Whether you have pet or backyard ducks — or you’re trying to rescue an injured wild duck — knowing how to pick up, hold, handle, and put them down is important to know. You’ll find out how in this article and instructional video!
We’ll get to the nuts and bolts of picking up and handling ducks shortly, but first some important context:
1. Why pick up a duck?
Perhaps most importantly, regularly picking our ducks up when we don’t need to keeps them used to being handled by us, which can be important for when we actually do need to handle them…
Even if you have no interest in petting or cuddling your backyard ducks, there are times when you need to be able to pick them up: namely when one appears to be sick or injured. At that point, visually inspecting your duck(s) and/or bringing them to a vet is essential. And if you don’t know how to safely pick up a duck, you could injure them or — at a minimum — cause them undue stress.
Even if you don’t have backyard ducks, you may be trying to figure out how to pick up an injured wild duck to take it to a wildlife rescue. If so, the same basic principles we outline in this article and video still apply, but you may want to first toss a sheet or towel over the wild duck to make the experience less traumatic before picking it up and placing it in a transport box/crate since it likely views you as a hungry predator.
2. There are different species, breeds, and sizes of ducks – some may need to be handled differently.
Not all ducks are the same. In this article and instructional video, we’re going to be using a Lightweight Mallard-derived Welsh Harlequin female who weighs about five pounds. So keep the following information in mind:
Our instructions are specific to Mallard and Mallard-derived ducks, not Muscovies. Muscovies are a completely different, much larger waterfowl species with unique features (like very sharp claws), so they may need to be handled a bit differently so you avoid getting scratched. (Or you can just wear gloves and a thick, long-sleeve shirt.)
There are dozens of breeds of domesticated, Mallard-derived ducks. As we detail in our article How to choose the best duck breed for you, each breed is a little different when it comes to calmness.
A duck from a calmer breed like Welsh Harlequin will typically be a little easier to handle than a duck from a less calm breed such as a Runner. Like humans, ducks have individual personalities and you may end up with a very tame bird from a supposedly non-calm breed or a duck who is terrified of you despite being from a relatively calm breed.
Regardless, there are steps you can take to get your ducks to tolerate being handled, as we outline in How to get your ducks to like you.
C. Different duck sizes/classes
The American Poultry Association divides domesticated Mallard-derived ducks into four classes based on their size:
- Mediumweight, and
Topping out at about 5.5 pounds, our Welsh Harlequin ducks are considered a Lightweight class. For the average person, this size of duck is fairly easy to hold & handle compared to a much larger Heavyweight duck. For instance, an Aylesbury is about twice as large as our ducks, and an Aylesbury drake may weigh 10 pounds.
Keep this information in mind if you have a wrist injury or before allowing young children to handle a duck. A Heavyweight duck who does NOT want to be picked up and handled could be surprisingly powerful.
3. Don’t pick up or handle WILD ducks unless it’s medically essential.
Don’t ever pick up or handle a wild duck unless one is injured and needs to be taken to a waterfowl/wildlife rescue. Related: We’d also generally advise against feeding wild ducks.
Wild ducks need to maintain their fear of humans for their own safety. You might have the best intentions in mind, but other people don’t. If you don’t believe us, simply follow Carolina Waterfowl Rescue on Instagram, and you’ll be heartbroken by the cruelty with which people (even children) can treat wild waterfowl.
It’s also important to note that even healthy-appearing wild ducks may harbor dangerous pathogens such as H5N1 influenza. Not only can these diseases infect you, they can spread to other mammals and backyard poultry.
Video: How to safely pick up, hold, and set down a duck
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Note: There are different ways that seasoned duck enthusiasts hold their ducks. Our method is one we’ve naturally developed over about a decade and it works great for us and our flock. It also keeps us from getting pooped on, which we find helpful. Ha!
Video notes: SONAR: A helpful acronym to remember when handling ducks
Acronyms help you more easily remember ideas. Remember to SONAR when picking up and handling a duck:
- Support their feet.
- Offer treats.
- Nestle them against your body.
- Avoid sudden movements.
- Remain calm.
1. Support their feet.
When ducks are lifted off the ground by another animal, it likely triggers some innate ancestral instinct to kick their flippers as fast as they can to wiggle free and escape. An eagle grabbed me!
By supporting their feet with one hand as soon as you’re able to, you can help the duck feel grounded and more secure.
2. Offer treats.
Offer a favorite treat to your duck during or immediately after handling (or both) to help them form a positive association with being held.
Our ducks LOVE diced tomatoes or small currant tomatoes. Other duck parents tell us their ducks’ favorite treats are peas, which our girls won’t touch, with the exception of pea greens which they love.
3. Nestle them against your body.
Use your dominant hand to hold the duck’s body against the side of your body just above your hip. Use the thumb of your dominant hand to hold the outside wing down and your body to hold the inside wing down.
Your other hand is now free to support your duck’s feet, open a door, etc. AND the duck’s butt is pointed away from you with nothing in the way when they inevitably poop. (Watch the above video to see this duck holding method in action if these words aren’t translating well.)
4. Avoid sudden movements.
If you move suddenly while holding a duck, you’re pretty much guaranteed to trigger flight/panic mode. So move carefully, purposefully, and smoothly when holding a duck. This also prevents you from bumping into something and injuring a duck while carrying it.
5. Remain calm.
“EVERYBODY REMAIN CALM!!” Famous last words in disaster movies. If you’re anxious and jittery when you pick up and handle a duck, your duck likely will be too.
So be calm and bring the mood in the room down to an even keel when holding and handling a duck.
How to put down a duck
“Your momma’s feathers so ugly she looks like a dog.” No, we’re not talking about that kind of duck put down.
When putting your duck back on the ground, don’t let them drop. Instead, place them gently back on the ground. Setting them down gently avoids flipper cuts/scrapes that could become bumblefoot infections and helps avoid sprains, strains, and breaks.
How to catch your duck in order to pick it up
Even though our ducks are quite tame, they’re still not thrilled about being grabbed and picked up. The easiest way to catch a backyard duck is to use a herding stick to herd them into a fenced corner area then firmly but gently grab them with both hands, wrapping your thumbs over their back to hold their wings in place.
We hope this information helps you provide better care for your backyard or pet ducks — or have the confidence you need to get an injured wild duck to a nearby wildlife rescue facility!
Fly on over to these related duck articles:
- Duck health guide: first aid kit items, healthcare tips, and more
- Duck winter care tips from extreme climate duck parents
- 10 summer care tips for your backyard ducks
- Duck molting: what, when, and why it happens
- How to build a DIY backyard duck pond with self-cleaning biofilter
- Can birds change sex? The curious tale of Mary/Marty the duck…