Domestic Ducks were domesticated thousands years ago and during the domestication and generations of selective breeding ducks lost some of their natural characters. However, there are some fascinating and surprising facts about ducks behavior even under domesticated condition. Domestic duck raisers needs to be aware of the behavioral characteristics of ducks in order to raise domestic ducks with optimum efficiency and with the welfare and well-being of the domestic ducks in mind. The behavior characteristics are discussed below.
Broodiness is when females stop laying and start setting on the eggs in the nest. It is as an ideal character for species in the wild, but highly undesirable for domesticated ducks. Most of the domestic breeds have lost their brooding instinct, almost entirely thru selective breeding that took place for the development of utility duck breeds. However, some of the domestic ducks particularly belong to heavy type of breeds, may sometime develop the urge to sit on eggs, but they are always found to be unreliable and abandon the eggs after a few days. Because of the unreliability of most breeds of domestic duck at sitting their eggs and raising their young, and it has been the custom on farms for centuries to put duck eggs under a broody chicken for hatching. Nowadays incubators are usually used to hatch out ducklings. Broody domestic ducks will soon get over from broodiness if kept away from comfortable sitting positions.
Preening is an important behavioral pattern in ducks. Domestic ducks are always found to be preening especially after bathing. After swimming domestic ducks first carry out a variety of shaking movements to remove the water from their bodies. Then the ducks preens itself very carefully, to maintain the insulating property of its plumage.They have a preen gland known as uropygial gland located at the base of their tail that produces an oil. Domestic ducks preen and distribute oil on the feathers. Frequent preening serves both to distribute this oil throughout the plumage and to maintain the interlock of the feathers. Preening makes feathers well greased, and this helps to keep water from reaching the skin. Preening is often followed by sleeping for a short period and the sequence of preening and sleeping may be repeated a number of times during the day. Intensively-kept breeders have no opportunity to preen effectively. It would be mistaken to assume that the lack of water for swimming has bred-out the instinct to preen. Given the correct conditions, ducks quickly revert to natural behavior and keep pristine clean, unlike the often heavily-soiled ducks reared without facility for swimming. Preening is essential to maintain insulating property of their plumage. For the feathers to stay water repellent they have to be properly arranged and oiled frequently with their secretion of the oil. During this preening the bill rubs oil from a gland at the base of their tail. They then use the bill to coat their feathers with a fine layer of oil to make themselves waterproof. Ducklings get this oil from their mother until they have developed their own feathers.
Domestic Ducks like their progenitor the Mallard are called as dabbling ducks or dabblers. It is because they feed on the surface of water or on land, or as deep as they can reach by up-ending without completely submerging. They can find their food both in water as well as land. They do not dive under water for food but eat near the water surface. Ducks have a wide flat beak adapted for dredging. They eat plants, seeds, grasses, aquatic plants, fish, insects, small amphibians, worms, small molluscs and other such items that they find on or under the water. They also use their beaks to skim the surface of the water. They grab floating food item from the surface of the water while swimming. They sift through the mud at the bottom of the shallow water. When they feed on the bottom, they upend that is, they tip their bodies forward so that the front half is submerged while the back-end sticks up in the air. Domestic ducks can feed on the bottom of water up to about 20 inches and stay underwater for a few seconds. Domestic ducks also forage successfully on the land. The feed on young grass and tender leaves as it grazes. It is adept at stripping grass seeds from the penicles and swallows acorn, beechnuts and berries whole. Domestic ducks posses bills and with filtering ridges at their margins. These let them filter water out of the side of their beaks and keep food inside. Their broad flat beaks that help them to take in mouthfuls of muddy water. Then they can strain the water through the beaks edge, which has rows of bristles lined up like the teeth of a comb. Horney projections from inside the lining of a ducks mouthy allow it to sort what it can eat from the mud. Domestic ducks are opportunistic feeders and can catch flying insects by rapid closing of the bill.
Domestic Ducks are waterfowl and are natural water lovers. They evolved to eat, swim, clean, play and rest in water. The duck is provided with short legs and webbed feet and these are major assets in swimming. All ducks are excellent swimmers and move about better in water than on land. Their webbed feet act like paddles in water but cause them to waddle awkwardly on land. Ducks need water for swimming to bred and grow well. Ducks can entertain us for long hours with their antics particularly when they are swimming in a pond. Ducks can be found to enjoy spending a lot of time on the water even in very cold and bad weather. Different sorts of ducks differ in their swimming water requirements. Muscovy duck has less need to cool themselves as they originated in tropical climate of South America and so have less need for a constant supply of bathing water. Peking ducks came originally from cooler climates and thus need water to keep their body temperature at the right level.
Domestic Ducks are not pugnacious in nature and rarely fight among themselves. They are quite calm in temperament except when incubating eggs or raising a flock. However, fighting may evoke when a new duck is introduced into an established flock. Such fighting does not last for a long time and hardly results serious injury to any. Conflict not of very serious kind may also occur when there is excessive numbers of drakes in a flock during the breeding season.
Drakes do not generally fight among themselves when there is no female around for mating. Cannibalism and antagonistic behavior is not usually encountered in a duck flock. Ducks are not aggressive towards humans also. It is most unlikely for a duck to inflict injury to even to children. However one should be careful while approaching a broody incubating duck. The hostile postures of ducks, characterized by a pronounced uplifting of the bill, is seen when two males are chasing, fighting or threatening or when two males are competing for an attempt to rape a female. During the winter months, many species of wild ducks live together in the same land or water without being aggressive to each other. It could be due to low hormonal activity during that period. Similarly the aggressiveness of domestic ducks are always low during the winter period. Thus it is advantageous to introduce new ducks to an established flock during these months.
