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Conserving Canada’s Wetlands

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Learn about wetlands

Waterfowl FAQ

If you’ve got questions about ducks and other waterfowl, we’ve got you covered. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we get about wetlands and waterfowl:

What do ducks eat?

That depends on the duck’s species and life stage. Different species have different diets. As well, ducks often eat different things at different ages, depending on what their bodies need.
For example, mallards will eat a variety of foods, such as seeds, roots and stems of bulrushes, millet and smartweed, as well as waste grain like barley from farmers fields. They’ve also been known to eat mosquito larvae, midges and mayfly nymphs.

A different example is the common merganser. These birds usually eat minnows, game fish, trout, salmon and some amphibians.

I’ve heard that feeding ducks bread is bad. What should I feed them?

DUC does not recommend feeding ducks. It increases the chances of negative human/wildlife encounters, reduces the ducks’ foraging instincts and can make them dependent on people for food.

Why do geese fly in a “V” formation?

Scientists believe geese, such as the Canada goose, fly in a “V” because it makes it easier for individual birds to fly. The lead bird breaks the air and creates an updraft, which reduces air resistance for the rest of the flock. By flying in this position, geese can use 50 to 70 per cent less energy.
The lead bird changes regularly to prevent exhaustion. It is also assumed that older, more experienced birds lead the flock during migration.

How do ducks and other migratory waterfowl know then it is time to migrate south, and where do they go?

Generally, ducks, geese and other migratory birds know when it is time to migrate south due to instinct and some clues from their environment. The length of the days (photoperiod), weather conditions and reduction in food sources (because snow and ice cover the ground and water) are good indicators for the birds to begin heading south.

While ducks and geese usually migrate south, some do remain in southern Canada for the winter. Those that stay in Canada stay close to areas with open water and adequate food. Depending on the species, ducks and geese migrate all over the United States, Central and South America.

What is the correct term for a group of ducks?

There are several different terms used to refer to a group of ducks. Mostly, it depends on what species of ducks are in the group. Paddling, skiff, raft, team and dopping are just some of the terms used.
It also depends on whether the group is on the ground or in flight. For example, a group of mallard ducks on the ground is call a “sord”, but when in flight, it is called a “flock” (as are all ducks in flight).

What is the name of the gland that helps a duck’s feathers repel water?

The oil-secreting gland on ducks is known as the uropygial gland. Located at the base of the tail, the gland secretes oil that the duck spreads over its feathers during preening. This oil helps to maintain the luster of the feathers and repel water.

I found a mallard nest in my yard. What should I do?

On average, a mallard hen (female) lays one egg per day for about nine days. She will incubate the eggs for about 26-28 days before they hatch. Mallard males leave their mate when she is incubating, and she will take short recesses from the nest to feed and clean herself. Within 24 hours after hatching, mallard ducklings are capable of walking up to one mile overland to reach suitable habitat: wetlands!
The best thing you can do for a mallard hen and her new family is to watch from a respectable distance. Please do not put out food for the hen or ducklings, because it is important that they leave the area in search of better habitat. Please do not approach the nest, because this may increase the chances of it being detected by a predator.

If you feel the young family is in danger, please contact a local wildlife rehabilitation centre for advice or assistance. You can find the appropriate contact by doing an online search or by looking in your local phonebook. You may also wish to contact the Canadian Wildlife Service at 1-800-668-6767, since this is the Federal Government agency responsible for migratory birds in Canada.

We have ducks into our backyard pool and they seem to have settled in. What should we do?

They will likely stick around if there is plenty of water and food available. However, this is not the best option for them because it is better if they move to a proper wetland habitat. If they are adult ducks, please leave them alone and do not feed them; they should move on eventually. However, if you are concerned for their safety or there are ducklings in your pool, please contact a wildlife rehabilitator in your area to ask for advice or assistance. You can find the appropriate contact by doing an online search or by looking in your local phonebook. If you are having troubles finding a local rehabilitator, you can also contact the Canadian Wildlife Service at 1-800-668-6767, as they are responsible for issuing wildlife rehabilitation permits.

How do I keep ducks out of my yard in the first place?

The best way to keep ducks out of your yard is to keep the area active with movement and noise. For movement, try putting up helium balloons, streamers or lights. You might also try to make a scarecrow.
For noise, air horns, sirens and propane bangers work well. However, please be sure to check with your local municipality or city office to ensure that you are not violating noise by-laws or irritating your neighbours.

The problem with these solutions is that the ducks will get used to them and return. They will generally stay in an area if food is available. If someone is feeding the ducks, discontinuing the feeding will hopefully persuade them to leave.

I found a duckling. What should I do?

Young wild animals spend long periods of time alone. The mother feeds them only a few times a day. You are unlikely to see her unless you are watching closely. If you find a duckling, you should do the following:

Most wild birds and mammals are protected by law and keeping them in your possession is illegal.

It is all right to pick up young birds or eggs to put them back in the nest or get them out of harm’s way (e.g., put them up in a tree). The parents will not abandon the nest or young but you don’t want to disturb them for very long.