We’ve recently come to realize that lots of new pet and backyard duck parents have trouble getting their ducks to go where they (the humans) want them to. In this article, you’ll find out how to easily herd your ducks to get them to go wherever you want!
What’s the origin of getting your ducks in a row?
There’s debate about when and where the term “get your ducks in a row” originated. Perhaps it was an old bowling pin reference, a carnival game term, or an allusion to wild ducklings lining up behind momma duck.
Regardless of the term’s etymology, to get your ducks in a row has a clear meaning: get your things in order.
We can say with certainty that whoever actually coined this term clearly did not have backyard or pet ducks. When you become owned by ducks, your life inevitably becomes more chaotic, not less. That’s because your ducks will spend their days trying to figure out how to get you out of your row.
But you fall head-over-flippers in love with them regardless.
Yes, you can actually get your ducks to go where you want them
Two common questions we get asked by other ducks parents:
- How do you get your ducks to go into their coop at night?
- How do you get them to go where you want them when you let them out in your gardens — or keep them from running off to your neighbors’ property?
The answer to this question is quite simple: a stick. Nope, we don’t use a stick to smack our ducks like horses, we simply herd them.
And without a herding stick in hand, our ducks are nearly impossible to get in a row.
How to herd your ducks
Ducks are highly social animals. When let out in our gardens at night, our five girls forage in close proximity to one another.
If one accidentally gets separated from the flock, she’ll soon let out a “where are you” alarm quack, in hopes of eliciting a response from the others so she can run over to be reunited.
This grouping instinct comes in handy when you’re trying to get multiple ducks to go to a specific spot or move in a specific direction.
Ducks also seem to have a strong innate herding instinct in the presence of a human with a herding stick. We’re not sure whether this was bred into ducks over thousands of generations of domestication or simply some glitchy adaptive, epigenetic response associated with fear of airborne predators. Or perhaps some combination of the two…
Regardless, ducks herd really easily when directed with a stick. So when you’re in your yard herding ducks, think of yourself as a maestro or maestra and your ducks as an orchestra. Granted the cacophony of quacks you’ll elicit from your ducks would make Beethoven shriek in horror, but it still warms the cockles.
7 duck herding stick tips:
1. Use a stick that’s about 3-4′ long to herd ducks. Nope, you don’t have to buy a herding stick, any ol’ stick of the right length will do. Our personal favorite materials are bamboo and elderberry because they’re straight and light weight.
2. Keep a few duck herding sticks around in places where you’ll need them. For instance, we have certain spots throughout our front and back yard where there’s always a few duck stick on the ready if/when we need them.
3. If you have a larger flock (20+ birds) or a small free-range farming operation, you may want to attach a small flag to the end of your duck herding stick to make it more visible to birds in the front of the formation.
4. Want your ducks to go to the right? Place your stick to the left of them or tap it on the ground to the left of them.
5. Want your ducks to go left? Place your stick to the right of them or tap it on the ground to the right of them.
6. Want your ducks to go straight ahead? Go back and forth with your stick, right-left-right-left while walking forward. Once they get moving, you can just pull the stick up to your center.
7. If you want your ducks to slow down or stop, simply put the herding stick behind your back and also stop moving forward yourself. “Out of sight out of mind” was a saying coined by duck herders. No, not really.
Duck herding video:
Here’s a quick 30 second video showing duck herding in action so you can see what it’s like behind the stick:
(*The video may not display if you have ad blocking software on your computer, sorry!)
Can you train ducks to respond to sounds?
Yes, your ducks can be trained to respond to specific sounds! At least ours can, and they wouldn’t exactly qualify as honor roll students at the local elementary school. (No offense to bird brains, which are actually remarkably intelligent.)
A few examples:
We have a loud, drawn out duuuuck-a-liiing call that we’ve trained our ducks to associate with receiving treats (tomatoes, mealworms, Japanese beetles, etc). When they hear the call, they come waddle-running over to us, quacking excitedly the whole way.
Our ducks also respond to specific tapping sounds of a herding stick. For instance, a loud “tap, tap” against a tree trunk or tomato cage means they need to come out of a certain bed they’re foraging in.
Multiple loud tap, tap, taps of a herding stick as dusk approaches means it’s time to head back to the backyard in preparation for going into their coop at night. And work on their multiplication tables. No, not really.
So now you know how to herd your ducks and how you can potentially train them to respond to certain sounds or calls to make your job as Chief Duck Herder even easier.
Thank us next time you put your ducks into their coop at night or need to shew them away from one of your garden beds.
Other articles that will tickle your flippers:
- 5 tips to keep your ducks from destroying your yard or garden
- How to make a self-cleaning backyard duck pond
- 17 tips to keep your ducks or chickens safe from predators
- Duck health guide: first aid kit, essentials, and other tips
- What to feed pet and backyard ducks to maximize their health and longevity
- Why and how to make a duck go broody