for certain that food will be available later, or ever, again.
They also don’t have the capacity to learn that food will certainly be available later, so when food is available, they eat as much as they can, just in case.
This is one reason why we, as humans, need to be very careful about feeding the ducks, especially wild ducks.
If you and your family go to a nearby park or pond to feed the ducks, one of the best things you can bring is corn (off the cob). You can provide lots of bites to lots of ducks, but since the corn is small and spreads well, they will not be able to overeat as much.
Other small-bite vegetables make great little snacks. We already talked about how healthy peas are for ducks, so get a frozen bag, let it thaw on the way, and feed the ducks, knowing you’re not only giving them a delicious treat, but one that will help their little bodies, too.
What Vegetables Should Ducks Avoid?
By now, we have established that ducks need vegetables and other plant life to thrive. But are there vegetables and other plants that they should not eat?
Spinach and onions are both toxic for ducks. Avocados are very bad for them too.
Certain types of fruits are also very bad for ducks; don’t give them citrus fruits—no lemon, orange, lime, or grapefruit.
In addition, there are several other plants that can be harmful to ducks, and that you may want to avoid planting and growing if you want a duck-friendly environment. Don’t grow boxwood, castor bean, clematis, honeysuckle, ivy, larkspur, mountain laurel, oak trees, or oleander.
The Most Important Thing to Keep in Mind
Whatever your reason for being interested in a healthy diet for ducks, there is one element that is more important than all the others: variety.
More than any one specific food or vegetable, making sure that ducks—whether they’re yours or not—have a lot of different foods in their diets. This includes many different types of plants and vegetables especially.