Ornamental Ducks compared to Domestic Ducks
Ornamental ducks differ from domestic ducks in several ways. The biggest differences are in breeding habits and in temperament. Unlike domestic ducks most ornamentals only nest at one time of year, for most species this is Spring. Domestic ducks may also lay the majority of their eggs in the Spring, but will also lay sporadically through Summer, Fall and sometimes even though Winter thus producing many more eggs in a year than the ornamental duck, which may only produce a handful of offspring in a year. Domestic ducks can be kept in small groups, one drake with several hens, and still produce a good percentage of fertile eggs. For most ornamentals it is recommended to keep them in pairs, as the drake will usually only mate with one female at a time. You may have some success keeping a few species in trios as some drakes may take a second mate after his first choice has begun to set her nest. However this can be risky because if the bird that is his second choice begins to lay first, the second choice hen may produce all infertile eggs.
It is especially important for the beginner to understand that ornamental ducks do not typically behave like domestic ducks such as calls or mallards. Ornamental are much more nervous and often stress out easily thus they may not be able to live in the same conditions that have worked well for you with domestic ducks.
Domestic ducks are often kept as pets, and can become very tame, they may learn to follow you around, eat from your hand, maybe even climb into your lap, these are not behaviors that should be expected of ornamental ducks. Ornamentals, even though they may be many generations removed from the wild, still retain many of their wild instincts. They can become accustomed to you, and may learn to act naturally in your presence, but most will never like to be handled, or even pursued in any way. Excessive handling can actually be harmful to ornamental birds. We never catch or handle any of our birds unless it is absolutely necessary.
I think that the lack of tameness in most ornamental ducks is more than made up for by their interesting behaviors and beautiful plumage. Some ornamental ducks are capable of making several different calls and or whistles. Many of the drakes are strikingly colored and have elaborate courtship displays that are entertaining to watch.
Dealing with injury or illness
Due to e-mails and phone calls I have received in the past years about treatments for ailing birds, I have written this article which is basically a summary of my experiences in treating illness in wild waterfowl. Please note that I am not a veterinarian, and will not be held liable for any negative experience you may have in results as they pertain to this article.
Ornamental ducks like other wild animals will usually try to hide an injury or sickness. In nature this keeps them from being targeted by predators. In captivity this often keeps the problem from being noticed until it is too late for successful treatment. It is not uncommon for a bird that appears ill on a Monday to be dead on Wednesday or even sooner. Diagnosis of an illness in ornamental ducks can be difficult especially with out the help of a veterinarian that specializes in avian species. A vet with these expertises may not be commonly available without traveling some distance. Furthermore the stress from catching, handling, transporting and administering the treatment can in itself be deadly to an already sick or injured bird. You in fact, can kill an ailling bird with kindness. When it comes to ornamental ducks an ounce of prevention is definitely worth more than a pound of cure. Listed below are a few things that you can do to keep your birds healthy.
A clean environment is important. Many germs and parasites that can be dangerous to your birds can live in mud. For this reason we have sand and gravel floors in the majority of our pens. Ornamental ducks need clean water for drinking and also for bathing, fresh well water circulates thru all of our ponds continuosly giving our birds a good quality of water. Birds continually exposed to dirty water many develope feather problems, they also may not mate if the water quality is not to their liking.
In an environment that is as free from stress as possible is also important. We know that stress is harmful to people, it is just as harmful to your birds. A bird that constantly paces the fence or that is often bullied and chased, may not eat or rest properly, thus weakening his immune system making him more vulnerable to an illness that a healthy bird could fight off. Many things your birds may see outside their enclosures that are not actually dangerous, may be stressful to them. While you see your children and the family dog looking into the aviary admiring the birds, your birds see a group of predators closing in on them, they probably realize they are contained in an enclose with little or no chance of escape from would be predators. We provide our birds with several hiding spots, this helps to eliminate some stress, the birds may not use them all the time but they will feel better knowing that they are there. All of our pens have a two to three foot site barrier, on most this is made of tin or painted metal. This keeps birds from seeing things they may perceive as threatening on the outside of their enclosure, it also practically eliminates any pacing and further more is useful during mating season, when you want your birds to only focus on the mates you have chosen for them and not the birds next door.
Preening is a very important function that birds must do in order to kept their feathers in good shape. Poorly maintained feathers, will not keep a bird warm in cold weather and they also may lose their ability to shed water. It is note worthy to mention here that preening is often done when a bird is in a relaxed state, thus a stressed bird may not preen properly and may incur problems from poorly maintained feathers.
Feeders should be cleaned routinely, spoiled or moldy food can be toxic to your birds.
We do not use any hay in our pens, or in nesting boxes as mold spores commonly found in hay can cause asprillious, which is a lung condition.
Be extremely careful when using anything in your aviary that has small pieces that may break off and be ingested by your birds. A dropped staple, broken screw, or bristle form a nylon scrub brush can be deadly.
We do not catch or handle any of our birds unless it is absolutely necessary. Chasing birds can be very dangerous to them, especially if your birds are full winged and the aviary has trees, post or other hard objects that they may fly into causing injury. This may be more of a danger in a large aviary as the birds will have more room to reach a faster flight speed, making a collision more serious. A broken leg or wing may be difficult to treat successfully and of course there is nothing that can be done for the bird that breaks it's neck and dies instantly.
Never catch or handle birds when is it extremely hot, if you must catch a bird during the hottest part of the year, do so very early in the morning or late in the evening.
When handling your birds for an extended period of time covering their eyes will help to keep them calm.
When transporting birds completely covering there cage with a towel or something similar can help calm them.
A pet taxi type cage works much better for transporting these birds than the wire cages I often see them in at flea markets and auctions. A scared or nervous bird will often find a way to cut themselves on the sharp edges of a wire cage.
We worm our birds twice a year. There are currently no wormer medications that are approved for use in ducks that I know of. We have used with success ivomec injectable cattle wormer, two small drops given orally per 3 pounds of duck. We have also used a wormer crumble for pigs, you will use this as a food replacement for 3 days, both of these are available at most feed stores or co-ops. The down side to using ivomec is that you will have to catch and handle all of your birds. The downside to using the medicated feed is that you do not know if all the birds are getting the proper dosage, and it doesn't protect against as wide a variety of parasites as ivomec does.
For birds that show signs of sickness, resembling a cold or sinus infection, we have used Tylan 200. 1 cc per 3 pounds of bird, this treatment has worked well for us in pheasants peafowl, and bantams, but not as well in waterfowl.
For birds that show signs of mites or other external parasites, we have used a light dusting of seven dust. Ivomec will also work for this.
In closing I would like to say that given half a chance, ducks in general are fairly disease resistant and trouble free. They do not often, and in a lot of cases are not even able to catch the illnesses that are common in pheasants, peafowl and poultry.