Ducks

How to get your ducks to like you: three tips

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Do you want to get your ducks to like you? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’ve read our duck articles or follow us on Instagram, you know that we’re smitten with ducks. They’re absurdly cute, highly entertaining creatures who’ve completely upended our life.

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 who 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?”

Svetlana the duck on a day trip to swim in the mountain streams at Poinsett Bridge, near Greenville, SC. How to get your ducks to like you.

Svetlana the duck on a day trip to swim in the mountain streams at Poinsett Bridge, near Greenville, SC.

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, too. (We also have an article and comparison chart explaining why we chose ducks over chickens in the first place.)

What are our credentials?

We’ve been duck slaves since 2013 and we’ve read every available duck education book out there (including some veterinary texts). Oh, 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 how to get your ducks to like you.

Our bedroom has a slight duck infestation. Svetlana would like The Tyrant to wake up now since it's tomato:30 in the morning.

Our bedroom has a slight duck infestation. Svetlana would like The Tyrant to wake up now since it’s tomato:30 in the morning.


3 Tips To Get Your Ducks To Like You

Tip #1. Carefully consider 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 duck breed also has a slightly different baseline temperament.

It’s important to note that the environment in which a duck is raised can drastically influence their base 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.)

Poppy the duck foraging a patch of dianthus flowers. -How to get your ducks to like you

Poppy the duck foraging a patch of dianthus flowers.

When deciding which breed of ducks we wanted to get, we evaluated a lot of criteria, including:

1. Size – We didn’t want huge birds since we have no intention of eating our pets.

2. Flying ability – We didn’t want them to be able to fly out of their fenced back yard.

3. Foraging ability – We wanted ducks that were good foragers.

4. Egg laying ability – We wanted girls that would produce a lot of eggs each year.

5. Mothering ability – We wanted calm birds who would make good moms if we ever decided to raise ducklings.

6. 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. (*Welsh Harlequins are no longer in a high risk category.)

Svetlana and Susan getting ready to facetime with Svetlana's aunt Lisa. / How to get your ducks to like you

Svetlana and Susan getting ready to facetime with Svetlana’s aunt Lisa.

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 is also for practical reasons…

If you’ve ever had sick or injured animals, it’s very helpful for those animals to be tame when you’re evaluating or caring for them.

Likewise, if you ever need to give your ducks medication, having them be calm while you medicate them is very helpful as well. (See our article how to give your duck oral medication via pill or syringe.)

Which are the most calm and sociable breed of ducks? In our article How to choose the best duck breeds for you, we provide a detailed analysis of various duck breeds, including which breeds have the potential to make the best pets based on the baseline calmness of the breed. The top five breeds (including their scores):

  1. Saxony – 9.0
  2. Muscovy – 9.0
  3. Silver Appleyard – 8.8
  4. Welsh Harlequin – 8.7
  5. Black Swedish – 7.7

Based on the criteria detailed above, 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 typically calm Saxony 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 and/or you want a better chance that you can get your ducks to like you, 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, e.g. how to get your ducks to like you! 

Susan's sister and niece helping us train our girls that a palm with something in it means a treat. In this case, the treat was an unripe groundcherry. / How to get your ducks to like you

Susan’s sister and niece helping us train our barely adult ducklings years back. We wanted our ducks to think “palm with something in it = treat.” In this case, the treat was an unripe ground cherry (not a big hit unless they’re ripe). See our top rated garden plants your ducks will love.

Tip #2. Employ “forced” loving + treats from a young age.

Have you ever known any adult human whose temperament 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 are around people, the better chance you’re going to get them to like you. 

When you hold and pet your ducks, give them treats such as dried mealworms, small pieces of tomato, lettuce, kale — whatever their favorite healthy treats are. No duck junk food or bread! 

They might scream in disgust and terror when you begin handling them or take them away from their feathered flock mates. However, with repeated holding + treats they’ll warm to your affections — or at a minimum, tolerate you.

We let our most maternal hen, Jackson, raise ducklings in 2016. She's also a very tame animal. If you breed ducks and the mother is afraid of people, she'll teach her ducklings to fear you too.

We let our most maternal hen, Jackson, raise ducklings in 2016. She’s also a very tame animal. If you breed ducks and the mother is very afraid of you, her ducklings are likely to be very fearful of you too.

