flock of ducks standing in yard

A Detailed Guide on What to Feed Ducks

Ducks are very adaptable and highly opportunistic feeders. This is why they are found in various habitats around the world. They are delightful and friendly creatures known for their charming presence in parks, ponds, lakes, and wetlands. But despite being more closely related to waterfowl like geese and swans, ducks exhibit feeding habits closely familiar to household chickens. Knowing what to feed ducks is critical for their health.

what to feed ducks on the homestead

What do Ducks Eat?

If you’ve ever encountered ducks, you may have wondered about the best foods to offer them to keep them healthy and thriving. We commonly associate feeding bread crumbs to ducks, but what do ducks eat?

However, they are actually among the select group of animals classified as omnivores. This means they consume almost anything, including plant matter and small animals. Their broad diet range includes aquatic plants, insects, small fish, and even grains and seeds found on land.

Adding ducks to your homestead, or just having backyard ducks as pets, means providing ducks with the proper diet that is crucial for their health, growth, egg production, and well-being. This detailed guide covers all the necessary dietary needs and restrictions of ducks. It also includes the best feeding practices and the ideal foods to feed ducks.

Ducks require a balanced meal similar to what they find in their natural environment. This means a diet rich in protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and essential micronutrients often absent in bread and leftovers.

As previously mentioned, ducks are voracious omnivores. This means they consume both plant-based and animal-based foods, and in the wild, ducks have access to various foods. They forage on foods like aquatic vegetation, such as pondweed, wild rice, wild celery, insects, mollusks, small fish, crustaceans, clams, beetles, aquatic invertebrates, salamanders, frogs and other amphibians, small rodents, and seeds, even acorns.

This diverse diet allows them to obtain the essential nutrients they require for growth, energy, and overall vitality.

Ducks have a unique digestive system that efficiently extracts nutrients from their food. Their gizzard, a muscular organ in their digestive tract, grinds food into smaller particles. This grinding process is essential for breaking down tough plant material and improving nutrient absorption.

What to Feed Ducks

However, domesticated ducks rely on their caregivers to provide suitable and balanced nutrition.

Feeding ducks with meal leftovers and bread is a common practice. However, it’s important to recognize that these food items often do not contain the essential nutritional requirements ducks need for optimal health.

Some of the safe and nutritional foods for ducks include:

Grains and Seeds

Grains and seeds are excellent options when selecting what to feed ducks, as they offer essential nutrients and mimic their natural foraging behavior. Some such as corn, wheat, barley, oats, rice, and sunflower seeds are excellent sources of carbohydrates that can be included in their diet. Carbohydrates are an essential energy source for ducks, particularly for their active lifestyle.

Corn, especially cracked corn, is a good option for feeding ducks as it provides energy and is easily digestible. Ducks enjoy munching on cracked corn, whole corn kernels, or cornmeal. It is particularly suitable during colder months as it helps keep them warm. Wheat and barley are also great options. They should be, however, given in smaller quantities as they are nutrient-dense and with high levels of fiber that can cause digestive issues if over-consumed.

Oats are a nutritious and easily digestible grain for ducks, with the rolled or steel- cut oats highly preferable, as they are less processed and retain more natural nutrients. Oats provide ducks with a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber, making them an excellent addition to their diet. Uncooked oats, whether rolled or quick, can be fed to ducks.

Sunflower seeds are a favorite treat for ducks and are very rich in healthy fats, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals. Sunflower seeds are good to offer as a supplement to their diet, either raw or unsalted. However, due to their high-fat content, feeding sunflower seeds sparingly is essential to avoid excessive calorie intake.

Offering grains and seeds in moderation is crucial, as overfeeding can lead to obesity and other health problems. Also, ensure that the grains and seeds you provide are of good quality and free from mold or contaminants because they can harm your ducks and lead to health issues.

group of little ducks running around in field

Insects and Small Creatures

Ducks love insects! When choosing what to feed ducks, insects are great. Providing them with mealworms, earthworms, or dried insects can occasionally add diversity and much-needed protein and nutrient content to their diet. Animal protein is rich in essential amino acids that are the building blocks of growth and tissue repair. For young ducklings, adequate protein intake is vital during their rapid growth phase.

