Updated July 6, 2020
When a new duck arrives, there are a number of critical steps that must be taken to ensure safety for the incoming resident, your existing residents, and yourself!
While ducks, in general, have certain diet, housing, and care needs, you must also consider if the new arrivals require any special accommodations based on their age, breed, sex, health status, known history, or the circumstances of their recent living situation. Each new resident and situation will be different, but some things to consider include:
- If you’re taking in ducklings, you will have to learn how to properly care for them in terms of heat, food, and shelter.
- It’s not uncommon for sanctuaries to be contacted about ducks who are severely injured, often from a predator attack. Regardless of if they have extensive injuries or what looks like a small bite wound, they should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Bite wounds, even if they appear small, can be quite dangerous and almost always require antibiotic treatment.
Adhere To A Quarantine Policy
The new duck must be housed in a strict quarantine area on your premises away from all other residents (not even bill-to-bill contact through a fence), even if you know exactly where the duck came from! At a minimum, new ducks must be kept away from other avian residents, but could potentially spread disease to other residents as well. Quarantine is absolutely crucial to protect everyone from possible infectious diseases that may not be producing visible symptoms in a healthy-looking arrival; an entire flock could be easily infected, and possibly killed, by certain diseases, and some diseases can contaminate pastures and live in the soil for quite some time. Even if the duck was previously healthy, a new environment can produce stress that might cause an illness flare-up. Reciprocally, existing residents might be carrying a disease that the new resident isn’t healthy enough to fight off yet!
If you’re taking in a whole flock that was living together previously, you can probably quarantine them together since it’s likely that any diseases they have will be already spread throughout the flock, and staying together may put the new residents more at ease. However, if the flock includes a mix of mature males and females, you’ll have to watch the social dynamic closely, especially in the spring. Male ducks can be a bit over enthusiastic about mounting females, so if the males are much bigger than the females, or if there is a high ratio of males to females, the females could be injured through repeated mounting and may need to be separate for their comfort and safety. If an individual duck seems very ill or behaving oddly, they should be isolated from the others until a veterinarian determines exactly what’s wrong. Monitor the flock to ensure that the current social situation is safe for everyone. Just because they came in together, doesn’t necessarily mean they get along well. If anyone appears to be getting picked on, find a way to split the group to reduce tensions while avoiding anyone having to live alone unless absolutely necessary.
Anyone coming into contact with the new Unless explicitly mentioned, we are referring to domesticated duck breeds, not wild ducks, who may have unique needs not covered by this resource. should wear gloves and full body covering or immersion suits and should either wear boot covers or use foot baths. This is true even for healthy looking ducks, but is imperative if the duck is visibly ill, is producing undiagnosed discharge, or has diarrhea or sores. These protective coverings should not be used outside of this quarantine space or you will defeat the purpose of wearing them in the first place! The new duck should remain in quarantine for a minimum of 30 days, and until all blood work and fecal exams come back with a clean bill of health. Make sure any external parasites have been eradicated before discontinuing quarantine, taking into account the life cycle of the parasite to ensure enough time has passed since the last instances of live parasites being found.
Ideally, you should have designated tools used only to clean the new duck’s space that are not used in other living areas. If this is not possible, all tools and cleaning supplies must be thoroughly disinfected before being used in other areas. It’s best to keep all bedding from quarantined areas away from other residents and their living spaces, especially if the arriving duck seems to be in poor health, has unexplained discharge, or other signs of illness. If you typically spread old bedding on your sanctuary’s pastures, wait to do so with bedding from quarantined spaces until new residents have been evaluated by a veterinarian. Depending on their evaluation and any testing they recommend, they may advise you continue to keep bedding separate pending certain test results.
Evaluating A New Duck’s Health
When welcoming a new resident to your sanctuary, it is imperative that you assess their overall health to ensure you are addressing any issues as soon as possible. This is accomplished through initial observations, an intake examination, diagnostic testing, ongoing observation, and possibly a veterinarian’s assessment of the individual, especially if the new duck shows any signs of concerns.
Whenever you welcome a new resident to your sanctuary, it is crucial that you spend some time observing the individual upon arrival to determine any immediate needs they may have. If you or your staff picked up the individual and transported them back to the sanctuary, this observation process will actually begin before the new resident sets foot on sanctuary grounds. Through thoughtful observation, you may be able to identify signs of concern that warrant immediate veterinary care or further assessment on your part. This part of the intake process will also help determine if an intake examination must happen immediately or can wait for the new resident to settle in a little bit. In instances where you are taking in multiple new residents, this process will also help you prioritize individuals who appear to require more urgent assessment.
