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How Long Can Ducks Go Without Water? Survival Necessities For Ducks


How Long Can Ducks Go Without Water

Ducks are a common species of poultry bird. They are primarily reared for meat and, in some cases, for eggs. These species of birds are commonly found around water bodies such as lakes and swamps. 

Water is essential for the survival of ducks. They must live near water bodies. Specific species of ducks thrive in salty water. Saltwater ducks account for more than 40% of all species of ducks in North America. 

They predominantly constitute the mergansers and eider species. Many domesticated ducks, however, are reared around freshwater. Let us find out how long they can survive without water.

How long can ducks go without water?

Ducks can survive without water for eight hours. Beyond the eight hours, severe dehydration sets in, and eventually, death occurs. The ill effects of lacking water are observable after just two hours. Behavioral changes occur; this is usually heightened aggression and borrowing.

Proper Water Hygiene For Domesticated Ducks

Under ideal conditions, ducks should live near large bodies of water, that is, lakes, ponds, and swamps. When domesticating ducks, you might not have access to such water bodies.

Creating pools of open water might be beneficial; however, this can be a costly solution. Keeping the pool clean can also be challenging. 

This is because ducks excrete in the pools, and with time, this could lead to contamination and have detrimental effects on the ducks’ health.

Contaminated pools have been known to cause hyperkeratosis, inflammation, and other foot illnesses in ducks.

The most hygienic solution to this problem is to use modified drinking cups. These are specialized cups with controlled openings intended to provide a steady stream of water while limiting exposure to bacteria.

These specialized cups are ideal as they not only limit the bacteria exposure, they provide a hands-off approach to keeping the birds hydrated. They also prevent a myriad of diseases in ducks.

What Causes Contamination?

Aside from wet droppings, here are other sources of contamination:

Mold on the feet: This is generally caused by using improper duck feed. Moldy feet occur as a result of ducks wading through contaminated areas. 

This will drive the growth of mycotoxins in the water. Replacing cake feed frequently goes a long way in preventing contamination.

Water consumption: If there is a sudden increase in water consumption, the wet litter will increase. This will ultimately lead to contamination if cleaning is not done regularly. In the summer, you must clean duck litter regularly to avoid contamination.

Feeding And Dieting For Different Species Of Ducks

Ducks have arguably the most comprehensive variety in terms of diet as compared to other domesticated birds. They feed on worms, fish, grass, insects, among many other items.

A particular species of dabbling ducks have whale-like teeth commonly referred to as pecten. These teeth-like structures filter out water when feeding. They are also helpful for holding on to greasy food such as mollusks.

Sea ducks usually dive underneath the water surface to hunt for various types of food, mostly small fish and insects. 

They are covered in oily and water-resistant feathers. These birds are streamlined to dive and emerge with minimum drag.

Some ducks opt for dredging. This is common for species found in swamps or murky waters. They have broad beaks- this helps them to subdue small animals and insects quickly.

Water Adaptations For Ducks

Ducks are unique. They are one of the few avian species that has evolved to have a massive reliance on water bodies.

Other species that thrive in such conditions include penguins, flamingos, and swans. Of the various species of water birds, ducks are some of the few that we can domesticate.

Here are some of the adaptations that ducks have that enable them to survive:

1. Water-resistant feathers

Ducks have naturally developed water-resistant feathers. They have glands underneath the feathers that secrete a layer of oil. This prevents water molecules from adhering to the surface of the feathers.

The oil secreted enables ducks to have water-resistant feathers and ensures that the ducks are well insulated from cold water. It is a thermoregulation adaptation in many water birds. 

2. Webbed feet

Webbed feet provide a means of propulsion to ducks on the surface of the water. They enable the ducks to push themselves in a forward motion by constantly flapping their feet. 

This displaces water backward while giving the birds enough forward momentum to help them move.

This adaptation may not be perfect, as ducks have to keep paddling rapidly to move. It is a motion that requires a lot of energy.

3. Hollow bones

Having hollow bones is vital as it reduces the overall weight of the bird. This enables them to remain afloat easily and it is easier for them to swim. 

The bones in ducks are also less dense as compared to other non-aqueous birds. In some species, less dense bones help ducks to archive flight.

4. Pecten

This is an adaptation that is specific to certain ducks. These are bristle-like appendages that enable ducks to filter water out of their beaks as they feed.

It is a helpful structure that allows ducks to feed in murky waters.

Essential Healthcare For Domesticated Ducks

It is vital to know how to deal with ailing, injured ducks or ducks in distress. Here are some valuable tips that could help in case of ailments or injuries:

1. Dealing with parasites

Parasites are common in ducks that lack access to sufficient water. They tend to latch onto the skin underneath the feathers. If left untreated, such infestations can lead to death. 

You should administer anti-parasite medication immediately if you notice lice or mites in ducks.

Make sure to spray infected ducks away from the watering source. The quantity of medication administered depends on the severity of the infestation. 

2. Bumblefoot treatment

This is a common ailment in ducks that are exposed to contaminated water. The ease of treatment depends on the extent of the infection. Generally, the treatment entails submerging the infected foot in an Epsom salt solution.

Once the infested foot has absorbed enough of the solution, the foot is wrapped using a cloth. This process is repeated at least thrice a day till the infection is gone.

3. Prolapse treatment

Prolapsing occurs in female ducks if the oviduct muscles fail to relax after laying eggs. This can cause a great deal of discomfort to the duck and make it susceptible to infections.

The treatment for a prolapse involves gently cleaning the exposed oviduct with warm water. You should then proceed to apply petroleum jelly to the opening.

An alternative is gently applying witch hazel after cleaning the opening. This will reduce swelling and hopefully hasten the muscle relaxation process.

4. Dealing with extreme dehydration

In many cases, dehydrated ducks may be too exhausted to drink on their own. This is a common cause of death in ducks.

You will need to administer fluids to prevent death. The most effective way of doing this is through administering subcutaneous fluids. This is best left to a vet or any other animal health expert, as it can be dangerous if done incorrectly.

The Life Cycle Of Ducks

Ducks live simple lives. Their cycle can generally be summarized into three main stages that both males and females adhere typically to. These stages are incubation, raising stage, and mating stage.

1. Incubation stage:

This is the first stage in the life of a duck. Female ducks usually build nests out of plant materials. The nests are generally just structurally sound enough to provide a stable enclosure for the eggs.

Ducks have been known to line the interior of their nests with their feathers for extra warmth. The eggs typically hatch approximately one month after they have been laid.

2. Raising stage:

On hatching, the ducklings leave the nest, never to return. Unlike most species of birds, ducks do not regurgitate food into their young one’s beaks. Ducklings must learn how to find food from the onset, with some assistance from their mothers.

Ducks develop buoyant feathers two months after they hatch. At this point, they are fully adult ducks.

3. Mating stage:

Male ducks serenade female ducks with varying displays. This may include flapping wings, loud quacks, among other similar presentations.

The female ducks then choose a mating partner. The ducks will proceed to select an appropriate nesting spot, upon which mating begins. Once the mating step is done, incubation begins, and the cycle continues.


Ducks are one of the bird species that are heavily reliant on water. A duck should not go more than eight hours without water. This will result in severe dehydration and death. Ducks can survive with either salty or freshwater, depending on the species.

The birds have acquired several evolutionary adaptations that have ultimately enabled them to survive constantly around water. They include hollow bones, uropygial glands, and webbed feet. Domesticated ducks should have access to an uncontaminated and constant flow of water.

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