How long do ducks live (both wild and domestic)? And if you have pet or backyard ducks, what should you expect as your ducks get older? Find answers to your questions in this article!
How long do ducks live?
Different species of ducks, different lifespans
Let’s start by making an important distinction: there are numerous species of wild ducks in the world. Exactly how many species of ducks exist is debated by scientists due to disagreements over exactly which morphological characteristics, genes, and behaviors constitute a “true duck” versus other types of waterfowl. Hybridization between duck species further muddies the waters.
In North American alone, there are between 25-30 species of ducks that can be observed in the wild. The average lifespan of each species of duck may vary.
Wild Mallard lifespan
Wild Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are the most common duck species in North America. They’re also the genetic “parent” of the vast majority of domesticated ducks, ranging from Runners to Welsh Harlequins to Pekins.
In the wild, a Mallard duck has a lifespan of 5-10 years.
The most common cause of death in wild Mallards is predators — especially for young ducklings. Weather, starvation, and other factors also take a toll.
Eagles, raccoons, alligators, snakes, snapping turtles… there are countless predators of Mallard ducks in the wild. On a childhood fishing trip, I even saw a largemouth bass suck down a young duckling.
Wild Muscovy lifespan
Muscovy ducks’ (Cairina moschata) native range is from Mexico to Argentina. Like Mallards, they were also domesticated thousands of years ago and are still popular today in warmer climate regions.
Although they are an entirely different species of duck than Mallards, the two are sometimes interbred to create infertile F1 offspring called Mulards, which are highly prized for their meat quality and foie gras production.
A wild Muscovy’s lifespan is between 8-12 years, with predators likely accounting for the majority of deaths.
What is the lifespan of a domesticated duck?
Well-cared-for domesticated ducks can long outlive their wild ancestors. For instance, the longest-lived domesticated Mallard-derived duck was over 21 years old.
With proper care, domesticated Muscovy ducks can also live to be 20 years old.
What factors help domesticated ducks live longer than wild ducks?
Protection, sex, and production approach – 3 factors that can vastly increase a domestic duck’s lifespan
We’ve raised Mallard-derived Welsh Harlequin ducks since 2013, and have learned a lot about how the following factors can impact their health, wellbeing, and lifespans:
While there are countless predators around always trying to enjoy our ducks for a meal, we have never lost a duck to a predator. (Knock on wood.)
Keeping them safe from predators is a critical factor that vastly increases how long ducks live. (See: 17 tips to help keep your ducks safe from predators)
No matter where you live, weather extremes happen. Extreme or prolonged cold and heat, heavy snows, etc… Exposure to these extremes causes physiological stress which can sicken or kill wild and domesticated ducks alike.
Measures you can utilize to help your domesticated ducks thrive despite the elements include:
- provide a well-designed duck coop and run with fresh bedding,
- create a low maintenance self-cleaning pond where your ducks can clean themselves, play, and maintain optimal body temperature;
- provide special care for your ducks in the summer AND in the winter.
However, in the rare circumstance when we have a duck get sick or injured beyond what we can effectively treat at home, we’ll bring them to Dr. Hurlbert at HealthPointe Veterinary Clinic. She’s a highly skilled and experienced avian vet who adores ducks.
Having their lives saved from serious illness, injury, or infection via medical intervention also drastically increases a domesticated duck’s lifespan.
By “sex” we don’t mean you should play Marvin Gay music for your ducks. Rather, we’re referencing male vs female domesticated ducks.
In short: relative to females, domesticated male ducks (drakes) have far fewer health problems over the course of their lives and generally live longer. Why?
Domesticated Mallard-derived ducks have been bred to produce far more eggs than their wild Mallard ancestors. A wild Mallard might produce 24 eggs in an entire year (during the warm months when protein- and calorically-dense foods are plentiful), then she’ll go broody and stop laying as she waits for the eggs to hatch.
However, some breeds of domesticated ducks can produce close to 300 eggs per year. This level of egg production takes an enormous toll on their bodies, even if they’re getting quality food and supplements.
The physical toll of high egg production means domesticated female ducks are more likely to experience life-threatening illnesses, injuries, and nutrient deficiencies compared to drakes.
Depending on WHY you want to get ducks, sex is something you’ll want to strongly consider upfront. See: Should I get male or female ducks – or both?
If you’re like us, you want duck eggs but you also value your ducks’ health and longevity more than eggs. In that case, you might want to get duck breeds that aren’t as prolific at laying, such as White Crested and Welsh Harlequins. See: How to choose the best duck breed for your home or farm.
Are there differences in lifespans in male vs female ducks in the wild?
