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Over the last 20 years or so, I have probably bred and raised hundreds, maybe even more than 1,000 ducklings, and the whole process never gets old to me. It still seems a miracle that such small eggs can turn into tiny ducklings in just a few weeks.
Anyone hatching or raising ducklings for the first time may well find themselves wondering at what age ducklings can go out onto the pond? In this article, I look at when ducklings can go on the pond, and how best to introduce them to the world of swimming.
Ducklings should not be allowed to go swimming on the pond until they are at least 6 weeks old, but 8 to 10 weeks is even better. If ducklings are not fully feathered prior to being allowed to swim in open water, there is a good chance they will be wet and cold and may well die from exposure to the cold water.
What Age Can Ducklings Go On The Pond?
It’s an iconic image to see a mother duck swimming across open water with her ducklings in tow.
When ducklings first hatch, they have their well known bright yellow (or brown or black) feathers. Those feathers are great at helping keep the tiny duckling warm, but they are not the tough, waterproof feathers the duckling will develop as it grows.
Ducklings under about 6 weeks old do not have a full plumage, and their preen gland (the organ that secretes a waterproofing oil the ducks spread all over their bodies) has not fully developed, meaning they are not totally waterproof.
In reality, very young ducklings should not be allowed out on open water for the first few weeks of their lives.
Although this does not mean they should not go in the water at all, it does mean they are better off just experimenting with large bowls or small kiddie pools filled with water.
What Age Can Ducklings Swim?
Ducklings are born instinctively knowing how to swim. It is a skill that is stored deep down inside their sub-conscience.
In theory, if you put a 1 week old duckling in water, it will instinctively know what to do. With that said, I would never advise putting a duckling so young out on open water.
In my experience, at around two weeks old ducklings should be allowed to play with a small quantity of water. A large bowl or a small kiddie pond with an inch or two of water is a great starting point.
Providing your ducks have a warm, dry bed to return to, they shouldn’t come to too much harm splashing in a couple of inches of water.
The table below, which I have based on 20+ years of keeping ducks, gives a rough guide to the kind of water a duckling should have access to based on its age.
|Age of Duckling||Access to Water|
|Up to 2 weeks old||Just drinking water|
|2 – 4 weeks old||Large bowl with 1″ to 2″ (2.5cm to 5cm) of water|
|4 – 6 weeks old||Small kiddie pool with 2″ to 4″ (5cm to 10cm) of water|
|6 – 8 weeks old||Access to deeper water, but whilst being supervised|
|8+ weeks old||Should be fine to go on the pond alone|
Best Small Pond for Ducklings
So, using the word ‘pond’ in the loosest sense, I have listed below the three different stages of pond my own ducklings typically go through before being allowed out on the open water of the true duck pond.
At 2 – 4 weeks old
Once my ducklings reach about 2 weeks old I will provide them with a heavy-bottomed water bowl. The sort that won’t tip over easily.
I will usually add a layer of round pebbles to the bowl (mainly to help prevent the bowl from tipping over) and around 1″ to 2″ (2.5cm to 5cm) of fresh water.
around the bowl, I will put a couple of pieces of timber to create small steps to help the ducklings get into and out of the bowl.
Typically my ducklings will be allowed access to the water for around 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
At 4 – 6 weeks old
Once my ducklings hit the 4-week mark, I introduce them to one of my inflatable kiddie pools.
These are the kind of pools designed for toddlers to splash around in.
I will usually add about 2″ to 4″ (5cm to 10cm) of warmish water and place the ducklings into it. They take to swimming surprisingly quickly, even though my ducklings almost never spend any time with the mother duck.
At first, I only give the ducklings access to the pool for around half an hour at a time, but as the days pass I give them more and more free access.
Do be aware, that the water in the pool will need to be changed daily. The first thing my ducklings do when they get into the kiddie pool is foul the water.
At 6 – 8 weeks old
Once your ducklings reach around 6 weeks old they will be able to have more or less free access to shallow water, as well as supervised access to the pond.
I typically use large aquaponics troughs that I sink into the dirt in my duckling’s enclosures. These troughs are deep enough for the ducks to ‘learn’ to swim around, but not so deep they can get into trouble and drown.
By 6 weeks old my ducklings can easily stand up in the troughs and walk around if they wanted to.
What makes ducklings waterproof?
Ducks have evolved the ability to spread waterproofing oil all over their bodies. This is what allows them to spend so much time in the water without becoming soaking wet.
At the base of a duck’s tail, they have a gland that is often referred to as their preen gland (although the technical term is actually the uropygial gland).
The preen gland secretes oil that ducks spread all over their feathers to repel water. Ducks can be seen frequently rubbing their bills around their tail area before them rubbing different parts of their bodies.
It takes a few weeks for the duckling’s preen glands to become fully developed, however, ducklings that are raised with their mothers will benefit from the mother duck spreading her own preen oil on the duckling feathers.
In my experience, ducklings should be at least 6 weeks old, but ideally 8 to 10 weeks old before being given free access to the pond.
During the duckling’s first few weeks of life, they should still be given access to water, with the method changing as the ducklings age.
I will typically go from a large dog bowl to an aquaponic trough over the course of 6 to 8 weeks.
If you found this article helpful, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘How Much Water Do Ducklings Drink?’.
- Waterfowl Feathers ducks.org
- How do ducks float? howstuffworks.com