A protein-rich diet is essential for producing healthy and strong eggshells for egg-laying female ducks. Calcium, an important mineral found in animal protein, is crucial for successful reproduction.

Crushed oyster shells, mealworms, earthworms, and insect larvae are excellent and beneficial protein and calcium sources for ducks. Mealworms are popular and readily available and offered dried or live. Ducks will eagerly chase and consume them. Earthworms are highly nutritious and loved by ducks. They can forage for earthworms in wet soil or you can give them as live treats. Insects such as water bugs, snails, and mosquito larvae are valuable animal protein sources for ducks.

Always ensure that the insects and small creatures you provide are safe and free from harmful pesticides or contaminants. It is highly advisable to avoid collecting insects from areas where chemicals are used.

Fresh Greens & Vegetables

Fresh greens and vegetables offer essential vitamins and minerals for ducks. They require a variety of vitamins to maintain their health and well-being. For example, Vitamin A is essential for vision and immune function, vitamin D aids in calcium absorption, and vitamin E is an antioxidant. Minerals are also vital for ducks’ bone development, nerve function, and overall health. Leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, kale, and watercress are excellent choices, and vegetables like peas, carrots, cucumbers, and squash can also be included to provide a balanced diet.

According to PlantNative, the downside with greens and vegetables is that they can cause upset stomach in large quantities, especially fruit, but also vegetables high in carbohydrates, like carrots. You can avoid this by balancing your greens with small amounts of seeds and nuts.


Ducks can safely consume various fruits, which can be a great source of vitamins and minerals. The list of fruits suitable for consumption by ducks includes apples, grapes, watermelon, bananas, berries, and so much more. Apples are a great fruit to feed ducks as they have high fiber content and are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. They can be fed whole, sliced, or grated, and ducks generally enjoy pecking at slices. Other high-water-content fruits like watermelons and grapes provide additional hydration for the ducks and are often refreshing.

While fruits can be a healthy addition to a duck’s diet, they should be offered in moderation to avoid overfeeding and to maintain a balanced nutritional intake. Offer fresh and ripe fruits to ducks, as spoiled or moldy fruits can harm their health.

Supplemental Feed for Ducks

Supplementary feeds for ducks offer an additional way to feed ducks apart from their natural foraging for natural foods in their environment. Depending on the individual’s preference, they can either be commercial duck pellets or homemade duck feeds. You can use chicken feed or chick starter, but ducks need more niacin than chickens so you may have to supplement the chicken feed with brewer’s yeast.

Commercial duck pellets are formulated to meet ducks’ specific nutritional needs. If you can’t provide feed another way, this can be included in your plan for what to feed ducks. They contain a balanced blend of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals necessary for their growth, development, and overall health. It is readily available in stores and online, making it a convenient option for duck owners, and it eliminates the need to source and prepare various ingredients for homemade feed.

When choosing commercial duck pellets, looking for key ingredients that indicate a quality product is important. Look for feed that includes grains like wheat, oats, barley, and corn, and it should contain protein sources like fishmeal, soybean meal, or other plant-based proteins. Also, check for the inclusion of essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, calcium, and phosphorus. These nutrients support bone health, immune function, and overall well-being.

If you prefer to make homemade duck feed, it’s important to ensure that the recipes meet the dietary requirements of ducks. Here is a simple recipe for homemade duck feed:


  • 4 cups whole wheat
  • 2 cups cracked corn
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup dried mealworms (optional, for added protein)
  • 1 cup dried peas (optional, for added protein)
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed (optional, for added omega-3 fatty acids)


  1. Combine whole wheat, cracked corn, oats, dried mealworms, dried peas, and ground flaxseed in a large bowl.
  2. Mix well to ensure all ingredients are evenly distributed smoothly.
  3. Store the homemade duck feed in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
  4. Offer the homemade feed to ducks in addition to their natural foraging and other supplemental foods.