Ducks are very social animals…

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 incredibly 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.

Building your ducks a 1200 gallon, self-cleaning in-ground pool with two waterfalls is not going to make them like you any more. They just expect it.

Building your ducks a 1200 gallon, self-cleaning in-ground pool with two waterfalls is not going to make them like you any more. They just expect it.

Tip #3. Continue with regular affection into duck adulthood. 

As your ducklings rapidly grow into adult ducks (ours doubled in weight every week), you’ll eventually put them outside where they’ll become much more autonomous.

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.

Susan's niece making sure Winston, our drake, gets lots of hands-on cuddle time. / How to get your ducks to like you

Susan’s niece making sure Sir Winston Duckbill, our drake, gets lots of hands-on cuddle time.

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.

Warning: Sometimes odd things happen when your life gets taken over by ducks.

If you're going to occasionally bring your ducks indoors or have pet indoor ducks, you're going to need to learn how to diaper a duck. Marigold the duck (one of our most tame ducks) is not terribly happy about being put on her back, but her diaper is snazzy. How to get your ducks to like you.

If you’re going to occasionally bring your ducks indoors or have pet indoor ducks, you’re going to need to learn how to diaper a duck. Marigold the duck (one of our most tame ducks) is not terribly happy about being put on her back, but her diaper is snazzy.

Frequently asked duck-taming question: 

Updated: Sept 4, 2020

We’ve received this question enough times that we’re adding it here: “Should I keep my ducklings separate from each other so they’ll bond with me and become more tame?”

Short answer to this question: no, we would not recommend separating your ducklings. Ducks are highly social animals, and especially as young ducklings, will be very frightened and traumatized being socially isolated.
 
Socializing them individually to you only would also be an enormous time burden, and likely wouldn’t be that effective in the long run. Instead, we’d recommend picking them up at the same time (or 2-3 of them up at the same time) and holding them at the same time while giving them whatever treats (or food) that they love.
 
By being with each other when you handle them, they’ll be less stressed. And the food will help them form a positive association with you/being handled (Pavlovian response). Rinse and repeat. (You may literally have to rinse because of poo!)  
 
Remember: you’re trying to raise tame ducks, NOT ducks who think they’re humans.

Additional recommendations: 

Whether you want to become a new duck slave or you’re trying to figure out how to get your ducks to like you, we hope these three tips help!

For additional reading, be sure to check out our other duck articles that cover everything from where to buy duck feed to the nutritional differences between duck and chicken eggs. We also highly recommend the following books, which we reference regularly:

If you have any duck questions, ask away in the comments section!

 

3 Tips: How to get your ducks to like you. #duck #petduck #poultry #homestead #raisingducks #hosueduck #tyrantfarms

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49 Comments

  • Reply
    Katie
    July 1, 2021 at 12:22 am

    Hi! I have two 8 wk old Cayuga hens that completely hate me. They free range in a large back yard with 5 very friendly chickens who love me. I had my ducklings shipped over and handled them immediately and they never warmed up to it. Now that they are outside, they won’t let us near them, refuse to use the 110 gallon pond we made for them, or sleep in their duck house. What on earth are we doing wrong? The company I bought them from said it’s a teenager phase and they will grow out of it. I’m convinced they’ve been traumatized because they are completely inseparable. Like 4 inches is too far.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 1, 2021 at 7:06 am

      Hi Katie! Sorry to hear about your misanthropic ducks! Technically, yes, your ducks are in their “teen” period and are going to be less sociable due to hormones and other factors. Also, a bit of bad news: Cayuguas tend to be among the least sociable duck breeds, as you can read about here: https://www.tyrantfarms.com/how-to-choose-the-best-duck-breed-or-breeds-for-you/. (They score 1.2 out of 10 on our sociability ranking.) This doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel on trying to make them more gregarious towards you. Continue giving them their favorite treats and trying to get those positive associations formed. The fastest way to a duck’s heart is through their gizzard.

