How to feed a baby wood duck

How to Care for a Baby Wood Duck

By Kathleen Bona | Updated September 26, 2017

Things You'll Need

  • Brooding area

  • Straw, hay or peat moss

  • Heat lamp with infrared bulb

  • Brooding thermometer

  • Baby duck feed

  • Chicken grower ration

  • Corn grain

  • Non-slippery paper

  • Greens

  • Drinking water

  • Shallow pan or trough with wire guards

Considered one of the most beautiful of all water birds, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the wood duck is a member of the family Anatidae, which also includes geese and swans. Wood ducks were near extinction at the turn of the century, but wildlife conservationists and sportsmen supported limitations on hunting wood ducks during the 1930s, which has resulted in a renewed population numbering in the millions, according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Ducks are hardy and present few problems in the journey to adulthood, says the University of Minnesota Extension website.

Prepare a Brooding Area

Prepare a draft-free, half-square foot of floor space for one baby wood duck that is 2 weeks old or younger.

Cover the floor with about 4 inches of dry straw, hay or peat moss to serve as bedding.

Add a half-square foot of space to the brooding area when your duck reaches 3 weeks of age. Add an additional half-square foot each week until the area measures 2 square feet.

Remove wet bedding material daily.

Keep Your Duck Warm

Place a heat lamp with an infrared bulb in the corner of the brooding area, at least 12 inches above duckling level.

Measure the temperature in the brooding area with a brooding thermometer. Hang the thermometer from the heat lamp, just above duckling level. An appropriate temperature for a duckling of under 3 weeks of age is 85 to 90 degrees.

Begin lowering the temperature when you notice your baby duck continually distancing itself from the heat source. Lower the temperature 5 degrees each week until you reach 70 degrees.

Feeding Your Duck

Start your duck on feed formulated for baby ducks. If this type of feed is not available in your area, substitute with chick starter.

Begin feeding your duck a chicken grower ration and cracked corn after 3 weeks of age. The duck will not overeat; always have feed at its disposal.

Avoid leg injuries by placing the feed on non-slippery paper for the first week; fine sandpaper works well. Remove wet and soiled feed each day.

Offer greens--such as grass, clover, dandelions, lettuce or cabbage--to your duck daily.

Place fresh drinking water in a shallow pan or trough with wire guards. To prevent drowning, the water should be deep enough for your duck to dip only his bill and head into. Adjust the depth accordingly as your duck grows.

  • If your duck makes an unusual amount of noise, it is probably cold; check the temperature in the brooding area.


  • Do not feed bread, onions or birdseed to ducks.


  • University of Minnesota Extension: Raising Ducks
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension: Management of Wood Ducks on Private Lands and Waters

Photo Credits

Writer Bio

Kathleen Bona has been enjoying her career as a freelance writer for the past two years. Her areas of expertise include the care of animals, cooking, astrology, entertaining and green living. She also works as a ghostwriter for various websites and blogs.

How to Care for a Baby Wood Duck

Written by Carol Sarao • Updated August 24, 2022

PaulReevesPhotography/iStock/Getty Images

Wood ducks are colorful, brightly marked waterfowl that frequent wetlands, swamps, marshes and lakes. They are one of only a handful of North American ducks that build their nests in trees. Soon after hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest and make their way to the water, guided by the mother duck's calls. A baby wood duck that has been orphaned needs to be cared for by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Your task will be to keep the duckling warm, clean and well-fed until you can get it safely delivered into the hands of experts.

Evaluate the baby duck's condition and circumstances before touching it or trying to remove it from its environment. If it is peeping loudly and running about vigorously, leave it where it is unless you know for certain that the mother has been killed. The mother is probably in the vicinity and is only waiting for your departure to approach the baby. Leave the area for at least an hour and a half. If you return after that time and the duckling is still in the same place, or if it is lethargic, silent or wet, it may be orphaned and might need help.

Contact a licensed wildlife rescue organization. The Center for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife notes that it is illegal to care for or possess wild birds, and trying to raise them can result in harm. Call your state's fish and wildlife service and ask for the number of the permit office; these offices keep phone numbers of local rehabilitators. You can also try a local branch of the Audubon Society, a veterinarian or an animal control office. You'll need to care for the duckling until you can find a center.

Dry the duckling off with paper towels if its downy feathers are wet, and place it under a heat lamp to finish drying. Make sure the lamp is positioned far enough away from the duckling so that it is not uncomfortably hot. The Center for Rehabilitation of Wildlife advises that it takes several weeks for baby ducks to produce vital waterproofing oils in their feathers, and that parents, by sitting on the ducklings, transfer the oil from their own feathers. An orphaned duckling that becomes soaked and chilled at an early age can die from the complications.

Place the baby duck in a 10-gallon fish tank--or a sturdy cardboard box of the same size--lined with clean cotton rags or T-shirts. Don't use terrycloth towels; the duckling may catch its claws on the fabric. Make sure the box has a secure cover with breathing holes, and place it in a warm, quiet location that is free of drafts. Bird Care recommends wrapping a hot water bottle in a towel for extra warmth, but make sure the duckling can move away from it if it is too hot.

Offer finely shredded vegetables such as carrots or kale mixed with chicken starter feed--available at farm supply stores--combined with enough water to make a paste. Wood ducks are precocial, which means they can eat unassisted as soon as they are born. You can also give the duckling live mealworms, available at pet stores. Duckweed, scooped from a local pond, is an ideal offering if you can get it.

Provide drinking water by setting a shallow dish in the duck's box. Place smooth pebbles in the dish to prevent the duck from climbing in and getting wet.


Discard all uneaten food daily.

Change and launder the T-shirts frequently to prevent the duckling's feet from becoming covered with droppings and spilled food.


Never force-feed the duckling water or any sort of liquid, even if you think it is dehydrated. It could aspirate the fluid, with lethal results.

Make sure the chicken starter feed is not of the medicated variety; Live Ducks notes that this can be fatal to ducklings.

Don't use a deep water container; the duckling could fall in and drown.

Although wood ducklings are fuzzy and almost irresistibly cute, you should touch them only when necessary and avoid petting, picking up or cuddling them. The stress of this could cause them to stop eating.


  • Live Ducks: Duck Care and Health
  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Wood Duck

Writer Bio

Carol Sarao is an entertainment and lifestyle writer whose articles have appeared in Atlantic City Weekly, The Women's Newspaper of Princeton, and New Millennium Writings. She has interviewed and reviewed many national recording acts, among them Everclear, Live, and Alice Cooper, and received her Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Warren Wilson College.


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