It’s important to note that homemade duck feed should be offered as a supplement to a varied diet that includes greens, insects, and other natural food sources. Consult with a veterinarian specializing in avian care to ensure that the homemade feed meets the specific dietary needs of your ducks.

Fresh and Clean Water

What do ducks eat in a pond with kids

As aquatic birds, ducks have an intimate connection with water and rely on it for hydration and various aspects of their daily lives. Providing fresh and clean water is crucial for ducks’ health, well-being, and overall happiness, whether in a natural environment or in captivity.

Ducks often forage in water bodies for aquatic plants, algae, insects, and small invertebrates. Clean water enables them to find their natural food sources and maintain their feeding behaviors, which is essential for their nutritional intake and overall health.

Ducks are highly skilled swimmers who spend much time in the water. Clean water provides them a safe and hygienic environment to swim, exercise, and socialize with other ducks. Swimming is a form of exercise that keeps their feathers clean and in good condition. Ducks preen and spread natural oils from a gland near their tail over their feathers to make them waterproof.

If you keep ducks in captivity, ensure their water containers or ponds are regularly cleaned and refilled to provide fresh and clean water at all times. For ducks in natural environments, ensure access to clean ponds, even just shallow water, lakes, or streams for drinking, swimming, and foraging. Ensure the water sources are free from chemical contamination, as ducks can be sensitive to pollutants.

What NOT to Feed Ducks

Ducks can be fed various foods, but certain foods should be avoided due to the potential harm they cause to the ducks. For example, chocolates contain theobromine, which is toxic to ducks and can lead to serious health issues. The theobromine in chocolate can cause restlessness and hyperactivity in ducks, and when consumed excessively, it can also lead to seizures.

Other notable treats to avoid giving ducks include:

  • Bread is high in carbohydrates and has little nutritional value for ducks, which require varied diets to live healthy lives, and feeding ducks bread can lead to malnutrition and other health problems.
  • Caffeine contains methylxanthine and has been shown to cause lung- and heart-related deaths in ducks.
  • Onions and garlic contain thiosulfate that can damage a duck’s red blood cells, leading to anemia and other health problems.
  • Avocado contains persin, which can be fatal to ducks. The ingestion of persin can cause weakness, heart problems, and respiratory difficulties, leading to sudden death in ducks.
  • Alcohol is toxic to ducks and can cause severe damage to their liver and nervous system.
  • Salt is harmful to ducks because it increases their thirst and urination, which can result in water loss and dehydration. Ducks’ kidneys are not designed to process high salt levels, and consuming foods with excessive salt content can strain their kidneys and potentially lead to kidney damage.
  • Fruits with stone pits, like cherries, plums, peaches, and apricots, should be offered to ducks only after removing the pit. Many stone fruit pits, such as those from peaches, plums, and apricots, contain trace amounts of cyanide.
  • Green potatoes, particularly the skins and “eyes,” contain solanine, which can poison ducks.
  • Rhubarb is not recommended for ducks due to its high concentration of oxalic acid. Oxalic acid can cause kidney stones, kidney failure, and stomach irritation.
  • Processed and junk foods are also not nutritious for ducks and can harm them. These foods are often high in fat, sugar, and salt, leading to weight gain, obesity, and other health problems.

Final Thoughts

Adult ducks require a diet high in grains such as corn, wheat, and barley, as these grains provide essential carbohydrates and protein that support their overall health. Egg-laying ducks require a diet high in calcium to promote strong eggshells coupled with calcium sources such as oyster shells and grit can be added to their diet to ensure they meet their nutritional needs. Ducklings require a diet high in protein to support their growth and development.

Regardless of how ducks obtain their food, whether it be by scavenging or consuming a complete ration, the food consumed should contain all the nutrients, in an available form, that are needed for maintenance, growth, and reproduction. It’s worth mentioning again that feeding ducks bread, especially white bread, and processed food is not highly recommended as it lacks nutritional value and can harm their health. Instead, focus on providing a well-balanced diet that includes commercial feed, greens, and access to natural foraging options. Remember always to observe the ducks’ behavior and adjust their diet accordingly. If you notice any signs of digestive issues or discomfort, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian who specializes in avian care.

Do you raise ducks?


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