      A couple of other things from your comment: it’s very surprising that ducks wouldn’t use their pond. Do they have another water source they’re using instead? The reason I ask is because one day our ducks suddenly stopped using their pond and just stood on the edge looking in and occasionally alarm-quacking. Turned out, a small snapping turtle had somehow gotten into our fenced yard and into their pond. Once the invader was netted and relocated, our ducks were right back in to their pond. Is it possible another critter has turned the pond into its home?

      As for trauma: it’s possible that something may have happened to make your two ducks highly bonded to each other yet fearful of everything else. Are they afraid of your chickens as well? In their duck brains, they may view the chickens as a persistent mortal threat. As far as they know, there are only two ducks in the world, and everything else is out to get them.

      Getting our ducks into their coop at night would be impossible if not for herding sticks, which ducks seem to instinctively respond to. Here’s how we herd our ducks and how you can too: https://www.tyrantfarms.com/how-to-herd-your-ducks-aka-get-your-ducks-in-a-row/.

      Hope this info helps and please check back as your ducks age to let us know if they mellow? Hopefully, by their one year birthday, they’ve settled in better and begin to calm.

      • Reply
        Katie
        July 8, 2021 at 1:14 pm

        Thank you Aaron! I should have done more research because the feed store and company I ordered from assured me that these were a fun and friendly breed. They were their #1 recommendation for a kid friendly duck. We needed them cold hardy so maybe that limited our options. We lost all but one chicken and bought 5 new pullets. The ducks like the older hen but are now out for blood with the younger ones. We will continue to try to tame them. Thank you for the advice. No critters in the pond but someone did suggest that it could be the wood ramp we built. We are going to try a dirt ramp. So far we have invested countless hours and money into to these ducks so we are losing steam pretty quick

  • Reply
    Marissa
    May 13, 2021 at 6:53 am

    Hi! I LOVED your article! I am a middle-school writing teacher, so I admired how well-written it was. Quick question: I have been raising ducklings in my classroom, then have been sending them home with students and families who live on a farm once they developed their feathers. This process created an immense obsession for myself and the ducklings. I am thinking about taking some home and raising them here; however, I just have a few concerns. Concern number one: I do not have a body of water at my home. Concern number two: I only have .5 acres of land. Do you think these factors are too big an issue to raise ducks? If not, how big of an enclosure do you suggest I create for them? Also, what can I use to substitute a body of water? Kiddie pool? Man made pond? Also, I should probably specify the breed and the amount I would be raising. It would be a Cayuga, 2 khaki Campbell’s, and a saxony.

    Any help/suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!

    Kindly,
    Marissa

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      May 13, 2021 at 2:00 pm

      Hi Marissa! Thanks for the kind words. Responses to your concerns below:

      1. “I do not have a body of water at my home… what can I use to substitute a body of water?”

      Not currently having a body of water for your potential ducks is a remediable problem. Obviously, ducks are a lot healthier and happier if they can swim, play, and bathe in water whenever they want to, so we do recommend having water available if/when you get ducks.

      With only four ducks, you don’t need anything too fancy to meet their water needs. A kiddie pool would be fine. We also know a person who uses the giant no-tip rubber water bowls for livestock for her ducks (you can find them at Tractor Supply, I believe). The thing you’ll need to consider if you go this route is the messy muck that’s likely to result. That’s because you’ll need to dump and refill the water at least every 48 hours in the summer months. You can probably get away with a little less in the winter months. Without careful planning for how you dispose of this water, after a few months you can end up with a mud pit so foul it would make a pig blush.

      2. “I only have .5 acres of land.”

      That’s more than enough space for four ducks.

      3. “How big of an enclosure do you suggest I create for them?”

      Since you’ll likely be gone during the day, you’ll most certainly want to keep your ducks in a protected run during the day. The run can also incorporate their coop, so you don’t necessarily need to separate structures. For duck coops, 2-6 square feet of space per duck is a good range. If ducks will be spending their days in a run, the optimal spacing is 125’ per duck, so 500 sq ft.

      To help with planning, you may want to read our article all about duck coops and runs: https://www.tyrantfarms.com/how-to-build-duck-coop-and-duck-run/. Hope this info helps and please reach out if you have any other questions!