We can’t provide a certain answer to this question, but our guess is wild female ducks probably don’t live as long as males on average. However, (speculating) this would not be due to egg production, it would be due to the elevated risk of having to sit on a nest and raise ducklings, which makes females more vulnerable to predation than males who do not share parenting responsibilities.
3. Production approach
There are lots of reasons people choose to raise ducks: pets, meat production, egg production, pest control, breeding…
Regardless of why someone raises ducks, utilizing heritage breed ducks helps keep these valuable genetic lineages alive. But there are some important distinctions to be made between production approaches when it comes to domesticated ducks’ longevity.
First, to state the obvious, if you’re raising ducks for meat production, you’re not going to be terribly concerned about how long they live. The goal is to get them to size up as quickly as possible prior to slaughter.
Likewise, commercial duck egg producers’ goals are to produce as many eggs each year as efficiently/cheaply as possible. In these operations, ducks that are sick or have lower production are culled, so longevity isn’t a primary concern.
However, many people like us consider our ducks to be pets/family members who also happen to provide us with eggs, entertainment, garden pest control, and plant fertilizer. In our situation, we want to have our ducks be as healthy as possible for as long as possible, even if that means fewer eggs.
A few years back due to the advice of our avian vet, we switched feeding regimens to help reduce the number of eggs our ducks produce each year. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can say that our ducks’ lower-protein diet has indeed made a big difference in their health since they don’t lay as many eggs, but it has hurt our vet’s bottom line since we rarely ever take a duck in to see her now!
Observations on aging ducks
What have we noticed as our ducks get older? What might you expect as your ducks get older?
Here’s what we’ve observed:
Our original flock included three drakes, but their incessant fighting and over-mating of the females in spring caused us to pair down to one drake. (A common beginner mistake is violating the 1:3 male:female duck ratio — we initially got unsexed ducklings so ended up with bad ratios.)
Sir Winston Duckbill, aka Winnie the Screw, is now our only drake and he’s nearly 10 years old. We always heard (and hoped) that his springtime, hormonally-induced insanity would diminish with age.
Much to our disappointment, for much of the year, he continues to require his own coop and fenced pen to keep him separated from our girls. Otherwise, he chases them all around their yard, mounts them on land (which can cause leg injuries), and generally behaves in a manner reminiscent of Genghis Khan.
However, other than some minor battle injuries earned from duels with the other original drakes, Winston has never once been injured, sick, or required medical care. This pattern of vigor is fairly typical in male domesticated ducks, based on our conversations with other duck people. (Note: This is anecdotal evidence, not a statistic.)
That’s why we advise anyone who wants pet ducks but doesn’t care about getting eggs to strongly consider getting two drakes. Without females around, they won’t go crazy and they’ll provide constant companionship for each other. And the likelihood of vet visits is significantly diminished.
Older ducks (females)
Our oldest female duck, flock matriarch Jackson von Duck, is also approaching 10 years old. Over the years, she has lost three other female friends who we got around the same time as Jackson, including the legendary Svetlana, whose loss she deeply grieved.
Two of the three females died of illnesses related to over-production of eggs. (We’re confident we could now prevent such deaths from occurring.) One died suddenly of unknown causes.
While ducks can maintain high egg production for ~8 years (which is longer than chickens), Jackson should be producing far fewer eggs at this point in her life than in her younger years.
What we’ve noticed:
- She starts laying 2-4 weeks later in the spring than our younger girls.
- She produces more “weird” eggs (the occasional small or poorly formed egg) than our younger girls, who rarely produce weird eggs, especially at the start of the laying season.
- About once per week during laying season, she’ll skip a day, whereas the young ducks rarely miss a day. (Assuming we’ve properly determined which duck each egg belongs to, which can be difficult in a shared coop.)
- She usually “turns off” her egg production around the same time as the others, but has required help with that process once in the past three years. (We forced her to go broody as winter approached in 2019 to prevent potential health problems. Without this intervention, it’s quite possible she might have developed a life-threatening illness or nutrient deficiency.)
In general, Jackson is still very healthy, sassy, vigorous, and full of life. However, she does seem a little slower than our other ducks who are 2.5 years younger than her.
What should you expect as your domesticated ducks age?
- Drakes – If you have drakes who receive excellent care, plan to have them for up to 20 years with minimal medical interventions required. However, age eventually takes its toll and older drakes will require medical care and/or euthanasia at some point.
- Females – If you have females, their lifespans will likely be far shorter than drakes. An average lifespan of 8-10 years seems like a reasonable expectation. Females are also likely to require more care and medical interventions over their lifespans due to the toll of high egg production, especially as they age.
*This information applies to both domesticated Mallard-derived ducks and Muscovies.
We hope this article provides insight into the lifespans of wild and domesticated ducks. We also hope it helps you better plan for the future if you want to optimize the longevity of your pet/backyard ducks.