Mallards, the wild progenitor of domestic ducks are expert flyers. They can be airborne with in seconds when frightened mostly because of predator. Under domesticated condition ducks have lost the power of flying as they have been bred so that their bodies are too heavy and wings too small to support flying. This made them walk fast when frightened. Although most domestic breeds of ducks have lost their ability to fly there are exceptions: Calls, East Indies and domesticated Mallards can all fly to some extent.
Domestic Ducks are social type of bird. Like all other dabbling ducks the domestic ducks are also gregarious in nature. Gregarious behavior refers to the flocking or herding instinct. This behavior arises out of social attachment. It makes them stay together. In wild they live in large flocks and forage together. Ducks gather in flocks mainly because it offers mutual protection from predators and easy exploitation of foods. Feeding together in flocks provides some safety from predators, particularly when searching for invertebrates below the surface
of water, or when ‘up ending’ and searching for weed and crustaceans in the silt along the margins of lakes and pools. They communicate with each other by using voice and various types of actions. Nearly the same type of social behavior is also observed in the domesticated flocks. It is this social quality that makes them suitable for keeping in a flock under captivity. As ducks live in flocks and coexist peacefully it is thus possible to keep ducks of different breeds together on the same body of water. It is because of their gregarious behavior that makes ducks going out for scavenging to walk in single file, one behind the other.
Egg Laying Habits
Wild ducks take a long time preparation such as making a proper nest to lay eggs during breeding season. The same is not observed in Domestic Ducks. The ducks belong to high egg producing breeds have lost this instinct almost entirely do not make a nest to lay eggs. The ducks belong to high egg producing breeds have lost their brooding instinct almost entirely and at the time of laying they simply drop their eggs wherever they happen to be. Domestic ducks do not make a nest to lay eggs and lays here and there on the floor if not trained to lay in nests. Ducks could be made to lay in the nest boxes provided they are placed at least a month before the onset of egg production. If nest boxes are not provided till they start laying eggs, they will start laying eggs on the floor. Floor laying contaminates the eggs resulting low hatchability and self-life. Ducks start laying from midnight and completes laying within 4 hours after sun rise. Thus it is essential to keep them confined up to about 9 AM. This makes egg collection easier and one time job.
Mating contribute to the processes of producing offspring’s. Under natural conditions, wild ducks live in large flocks for several months of the year, forming into pairs during the breeding season. The males will attract the females with their colorful plumage or feathers Both sexes act out elaborate courtship behavior. In wild state drakes are monogamous which means exclusive pairing of one male and one female for the breeding season. However, domestic drakes are polygamous and not selective in their mating behavior. They mate indiscriminately with the females in the flock. Thus different varieties should not be mixed together particularly during the breeding season to maintain purity in each variety. In modern farming systems, the males and females are kept at a ratio of approximately one male to five females. And mating occurs throughout the year with the use of artificial lighting for 16 to17 hours per day. Domestic ducks prefer to mate in water while swimming though they can also mate successfully on land. Mating on land is not much of a problem for light breeds kept for egg production. But it is difficult for heavy meat type breeds to mate successfully on land because of their huge size. To have higher fertility in meat type breeds the birds should have access to swimming water at least 8 to 10 inches deep. Eggs for hatching purpose should be collected at least after 3 weeks of mating to have highest fertility.
All types of birds particularly the social types such as ducks tend to develop a social order. The order of rank and dominance in domestic ducks commonly referred to as ‘peck order’. Peck orders are useful in reducing conflicts in a group. Every duck house has a pecking order which is established early on and then again when a new duck is introduced to the flock. This ritual can be quite vicious but they will very quickly settle down. One should not interfere unless the new ducks are being denied food or water. If this does happen, it will be essential to put out an extra food and water supply away from the primary source. For this reason it is essential to introduce new ducks slowly in the yard or range where there is ample space. All types of birds particularly the social types such as domestic ducks tend to develop a social order.
The order of rank and dominance in domestic ducks commonly referred to as the ‘peck order’. Peck orders are useful in reducing conflicts in a group. Every duck house has a pecking order which is established early on and then again if a new duck is introduced to the flock. This ritual can be quite vicious but they will very quickly settle down. One should not interfere unless one duck is being denied food or water. If this does happen, it will be essential to put out an extra food and water supply away from the primary source. For this reason it is essential to introduce new ducks slowly in the yard or range where there is ample space.
Because feathers are non-living structures that cannot repair themselves when worn or broken, they must be renewed periodically. Most adult domestic ducks replace their feather at least once a year. This is known as moulting which is a natural process of renewing their feathers. The wild mallards from which present day domestic ducks expect Muscovy have evolved, moult all their primary and secondary flight feathers simultaneously and become flightless for a period of 32 -36 days.
In farm condition domestic ducks generally do not die of old age. In most instances domestic ducks are slaughtered well before they reach their maximum age. Domestic ducks do have life expectancy of about 10 years or more but their capacity to lay eggs decreases dramatically after 3 or 4 years of age. Thus they are uneconomical to keep after the third laying cycle.