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I have been keeping, breeding, and showing ducks for many years. Ducks are one of those animals that start to make a homestead feel like a proper farming venture. Duck eggs are tasty and there are also many duck breeds that can be raised for meat.
Ducks are normally friendly birds that, once they realize you pose them no threat, will happily spend time around people, even eating from their hands.
It can be incredibly frustrating when your ducks are scared of you and run, or worse, fly away from you whenever you approach them. In this article, I answer the question ‘Why are my ducks scared of me?’
Ducks are aware they are considered prey animals and they have many predators that will happily attack them. A duck’s natural instincts will tell it to flee from any potential danger. Ducks need to learn that we pose them no danger. They learn this through time being spent with them, typically by offering them food and treats.
Why are my ducks scared of me?
Ducks are naturally skittish. They are well aware that they have many predators and their natural instincts to flee from danger are very strong. After all, a duck that sits and lets a predator approach it would not last very long in the wild.
Ducks need to get to know their keepers and discover their keepers are not a threat to them.
In my experience, the following 6 tips will help you build trust and rapport with your ducks.
1. Always approach your ducks slowly and calmy
As mentioned above, ducks are skittish. At the first signs of danger, they will fly or run away or take to the water where they will be safe from the majority of predators.
One of the best ways to keep your ducks from going into panic mode as you approach their enclosure is to walk slowly and calmly.
If you charge towards your ducks, they will almost certainly take flight.
In my experience, the best way to approach the duck’s enclosure is slowly, maybe stopping a couple of times as you approach. Make sure the ducks are aware you are there so you don’t startle them.
2. Talk quietly when you are approaching your ducks
Another great way to let your ducks know you are approaching their enclosure without startling them is to talk to them as you approach.
You will feel foolish at first, but if you walk up to the enclosure wishing your ducks a good morning, asking them how they are (although they rarely reply!), they will know you are there and they will also get to know the sound of your voice.
We use this technique whenever we acquire new ducks, chickens, or geese.
3. Don’t allow dogs or young children to go into the duck’s enclosure
When you are first trying to build rapport with your ducks and trying to get them not to be scared of you, don’t allow dogs or young children to enter the duck’s enclosure.
Both dogs and young children move quickly and unpredictably. This will certainly startle your ducks and cause them to take flight.
Ducks that are settled and happy around humans can also be calm and happy around dogs and children. We have both, and our ducks don’t take the slightest bit of interest in either.
However, it does take time for the ducks to learn that your dogs do not pose a threat to them.
4. Always offer your ducks a treat when you enter their enclosure
Like so many animals, ducks are driven by their desire to eat continually. In fact, I would say our ducks are some of the greediest animals on the homestead.
The quickest way to build rapport with your ducks and prevent them from being scared of you is to offer them a treat every time you enter the enclosure. This is another technique we use with our chickens and our geese.
Ducks will love being thrown handfuls of mealworms, fresh berries, or freshly pulled weeds from around your backyard.
It won’t take your ducks long to realize when you approach there is a good chance they will be offered a treat. Your ducks will associate you with food rather than fear.
5. Never try grabbing a duck
It is amazing how often I will visit a new homesteader or just someone who is new to poultry keeping, and I watch them walk up to their new flock of ducks, or chickens, and suddenly lunge forwards, grabbing at the nearest bird.
The problem here is, that slowly approaching a flock and then quickly moving forward to grab at one is exactly the move a predator would make.
If you are grabbing members of your flock, your ducks will quickly associate you with the actions of a predator and they will actively try and avoid you.
It is far better to build rapport with your birds over a few weeks and get them to the stage where they will willingly approach you, and maybe even let you pick them up.
6. Try making a regular noise as you approach the ducks
Making a noise every time you approach the ducks will alert them to your presence. This is a technique we use frequently, and it works for ducks and chickens.
We keep a small metal tin half-filled with corn. As we approach the ducks’ enclosure, we shake the tin gently. Over time the ducks will associate that noise with you and, hopefully with a treat that you are going to provide them.
The corn tin method works so well, we use it to get birds back in their pen after they have been free-ranging around the homestead.
With a few shakes of the tin, every bird comes running in expecting a treat. Typically I will stand in their pen and shake the tin. They will flock back into their enclosure and we will shut the door. Just make sure they actually get a treat
Taking ducks from birds that are scared of you to ones that will not only tolerate your presence but may allow you to pick them up from time to time takes patience.
There are no shortcuts. You have to work with your ducks and earn their trust.
The fastest way to build rapport with your ducks and stop them from being scared of you typically involves food and especially treats.
If you can make your ducks associate you with food rather than fear, they will soon see you as a friend rather than a foe.