How to Take Care of Ducks in Winter

Ducks Are Adaptable to All Sorts of Weather, But Need a Bit of Help to Thrive

by Erin Snyder
PHOTO: Vera Kuttelvaserova

How to take care of ducks in winter may not always be obvious. With their warm, downy feathers and insulating layers of fat, you might feel like you don’t need to help keep ducks warm in winter. Ducks may appear to have everything they need to survive winter’s harshest climates. However, if ducks are to thrive through winter, providing them with some extra care is essential.

Access to fresh swimming water, proper shelter and good nutrition are some necessities ducks need during the cold months. Here’s a list of what ducks need to beat winter’s cold.

Water for Waterfowl

It may sound strange, but access to fresh swimming water is necessary to help keep ducks’ feathers in tip-top condition. The reason for this unusual trait is an insulating layer of air between each layer of feathers. If a duck can’t bathe frequently, the feathers become dirty and compacted, releasing the insulating air from the feathers. Without the added layers of air in their feathers, ducks are prone to catching a chill.

Ducks have another unique trait that allows them to stay warm and dry while swimming, called the oil gland. Frequent swimming enables ducks to keep their oil glands in working condition. The oil gland (located just above the tail) releases a waxy oil that a duck spreads over its feathers while preening. This oil works as a water repellent, ensuring all feathers stay waterproof.

Ducks also need access to a fresh, unfrozen bucket of water for drinking and cleaning out their eyes and nares to prevent eye infections and keep their airways clean.

Erin Synder

Avoid the Pond

While allowing ducks to swim in a kiddie pool is safe in winter, giving them access to a pond is not. Floating on a pond increases the chances of a predator attack, and ducks can get trapped under shifting ice while feeding or diving underwater.

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duck wading pool showing ducks need some sort of water but it doesn't have to be a pond
Erin Synder

Winter Duck Nutrition

Like all livestock, ducks need proper nutrition to thrive in winter. Providing them with a well-balanced, complete layer feed is the best way to ensure your ducks get the necessary vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients they need to thrive. When acquiring feed for ducks, choose a feed that includes probiotics and prebiotics, is nonmedicated, and is made with grains grown on North American Farms. Avoid feeds with animal by-products, growth hormones, artificial byproducts, and fillers.

ducks enclosure in winter
Erin Synder

Feed Ducks Nutritious Treats

Supplementing a duck’s diet with some healthy treats can help boost their immune system by adding extra nutrients. Feed beneficial treats such as peas, wheat kernels, oatmeal and black soldier fly larvae that contain essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Avoid unhealthy options such as corn, pasta, red meat, poultry, bread and mealworms, as these treats have little nutritional value.

Allowing ducks to forage for treats is an excellent boredom buster. Bored ducks are unhappy ducks, and this fun mental stimulation will help keep your ducks happy, busy and thriving until spring.

Providing Shelter

Ducks need fresh air and sunshine to stay healthy, but when the snow starts to fall and temperatures dip below freezing, ducks need a sheltered area in the run to escape winter’s chill. Creating a weather shelter for ducks can be as easy as making a shelter out of pine boughs or constructing a “house” out of plywood. When building a weather-proof shelter, remember that these shelters are for protection from winter weather only and cannot keep out predators.

When housing Muscovy ducks, keep them confined to the coop when the temperature dips below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the bare skin on their faces from frostbite.

Wind Advisory

Even though ducks love being outdoors, when temperatures or wind chills reach below 15 degrees, it’s time to head to the coop. While ducks are incredibly hardy, extreme temperatures and wind chills can be harmful and could cause sickness or death. Keep your ducks warm, and they’ll be happier.

Before letting your ducks into the run during cold winter mornings, check the local forecast to ensure the temperatures and wind chills are safe for them to be out.

Predator Protection

Protecting ducks from a predator attack is the priority in helping them survive and thrive through winter. While predator attacks happen throughout the year, the cold and snowy conditions make it harder for predators to find a meal and make them more likely to attack backyard ducks.

To keep ducks safe from predators, house them in a predator-proof coop and run. Cover the run’s top and sides with half-inch sixteen-gauge PVC heavy wire, leaving no gaps larger than one-half inch on the sides or roof. Attach predator skirts around the perimeter of the run to deter digging predators.

House ducks in a coop or barn with a wooden or cement floor to prevent digging predators from gaining access to the coop. Cover windows and holes larger than one-half inch with half-inch 16-gauge PVC heavy wire. Secure all door fixtures with padlocks to keep curious raccoons from opening coop doors, pop holes or nesting boxes.

Erin Synder

Knowing how to take care of ducks in winter can help backyard ducks survive and thrive through the harshest months. With a little effort, you can keep your ducks warm and soon they’ll be providing you with fresh eggs again in the spring.

This article about how to take care of ducks was written for Chickens magazine online. Click here to subscribe.