If you are taking in ducks who look very similar, you must have a system of identifying and documenting individuals while you are getting to know who is who. The use of properly fitting leg bands can be helpful for staff or volunteers who are working on learning everyone’s name and can also be a good way to make sure information is being recorded for the correct individual. When using leg bands, they should be checked regularly to ensure they are not becoming too tight, and you must take care if using them on individuals who are still growing. Ducks are notorious for losing their leg bands, so keep an eye out and replace bands as needed if they are still necessary for identification. If the duck arrived with official identification (such as state issued wing tags or leg bands), it may be a good idea to keep these on for a short period of time if they are not causing issues (especially if the individual arrived from another region that required certain testing or documentation in order to travel into your region), but ultimately we recommend that wing bands be removed since they are an invasive form of identification. Before removing, be sure to record this number (and maybe take a supplemental photo), and keep this information in their record in case you ever need it (such as needing to prove where a certain individual came from). Keep any removed tags with their records.
Prioritizing An Intake Examination
It’s important to perform an intake examination on all new residents, ideally within 24 hours of arrival, though some may need more immediate assessment. An intake exam includes conducting a full health examination to evaluate their overall health and to learn more about the individual, as well as gather important information for their permanent record. Be sure to follow quarantine procedures while conducting the intake exam. To learn more about the intake examination process, including how to prioritize assessing and addressing a new resident’s needs, check out our resource here!
If, for whatever reason, you are unable to perform a full health examination shortly after their arrival, you will need to closely observe new residents for signs of concerns and take steps to address those concerns appropriately. It is helpful if experienced caregivers physically move the new ducks into their quarantine space- this brief period of holding the duck can be invaluable, especially if you must wait before conducting thorough health examinations. By holding the duck, even for just a few moments, an experienced caregiver will be able to identify individuals who may be emaciated, weak, or showing obvious signs of illness or injury.
An intake examination is conducted in much the same way as a routine health examination- you should check every inch of the individual, looking for any signs of concerns and providing any necessary treatments. While there are a variety of issues you may find during a new duck resident’s intake examination, there are some health challenges that are especially common in new ducks. These include:
- Respiratory Illness– Watch closely, both during the intake examination and during the quarantine period, for any signs of respiratory illness such as discharge from the nares, swelling of sinuses and swelling around the eye, discharge from the eyes, sneezing, open mouth breathing, audible breathing (wet, raspy, squeaky, etc.), and labored breathing, which may include tail bobbing. Ducks may look dull and tired with puffed feathers, their head may be tucked, and they may have a poor appetite. If one of your residents is showing signs of respiratory illness, work closely with your veterinarian to determine the cause and to ensure appropriate treatment.
- Mobility Issues– You should assess the duck’s mobility by watching them walk and looking for any abnormalities in their gait or shifting of weight when standing. When checking their legs, pay extra attention to their feet and joints (especially their hocks), feeling for any heat, swelling, or crepitus (popping or crunching). Bumblefoot and arthritis are quite common in bigger ducks, so be sure to work with your veterinarian to evaluate any heat or swelling of feet or legs and any mobility issues to determine the best course of action. Sanctuaries are often contacted about ducklings with leg issues, which could be the result of a slipped tendon or congenital deformity. Be sure to have the duckling evaluated immediately, as addressing issues as early as possible is imperative. Without knowing exactly what’s going on (typically through diagnostic imaging), you may implement interventions (for example hobbling or physical therapy) that actually cause more harm than good.
- Parasites- Because sanctuaries often take in individuals who may have had their needs neglected, new duck residents may arrive with internal and/ or external parasites. If you do not have experience identifying or treating external parasites, be sure to work closely with your veterinarian or an experienced duck caregiver. In addition to submitting a fecal sample, be on the lookout for any concerning sign of internal parasites such as bloody feces.
If you have not already done so, work with your veterinarian to determine appropriate incoming testing protocols for new ducks you welcome to your sanctuary. While individuals showing signs of concern may require additional diagnostics, there may be certain tests your veterinarian recommends for all incoming ducks. At a minimum, all new residents should have a fecal sample submitted to check for internal parasites. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend deworming treatments based on the fecal results. Be sure to submit another fecal sample 10-14 days after any deworming treatment to evaluate its effectiveness. In order to help prevent the ever-increasing resistance to available deworming medications, it’s important to only use dewormers when necessary and to work closely with your veterinarian if resistance to certain dewormers seems to be an issue.
Your veterinarian may recommend other testing based on the specifics of your region. Certain disease confirmations may require an official report to your local government- if testing for screening purposes only, you may want to have a conversation with your veterinarian about what a positive result would mean for the individual and the sanctuary.
Some health conditions may take time to show outward symptoms. While all residents should be observed closely each day, extra attention should be paid to new residents during their quarantine period to ensure any potential issues are caught and addressed as soon as possible.
