How To Safely Handle A Duck

A caregiver carefully handles a white duck and inspects their foot.
Safe duck handling is a crucial element of compassionate duck care!

Updated September 3, 2020

If you’re caring for ducks, it’s very important that you know how to safely handle and hold them. Some ducks are more receptive to being held than others, but many ducks aren’t very fond of the experience. Each resident in your care might have their own special handling requirements depending on their breed and health needs. Regularly picking up a duck will help familiarize them with the experience and can help make stressful events like health concerns, separations, and relocations a little less nerve-wracking.

Ask An Expert

If at all possible, have a veterinarian or care expert give you hands-on training for safe duck handling! Failing to use appropriate technique can gravely injure ducks.

The Approach

When approaching a duck, it’s essential that you do not chase them. Chasing is going to stress them out and will likely make them skittish around you. Lowering yourself down to their level and offering a little bit of food or an appropriate treat can help encourage ducks to want to spend time with you! Some more nervous ducks may actively avoid your grip, so they might require a bit more coaxing. If you’re gathering a duck for a health checkup, especially if they are showing signs of illness, remember to wear gloves and protective clothing in order to lower the chances of contracting or spreading any external parasites. And even if you aren’t conducting a health examination, you may want to wear thicker clothing and gloves when handling more skittish ducks, because they may nip at you, scratch you, or strike you with powerful wings when you try to handle them.

The Pickup

Gently corral the duck into a corner before you attempt to pick them up. When you are near enough, you can either place one hand on each side of their body, keeping their wings against them (this is more easily done if your hands are closer to the front of their body than to their wing tips), or place one hand in front of their chest to prevent them from moving forward and then place one hand on their back to keep them still. Once the duck is still, place both hands securely over both wings and around their body. You can then lift them towards you so that one side is held firmly against your body. For bigger ducks, it’s a good idea to put your free hand under their body to help support them. Be prepared to put them down if they start to struggle or if they get a wing free. This will prevent them from injuring themselves or jumping away from you. It’s not safe to hold a duck’s body under their wings because of the risk of injury. Do not lift them off their feet until they are calmly controlled on the ground!

For larger ducks and those who have compromised health, some may be too large, too fragile, or have too much strain on their respiratory or cardiovascular system to ever safely lift them off the ground. Instead, you should sit cross-legged near the duck and then hug them safely into your lap, securing their wings. You must be extraordinarily cautious when it comes to handling and rotating these birds, as it could cause serious bodily harm to them. Some individuals can never be safely rotated onto their side or back.

Unsafe Holding

NEVER pick up a duck by their wings, feathers, feet, or neck. This is an unacceptable practice that regularly harms ducks. Do not allow anyone else to pick them up by their wings either! Some veterinarians have been known to do this as it is a standard practice in animal agriculture environments.

It’s okay if their legs are free as long as you have their torso and wings safely cradled, and some ducks may prefer having their legs free, but for others, cradling their legs very gently may make for a much less dramatic pickup. Ducks have much more fragile feet and legs than chickens, so be extra mindful of them when handling!

Drakes (especially Muscovy drakes) may require a little more care as they sometimes can be a bit more averse to handling than other ducks, but each individual will be different.

Once safely in your grip, you can gently pet them (never stroking against their feather grain!) and talk to them softly in order to calm them down and make them more comfortable with human handling. There’s an optimal balance to be struck between holding them firmly, but not causing them injury. You always want the individual to be calm, not gasping or struggling under pressure, and feeling confident that they aren’t going to fall. If a duck is simply too stressed out to be held and rapidly breathing, you must set them down and let them calm down.

If you need to check a smaller duck’s vent area, such as for external parasites, you can safely rotate them onto their back as long as you continue to safely hold their wings against their body. Be careful though, as some ducks might kick at you when you do this. For larger ducks and those with compromised health, rotating them onto their back could put unsafe stress on their bodies, in which case you should either gently rotate them slightly onto their side, or if even this is too much for them, allow the duck to remain upright while checking their vent.

Watch Those Legs!

Ducks have much more fragile feet and legs than chickens, so be extra mindful of them when handling! Never let them jump away from you if they’re high up.

Carrying A Duck

To carry the duck, keep one hand securely under their rear end. You can tuck their head slightly between your arm and your body, but don’t prevent them from being able to see as this can easily stress out and scare the bird. You should always watch for any signs of distress, but it is especially important to pay extra attention to larger or health-compromised ducks who may be more likely to have an adverse reaction to handing. These individuals should only be handled when absolutely necessary, and if moving them more than a very short distance, in many cases it will be less stressful to move them by placing them in a small animal carrier rather than carrying them.

Setting Down A Duck

When you set down a duck, safely and carefully let their feet back onto the ground while continuing to keep their wings secure until you’re confident that they will gently leave you. Never let a duck jump down! Consider giving them a diet-appropriate treat after handling so they have a positive memory to associate the experience with.

What Does 'Unacceptable' Mean?

At The Open Sanctuary Project, unacceptable means that we cannot condone (or condone through omission) a certain practice, standard, or policy. See a more detailed explanation here.

SOURCES:

How Do You Pick Up A Duck? | My Pet Chicken (Non-Compassionate Source)

How To Hold A Duck | Mom (Non-Compassionate Source)

Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on September 3, 2020

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