In fact, our ducks are the primary reason our friends and family never see us anymore – unless they come to our home to visit. Have you ever tried to find a reliable duck sitter that can carefully follow five pages of printed instructions including the proper size to cut duck tomatoes and the specific types of garden greens they prefer? Not easy.
Yes, we’re enslaved by ducks. The weird thing is, we like it.
Given our duck obsession, we have quite a few people reach out to us with questions about ducks. One common question people email us a lot is, “how do I get my ducks to like me?”
In our opinion, if you’re going to devote the majority of your life to slavishly meeting the peculiar demands of your feathered overlords, then the least they can do is tolerate an occasional cuddling. Seems like a fair tradeoff, right? Well, if you’re a duck, the answer might be “absolutely not.”
Rather than answer the same question 100 times, we thought we’d put together a list of tips to help other duck slaves figure out how to get their ducks to like them. (We also have an article and comparison chart explaining why we chose ducks over chickens in the first place.)
What are our credentials? Well, we’ve been owned by ducks for almost five years, we’ve read every available duck education book out there, and our favorite duck, Svetlana, sleeps on my wife’s back at night. (That’s a pretty tame duck.) Yes, that means we know a thing or two about taming ducks.
Three Tips To Get Your Ducks To Like You
1. Duck Breed Selection
There are 23 breeds of domesticated ducks (and countless hybrids between them). There is wide variability between the breeds: different colors, shapes, and sizes. Each breed also has a slightly different basic temperament, although their environment can drastically influence their temperament as much if not more than their genetics (just like a pitbull can be the most loving peaceful animal in the world if raised correctly).
When deciding which breed of ducks we wanted to get, we evaluated a lot of criteria, such as:
- size - we didn’t want huge birds since we have no intention of eating our pets;
- flying ability - we didn’t want them to be able to fly out of their fenced back yard;
- foraging ability - we wanted ducks that were good foragers, so they could supplement their diet and reduce our feeding bills;
- egg laying ability - we wanted girls that would produce a lot of eggs each year;
- conservation status - like many heritage breed animals, quite a few duck breeds are either endangered or critically endangered; we wanted a breed that was in a high risk category, so that we could be a small help in keeping them from going extinct).
Perhaps most importantly, we also knew we wanted animals that would serve the additional function of “pet.” We wanted fowl we could walk with, pick up, pet, and put on our lap. This desire wasn’t just for our own pleasure, it was also for practical reasons: if you ever have sick or injured animals, it’s very helpful for those animals to be tame when you’re evaluating or caring for them.
Which are the most sociable breed of ducks? Metzer Farms (the duck breeders where we got most of our girls) rates their duck breeds from nervous to very calm as follows:
- Nervous – Black Runner, Blue Runner, Chocolate Runner, Fawn & White Runner, Khaki Campbell, White Crested
- Calm – Black Swedish, Blue Swedish, Buff, Cayuga, Mallard, Pekin, Rouen, White Layer
- Very Calm – Jumbo Pekin, Welsh Harlequin,
These distinctions are why we ended up choosing Welsh Harlequin ducks. Does this mean that a typically nervous Black Runner can’t be a sweet lap duck? Nope. Does it mean that a Jumbo Pekin can’t think humans are giant scary monsters out to kill them? Nope. There are temperament variations within individuals in a particular breed, and environment plays a huge role in how their temperament ultimately develops.
However, if you want really tame waterfowl, selecting a very calm breed will almost certainly help. Now, let’s talk about what you can do to optimize the sociability of your ducks, no matter what breed you select…
2. Age & Forced Loving + Treats
Have you ever known any adult humans whose temperaments changed from grumpy to nice or vice versa? Neither have we. Ducks aren’t so different. At a certain age, their temperaments are fairly well etched into their tiny duck brains. (Side note: we’ve been surprised by how smart ducks are despite their brain size, as have research scientists.)
Here’s a video of The Tyrant taming Svetlana when she was a duckling:
Ideally, you can either hatch your ducks yourself or get them delivered from a breeder within 1-2 days of their hatching. The sooner (and more frequently) they can be around people, the better chance you’re going to get them to like you. When you hold and pet them, give them treats – dried mealworms, small pieces of tomato, lettuce, kale, etc. They might scream in disgust and terror at first when you begin handling them or when they’re away from their feathered flock mates, but with repeated holding + treats they’ll warm to your affections, or at a minimum, tolerate you.
We should also note here that if you’re going to have ducks, you need to plan to actually get ducks (plural). At least two or more. They’re incredible social animals and they want to be around another animal(s) constantly, or they get really lonely and stressed. With that said, you’ll want to tame all of your ducks from as early an age as possible using the holding/cuddling + treat technique. If one duck in your flock thinks you’re absolutely terrifying, his/her fear response towards you can be contagious to the others.
Last point here: you don’t have to get your ducks as eggs or ducklings. There are waterfowl rescue operations around the country full of incredibly sweet, sociable pet waterfowl that have been given up or abandoned for various reasons. They need good homes too.
3. Continued Weekly Affection
As your ducklings rapidly grow into adult ducks (ours doubled in weight every week), you’ll eventually put them outside where they’ll be much more autonomous animals. If you want to continue to have pet ducks, this can be a risky period for you since your ducks can very quickly revert to more wild, independent animals.
Thankfully for us, The Tyrant is very dedicated to holding, petting, and treat-feeding our ducks on a regular basis, a minimum of at least once every few days for each flock member. Do all of them enjoy it? Not necessarily. But they at least tolerate it while we coo and pet their soft, fluffy bodies because they know they’re going to get a treat if they can just endure a few minutes of affection.
The Tyrant’s favorite duck, Svetlana, gets at least an hour of active cuddling at night when we’re winding down for the evening. As mentioned earlier, Svetlana also sleeps on top of The Tyrant in bed, but that’s not technically active cuddling since both creatures are unconscious during this time period.
Whether you want to become a new duck slave or you’re trying to figure out how to get your current ducks to like you more, these three tips should help you.
For additional reading, be sure to check out our other duck articles that cover everything from where to buy ducks to feed selection to the nutritional differences between different types of eggs. We also highly recommend the following books, which we reference regularly:
If you have any duck questions, ask away in the comments section!