Based on our conversations with the sanctuary community, it seems regular duck vaccination is rare except in cases where the sanctuary has dealt with specific disease outbreaks or is in a high-risk area. However, it’s best to have a conversation with your veterinarian to see if there are certain vaccines they recommend based on the specifics of your resident population and your region- just make sure they fully understand your mission and how the sanctuary functions. There may be vaccines they recommend for most of their clients that either aren’t appropriate or aren’t necessary in a sanctuary setting. Make sure you understand both the benefits and risks of any vaccines before implementing them at your sanctuary- some vaccines will make residents test positive for the disease they protect against, which could have devastating consequences.
Introducing The Newcomer To Other Ducks
If the new duck is much less mature than the existing flock, you may want to let them grow up a bit before introducing them to the rest of the flock to ensure their safety during their introduction and to give them time to build up enough immune system strength to handle any disease that might be lurking in the flock. Also consider if a younger duck will be more vulnerable to certain predators if the flock does not live in a covered aviary.
If you care for multiple flocks of ducks, be sure to think about which flock seems most likely to be the best fit based on the new individual’s breed, sex, and personality, taking into consideration all residents in the flock, if caring for mixed-species flocks.
Once you’ve ensured that the new duck is healthy enough to join the resident flock, it can be a good idea to give the ducks time to get used to each other by spending time in separate, but adjacent spaces, especially if introducing males to each other, but in some cases, caregivers choose to skip this step when introducing females to the flock. If you’d like to give residents time to start getting used to each other through the safety of a barrier, you can set up an “integration kennel” in, or adjacent to the resident flock’s outdoor space. The new resident can spend time in this transition space during the day and then move back to their own space in the evening (remember they need to be moved to a safe, predator-proof space overnight). Make sure the integration space has everything they need to be comfortable- food, water, enough space, and shade. It’s also imperative that the barrier does not contain openings that could result in a curious duck getting their head stuck. Pay attention to the forecast- you don’t want residents stuck out in uncomfortable weather. How long this phase of the introduction process lasts really depends on the individuals. Watch everyone’s interactions closely. If there seems to be tension between the new resident and the rest of the flock, it’s best to wait for this to subside before moving on to the next stage of the introduction process.
When you’re ready to try the new resident with the flock, it’s very important that you monitor their introduction in case you need to intervene! It’s best to conduct the introduction outdoors so that residents have ample room to get away from each other if needed. There may be minor fighting at first, as everyone figures out their place in the social hierarchy, but as long as no one is getting injured or overdoing it, it’s generally best to let them sort things out for themselves. However, if things get out of hand, you’ll need to break up conflicts quickly. For ducks other than muscovies, positive signs include individuals approaching each other (without nipping) and bobbing their heads at each other. Muscovies will often approach other muscovies and repeatedly extend their necks while talking back and forth with one another. A little bit of nipping and chasing is not uncommon between newly introduced ducks, but watch closely to make sure the behavior is not incessant and doesn’t escalate to more worrisome altercations such as pinning someone by the neck, kicking each other, or slapping each other with their wings. Also watch closely for problematic mounting behavior. Keep in mind that while a large water source, such as a pond, is ideal for ducks, altercations or overly enthusiastic mounting can be much more dangerous on the water and will make intervening more difficult.
Even if things appear to be going well, be sure to provide lots of supervision to ensure everyone is getting along. Some individuals, situations, or areas of the living space may result in more tension than others, so just because everyone is getting along well outside soon after the new resident arrives, that does not mean that there will not be an altercation later on (possibly at meal time, or if the new resident tries to enter the indoor space).
Other good techniques to help the ducks get along include giving them distracting duck-safe treats, offering new puddles or other water sources to splash in, ensuring plenty of open space where the birds relax, eat, and drink (especially ensuring equal food and water access), and rearranging the living space when introducing the new resident which could make the space briefly less territorial and may also offer a bit of a distraction as residents explore the rearranged space. If the residents are having trouble with each other, it tends to resolve over time, so don’t give up hope! It may take a few introductions before they all get along.
Sometimes newly introduced residents will get along just fine during the day when they have more room to spread out and avoid each other, but will show signs of discord when closed in for the night. Pay close attention to how everyone behaves after being closed in for the night- if the new resident appears anxious or other residents start pecking at them, offer the new duck a separate sleeping space (preferably within or adjoining the flock’s living space)- just make sure they have a safe place to sleep and that other residents cannot fly or jump into this space.
With all introductions, monitoring their first few days together is especially critical to make sure everyone is getting along. You may need to offer additional food and water sources away from where the flock typically eats and drinks if the new duck is getting pushed away or seems wary of the others. A duck who is getting bullied or is very fearful may spend much of their time hiding. Some introductions take a few tries- if it seems the new resident just isn’t working out in the flock, you may need to separate them for now and continue trying supervised visits, or if you have multiple flocks, you may consider trying them with a different group.
It may seem like a lot of extra steps than simply setting a new duck into the flock, but if you follow the above guidelines, your new friend will have a much greater chance at a happy, healthy life with you and the flock!
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