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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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What Should I Feed the Ducks and Ducklings on My Lake?

If these are truly wild ducks, then it's best if you don't feed them. Adults and young ducklings eat lots of aquatic invertebrates during spring and summer (mostly aquatic insects like midge larvae, and mayfly, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, etc.). These natural foods are particularly high in protein, which females need to produce eggs and ducklings need for rapid growth and survival. Foods like bread (even though sometimes enriched with protein) and grain are lower in protein than the foods ducks would eat naturally at this time of year. If you made ice cream and cookies readily available at all times to your own kids, they'd eat very little of the things that are better for them nutritionally. It's possible that you could create the same situation by feeding ducks the wrong foods at certain times of the year.

Although little research has been done on food limitation in waterfowl, there is no reason to believe that food, particularly protein, is limiting for ducks during the breeding and brood rearing seasons. All those bugs that are plastered to your windshield after a drive through the country in late evening are one of the main reasons ducks return to your area to nest each year.

This probably isn't the answer you were hoping to hear. If you insist on feeding the ducks, visit your local feed store and buy a scientifically formulated poultry starter with a crude protein content of 27% or greater. Use this food until about mid-August, then switch to a food with a much higher carbohydrate content (wheat, barley, or corn, for example), because ducks start putting on fat for migration at that time.

For related information, see What Do Ducklings Eat?.

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