  • Reply
    Bek
    May 9, 2021 at 10:15 pm

    Hi,
    I have a muscovy girl with serious attitude. We got her as a 3-week-old duckling a little over a year ago, and she was not keen on handling at first. Then she started laying and suddenly became this snuggly, affectionate creature who followed me around demanding pets.
    She went broody for the longest time and was a bit antisocial during that; got over that and I had snuggle-duck back. Then she started moulting and also avoiding me.

    I got a second muscovy girl, 5 months old, to be her ducky friend – we had two chooks, and they got along fine, but they speak different languages. A week or two after we got the new duck (who was badly ostracised by everyone in that time), a fox came and claimed the chooks. My fierce, moody Ducko fought off the fox and saved herself and the new duck. They finally bonded – for a very bittersweet reason.

    New duck is shy. Old duck has completed her moult but still avoids me. I’ve been forcing a bit of affection at night when they’re in their little house and can’t escape, but now they both RUN when I come outside! I am so sad, especially looking back on videos of her lapping up head scratchies and being ever so cuddly.

    Will she go back to being snuggle-duck or is this it now? I’m heartbroken 🙁

    Bek

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      May 10, 2021 at 10:24 am

      We should preface our response by saying that our experience is with Mallard-derived domesticated ducks not Muscovies, which are a completely different species. However, from everything we’ve read, Muscovies are very friendly and sociable – or at least have the potential to be, with some variability by individual.

      We’ve had periods where even our tamest ducks go “feral,” as we jokingly call it. This happens when we have too much going on in our lives to bring them indoors and/or regularly pet them, with treats offered for positive association. It takes some time (a month or so) and commitment, but you can re-tame ducks and get them reacclimated to human affection. It sounds like “new duck” is going to be the biggest challenge for you if she’s naturally more shy. Ducks seem to really cue into each other and if one is afraid/shy, it becomes contagious to the others.

      Here’s a possible plan:
      Weeks 1-2: Go out and sit with your ducks daily (or more if time allows) while offering a small bowl of their favorite treats. Don’t try to pet or touch them, just get them used to eating treats near/next to you.
      Weeks 3-4: Same as weeks 1-2 except very slowly reach out and start petting them. Don’t try to hold them and don’t make sudden movements to pet them, just calm and slow.
      Weeks 4-6: This is when you start holding them while offering treats at the same time. It may be impossible to hold them both at once but that’s ideal since they’ll be calmer if they’re both together.
      Weeks 6+ regularly offer treats while holding and petting them. If it was just your Muscovy you were trying to re-tame, you could be a bit more abrupt in your regimen, but you’re trying to tame two ducks, one of whom doesn’t have that past relationship with you.

      Hope this helps and good luck! If your ducks seem more amenable to affection as you go, speed up the process as-needed. Also, please check back in and let us know how it goes. 🙂

  • Reply
    Donna
    April 11, 2021 at 9:45 am

    I have always been obsessed with pet ducks!
    I am now living on a floating home and in need of information and advise
    Can you help ?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      April 12, 2021 at 10:07 am

      If you’re obsessed with ducks and living on a floating home, I’m not sure there’s much more we can do to help you. It sounds like you’ve peaked as a human being. However, if you think there’s something more we can contribute, we’d be happy to help. 🙂

  • Reply
    Librarianlady
    April 6, 2021 at 10:27 pm

    Noticed typos : hoping for girls
    Meter not Netherlands
    Didn’t see how to edit -oops

  • Reply
    Librarianlady
    April 6, 2021 at 10:25 pm

    Have 3 Pekin ducklings, hoping from girls, but unsure as came from tractor supply store. Wish I had known about Netherlands sexed ducklings. This is week 1, trying to take them out daily, but now when its time to go in they run. They love their outdoor time & when they warm up for a bit will follow us and get close to us, but when it is time to go in they are running from us. How can we make this less stressful, but still let them enjoy time outdoors?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      April 7, 2021 at 8:32 am

      Treats/rewards! Every flock/breed/individual duck is different and enjoys a different favorite treat. For our girls, it’s tomatoes (and sometimes mealworms) that tops the favorites list. Whatever that treat is for your ducks, consider drawing them back inside by showing them a small bowl of their favorite treats and then tempting them back towards your home with the bowl of treats, before finally giving them the big reward once they’ve done what you want them to do (presumably come inside and go back into their brooder). Give this a try and let us know how it goes!

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