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I have been keeping, breeding, and showing ducks for 20 years or more, and during that time I have had my fair share of characters.
I spend much of my time these days giving poultry talks at shows and clubs around the country, and almost every talk ends in a Q&A session. One question I get asked surprisingly often is ‘Why won’t my ducks go in the pond?’.
A duck’s relationship with water is legendary, and so when you have a situation where your ducks are refusing to go onto the pond, there is usually a good reason.
The three main reasons ducks refuse to go onto the pond are because there is a predator in the water, because the water is too dirty, or because the ducks have developed a fear of water. Ducks may also refuse to go onto the pond due to stray current from an electric pump or because the steep banks are making exiting the pond difficult.
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Why Won’t My Ducks Go In The Pond?
Ducks refusing to go out onto the pond is an issue I have suffered from a couple of times in my duck-keeping career. Over the years I have spoken with dozens of other duck keepers who have suffered from the same issue.
Based on my experience, I have essentially managed to create a list of 5 reasons that ducks refuse to go onto the pond. These are;
Below I look at each of these reasons in detail and suggested how to address the issue.
The pond water is too dirty
To me, it always seems ironic that ducks, who by their very nature are messy birds that frequently poop in their pond, will refuse to enter the water because it is too dirty.
Most often I find dirty pond water to be the problem when the pond is small, or there are a lot of birds living on and around the water.
The larger the pond, the greater the volume of water, and anyone who has ever kept a fish tank will tell you that it is easier to maintain a large aquarium than a small one. When it comes to keeping water clean, volume matters.
Pond water can become dirty due to ducks pooping in it, but also thanks to the build-up of green or brown algae due to strong sunlight or due to a lack of plants growing in the pond.
Ponds that have no flow or filtration system can occasionally become stagnant and begin to give off a smell that ducks find unpleasant. Stagnant water is the perfect place for bacteria to breed, which can lead to ducks becoming sick if the pond is their only source of drinking water.
If your ducks are refusing to go out onto the pond because the water is too dirty, you have a number of options. Which route you take may depend on the size and location of the pond.
If the pond is small, you could consider draining the pond down and replacing the water. This works well for a pond that is just a few hundred gallons but is clearly not practical for a body of water that is thousands of gallons in volume.
I have pumped out ponds in the past and refilled them, and it is not a job for the faint-hearted.
Another option, again depending on size, is to add a filtration system to the pond. Filters essentially have two jobs. One is to clean the water physically, by removing poop and other debris that finds its way into the water, and the second is to clean the water chemically using naturally occurring bacteria that break the waste in the water down.
Pond filters work by pumping water out of the pond and passing it through a container filled with media, before returning it to the pond.
If neither of the options above work in your situation, you could consider using natural methods to improve the pond’s water quality. Planting pond plants, both in the main body of water and in the margins of the pond, is a great way to improve the water quality naturally.
Ponds plants absorb many of the pollutants and excess nutrients that spoil the pond water in the first place. Water Lilies for example not only make the pond look amazing, but they also absorb unwanted nutrients from the water and block excess sunlight causing algae growth in the pond water. They are a win-win!
There is a predator in or around the pond
Predators come in all shapes and sizes, and having one either living in your pond or lurking around the margins may cause your ducks to think twice before entering the water.
Depending on where you live, turtles, catfish, and even spectacled caiman may be living in your pond, possibly without your knowledge. If you have noticed a duck or two go missing in the days or weeks leading up to your ducks refusing to go out onto the pond, there is a reasonable chance a predator is lurking in the water.
Predators may also be lurking around the perimeter of the pond, causing your ducks to worry. I have known foxes to stake out a pond and attempt to grab a duck as it left the water.
If the ducks associate the pond with potential attacks from predators they may refuse to go onto the pond.
Solving a problem like a predator can be tricky, especially if you do not know what the predator is.
Taking some time to observe the pond is the only way to track the culprit down. If the predator is living in the water, you may be able to tempt it to the surface by activating feeding it.
Catfish and turtles will take commercial fish food. A carnivore predator like a caiman or alligator may be a little more tricky.
Discovering a land-based predator may require sitting in a hide or placing motion-activated trail cameras around the pond to try and capture footage of the predator.
Once you know what predators you are up against, you will need to decide if the predator can be removed from your premises, or if you need to find a deterrent such as installing a fence.
In my experience, predators can be the toughest problem facing a duck keeper.
The sides of the pond are too steep
This problem tends to be more of an issue with natural ponds rather than man-made ponds. Ducks like to walk out of the water, and if they find themselves struggling to leave the water’s edge, they may be reluctant to go into the water in the first place.
I recently spent some time at a friend’s home. He hadn’t lived there long and it was my first visit. He wanted my opinion on why his ducks were refusing to go onto the pond.
When I looked at his pond, which was in a natural dip in his land, the sides were so steep, that to the ducks they probably felt like climbing a mountain.
When the sides of the pond are too steep, the only realistic solution is to try and soften the edges somehow, making the ducks’ entrance and exit easier.
In the case of my friend’s pond, we took his excavator and completely leveled out one side. We then moved the duck house round to that part of the pond and relocated the feeders and water bowl. The ducks soon got the idea and within a few days were venturing out onto the water every day.
The water has a stray electrical currents
Although not a common issue, I have known stray electrical currents to deter ducks from venturing out onto the water.
Any piece of electrical equipment running in a pond has the potential to leak electrical currents into the water. Typically, the only equipment we use in our duck ponds is a pump, either connected to a filter system, or as part of a decorative fountain.
If your pond has stray electrical currents, the ducks will feel a mild tingling sensation in their feet every time they go into the water. It may be enough to put them off the pond.
Testing for a stray electrical current need not require any special equipment. Simply turn off the equipment in question and see if the ducks start to go back onto the water.
If you have the appropriate testing equipment, then obviously that will give you an instant result. I am however a big fan of using what you have, and not spending money unless you absolutely have to.
If it turns out your pump has an issue, I would suggest either getting it professionally repaired, or replacing it with a new one.
The ducks have developed a fear of water
I realize this sounds ridiculous, but some ducks are either born with or develop a fear of water.
In my experience, being born with a fear happens far more often in ducks that are raised artificially in an incubator than it does when hatched naturally under a mother duck. After all, ducks that are hatched by their mothers are typically taught all the skills they need by the mother duck.
I know on my own homestead, we will hatch out ducks, and keep them undercover for many weeks before they even see water. It is not uncommon for a duck to be 8 or 9 weeks old before it goes out to the ponds.
Ducks can also learn to be scared of the water when predators are present. I was speaking to a fellow homesteader who lives in Thailand. He was saying his ducks suddenly stopped going into the water. In fact, they wouldn’t go near the pond at all.
It turned out he had a huge python living near the pond, and the snake would snatch the ducks right off the water.
If your ducks have a fear of water, start by giving them a small container of water in their pen. A childs paddling pool is ideal. Leave the pool with them for several weeks, allowing them to explore the water in their own time.
The more time they have to get used to the water, the more likely they are to lose their fear.
There can be many different reasons your ducks are refusing to go out on the water. The most common reasons are because the water is too dirty, ducks hate dirty water, or there are predators present either in or around the water.
Taking some time to establish the reason the ducks are reluctant to get their feet wet will make solving the issue a lot easier.
On the whole, ducks do want to spend time out on the pond. Although some breeds naturally swim more often than others, they all essentially want to spend at least part of their day on the water.
If you found this article useful, why not check out my article titled ‘Why aren’t my ducks laying eggs (13 reasons with solutions)?’