Feeding ducks near a pond is a great way to connect with nature. Although bringing bread and scattering it for the ducks isn’t the most natural way for them to find food. So what do ducks eat in the wild?
Ducks are omnivores which means they eat both plants and animals. Wild ducks mainly eat aquatic plants and vegetation but will also eat small fish, insects, amphibians, and crustaceans. During the colder seasons grains, seeds, and nuts are also a part of their diet.
The variety of foods that a duck eats may have surprised you and even more so that they eat other animals. If you want to learn more then this guide will take you through all you want to know about a wild ducks’ diet.
You can even use this information to feed your local ducks a more natural diet and stay away from offering them bread.
Let’s dive in.
What do Ducks eat in the wild?
1. Aquatic vegetation
Ducks are waterfowl which means they are birds that spend a lot of time in the water. So it only makes sense that they have adapted best to living on mostly food found in these water sources.
Aquatic vegetation is plants that are found in various parts of a water source. This includes plants around the water’s edge as well as slightly or totally submerged.
The ducks can eat the aquatic plants found at any level of water. Generally, the species of duck will decide how far they can find food underwater. Diving ducks are found in deep water sources such as the sea and can go as far as 50ft (15m) underwater [source].
Dabbling ducks are those found at the local ponds. They tend to feed at surface level or a few feet underwater. You may even have noticed them foraging by sticking their tail feathers up in the air with their head in the water.
Some aquatic plants that ducks eat are:
- Southern Naiad
- Wild Celery
- Widgeon Grass
Aquatic plants provide ducks with a rich source of nutrients. This includes nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
The surface-level plants are usually only available to them in the warmer months. The submerged plants are available for them to eat all year round. This gives the ducks an advantage of foraging for food over land-based birds in the winter.
2. Grass and weeds
Although ducks spend a lot of time in the water they are also able to forage on land. They love to graze on grassy patches near the water.
The ducks aren’t too fussy but they will have a preference for young green shoots over tall, dry grasses.
They also will happily eat many weeds that are found growing amongst the grass such as clover and dandelions.
Types of grasses ducks eat include:
- Millet grass
Grasses are a better option for ducks in the warmer months. This is because the grass under frozen or snow-covered ground isn’t easy for ducks to access in the winter.
Grass contains lots of nutrients for ducks but it doesn’t provide everything they need. For this reason, grass and weeds are often used by ducks to supplement their diet.
3. Grains and seeds
Ducks can forage for various foods and can often use nearby grains and seeds as part of their diet. Raw and unprocessed whole grains are what ducks will eat in the wild. They have a tongue shape that scoops them easily into their mouth.
Ducks can have access to grains and seeds that will grow in fields close to natural waterways.
These foods are an excellent source of energy, nutrients, and vitamins for the ducks, especially in the winter months.
Common grains ducks eat are:
4. fruits and nuts
Ducks love to forage and they will come across a lot of different foods by exploring their environment. Fruits and berries are common food that ducks will eat whilst they forage amongst plants.
Soft fleshy fruits and berries are easy for the ducks to eat using their beaks and tongues. Fruit with tough peels or skins isn’t easy for the ducks to access the flesh inside. Although they would manage these if they were chopped up first.
Fruits that ducks love to eat are:
Fruits are crammed full of nutrients and vitamins that keep ducks healthy. Because they are soft and sweet the ducks enjoy them as a treat.
Another favorite food ducks love to eat is acorns. They will find them whilst foraging in forested areas. Acorns are full of carbohydrates that the ducks can turn into fat for winter.
5. Small fish
Although fish are part of the ducks’ diet, it’s usually only small amounts every so often. That’s usually when other food sources are harder to find.
Small fish such as minnows are easy for the ducks to find as there are usually a lot of them. Fish eggs are also available to ducks in large numbers.
The main reason ducks eat fish is because it’s a great source of amino acids found in protein. Those amino acids are essential for growing healthy muscles and feathers.
Ducks can usually catch and eat smaller fish by filter feeding in the water. They can do this when they submerge their heads in the water for short periods. They can’t catch and eat large fish.
6. Crustaceans and amphibians
Other pond life that ducks eat is small amphibians and crustaceans. Just like fish they make up a small part of the ducks’ diet.
The most common crustaceans for ducks to eat are freshwater snails and crayfish. They have easy access to them when they are foraging for aquatic plants in the water. These crustaceans are full of proteins as well as being soft and juicy for the ducks to eat.
Small frogs are another food that ducks will eat if given the chance. Usually, they will eat them if given the opportunity and they won’t actively seek them out to eat large volumes. Small frogs and tadpoles are the most common amphibian that the ducks will come across whilst foraging in the water.
Another big part of the duck’s diet is insects they find around the water and grasslands. Areas with water are always a hotbed for insects, so the duck usually has a large amount available to them.
Again, insects are high in protein, and this is essential for healthy growth, especially for ducklings.
Some insects that ducks eat are:
- Mosquito pupae
The good thing about ducks eating insects is that they aren’t fussy about what insects they eat. This means they will consume a lot of pest insects that can be dangerous for passing on diseases to other animals. So their insect-eating habit is beneficial to a lot of other animals.
Can ducks Eat Bread?
Ducks can and will eat bread that you offer to them. The problem is that it’s only good for them in moderation and we don’t know how much bread they’ve had from other people that day.
Bread is nutritionally poor for ducks and can cause a lot of health issues for them. Not only that, but it can also make them aggressive and create a poor environment. Check out our guide to 8 reasons why you shouldn’t feed ducks bread.
The best thing you can do for the local duck is to find good grain and insect sources close to their natural diet and offer these instead. That way you aren’t adding to health issues and are making sure that they are having a balanced diet.
What do baby ducks eat?
Ducklings have to learn to fend for themselves pretty quickly. They get a few days of parents foraging for them, then they have to start finding food for themselves.
Like most baby birds, ducklings need a good supply of protein to help them to grow quickly. Insects are the best source of protein that they have. Eggs from insects, amphibians, and fish are also another good source of protein for ducklings.
As the ducklings grow they will start to eat more plants and grains as part of their diet.
Ducklings also need a freshwater source to help them digest their food easily.
What do ducks eat in winter?
Food can be much harder for ducks to find in winter. Frozen soil and snow make it hard to find food on land. Frozen shallow water spots can also make it difficult for the duck to easily access surface-level vegetation.
Starvation is a big threats to a ducks chances of survival in the winter time.
During these months ducks will often rely on vegetation that grows a little taller such as grains. Foods such as acorns that are found in sheltered areas like forests can also provide a lot of nutrients.
Aquatic plants that are below the water surface can also provide the ducks with a good source of energy and nutrition in winter. Sedges are plants on the side of the water usually amongst moving water which is harder to freeze over. These come as a reliable food source for ducks in winter too.
Ducks are omnivores and their diet is made up of mostly aquatic plants and insects. They will also supplement their diet with a lot of other food sources such as berries, fish, frogs, crustaceans, and grains.
Ducks are keen foragers and will eat most of what they can find given the opportunity. They will eat most of what is available to them in their environment.
They are fairly seasonal eaters and will adjust their diet to what is available to them in any given season. This means their diet varies from summer to winter.
A duck’s diet plays a large role in their survival and staying healthy, both physically and mentally. It’s essential ducks stick to their natural diet as much as possible to prevent poor health and to keep their foraging instincts strong.