Every animal alive can be said to have a diet that is carnivorous, herbivorous or omnivorous. Respectively, that means they eat a diet that is all meat, all plants or some of each. This dietary classification also applies to domestic animals, including our pets and livestock.
Today we’re looking at ducks. So, are ducks carnivores, omnivores or herbivores?
Ducks are omnivores and eat a diet that is predominantly plant matter but also consists of a good amount of animal protein in the form of insects, slugs, snails, and some marine life.
Ducks, like most waterfowl, are omnivores and actually eat lots of different foods. In the wild, most duck species eat diets that are shaped by the environments they typically inhabit year-round or during migration.
Domestic ducks typically eat whatever they are given by their owners, and whatever they can forage or catch in the area if they’re allowed to free range.
We’ll talk more about the diet of ducks and their classification as omnivores below.
Ducks are Definitely Not Carnivores
It should be clarified that, though they eat various kinds of animal protein, ducks are definitely not carnivores. A carnivore consists of a diet that is overwhelmingly meat, and that isn’t ducks.
Even ducks that enjoy a steady diet of mealworms, slugs, snails, small fish, and various other invertebrates will invariably also eat a good amount of plant matter.
Accordingly, ducks are not carnivores according to the strip definition of the word.
What is an Omnivore, Exactly?
An omnivore is, strictly speaking, an organism that eats both plant and animal matter. Omnivores have the most varied diets, typically, among living things and ducks definitely fit this category.
Ducks eat all sorts of plant matter, including grasses, seeds, grains, fruits, and vegetables. They forage in the water for aquatic plants and in fields, and forests for land-based vegetation.
Concerning meat, or rather “animal protein”, ducks usually eat insects such as beetles and flies along with other small critters, and also invertebrates like worms and snails.
Ducks also eat small fish and other aquatic animals if they’re available, depending on the species of duck in question.
Also depending on the breed of duck and the environment, ducks might eat a roughly balanced diet of both plant and animal matter. Other ducks might lean more heavily on one food group than the other.
Many Ducks Tend to be Mostly Herbivorous
That said, the majority of ducks enjoy a predominantly herbivorous diet, though ducks aren’t true herbivores.
This is because plant matter is almost always easier to come by compared to animal protein, and ducks are opportunistic feeders as opposed to diligent hunters or expert foragers. This means that they simply eat whatever is available to them and easiest to get.
Also, during colder seasons many kinds of plant life will remain available while animals that ducks eat, like insects, die off, are less active or even hibernate, making them much harder to find.
What are Some of the Things that Ducks Eat?
Wild ducks eat a variety of foods depending on the season and availability. During the summer, they primarily eat various plants, insects, snails, worms, and small fish.
In the fall and winter, they switch to a diet that includes various other plants, but also seeds, nuts, and grains, as these are usually more abundant in the colder months.
Domestic ducks, on the other hand, are typically fed a diet that is formulated to meet their specific nutritional needs.
This includes a mix of various grains, such as corn and wheat, along with protein sources like soybean meal and fishmeal.
Many duck feeds also contain added vitamins and minerals to ensure that they’re getting all the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Plus, a purpose-formulated waterfowl or “gamebird” feed is also a viable choice that will ensure complete nutrition.
In addition to their formulated feed, domestic ducks may also be given treats and supplements such as vegetables, fruits, and mealworms.
I have found that these domestic birds also do quite well for themselves when they’re allowed to forage and free-range for some of their own food sources.
Something else you should note is that, while ducks are able to thrive on a wide variety of foods in the wild or in captivity, they cannot eat just anything.
Furthermore, they still require a properly balanced diet to maintain their health; they won’t thrive on a limited diet of even healthy food options.
Likewise, feeding ducks bread or other processed foods can actually cause harm to their digestive system and lead to malnourishment.
Will Ducks Eat Any Kind of Meat?
Not usually. Though ducks can process meat and derive nutrition from it, you generally only want to give them animal protein derived from something they would nominally find or eat in the wild.
Things like fish, insects, worms, and snails are all good for ducks.
Though it is true that your ducks can probably safely eat processed meal or feed made with animal proteins from sources like chicken, beef and pork, these are not truly natural foods for ducks.
Do Ducks Only Eat Live Food?
No. Ducks can and will eat dead or picked vegetation as long as it is still fresh and wholesome, or similarly dead but well-preserved animal proteins.
In other words, if something is fresh and edible enough, then your ducks will likely eat it. They will usually shy away from rotting meat or plant matter, but will happily consume anything that is still of decent quality.
How Do Wild Ducks Get Enough Nutrients in Their Diet?
By consuming a varied enough diet. Wild ducks eat a varied enough diet so they can make sure to get all the nutrients they need from different sources.
For example, aquatic invertebrates like snails, worms and clams are high in calcium which is important for strong bones and eggshells while seeds, grains and grasses provide different vitamins and minerals.
However, a lack of essential nutrients is a constant concern for wild ducks who lack the advantage of having benevolent humans looking out for them and their well-being with an optimized diet.
In times of food shortage, ducks will usually suffer from nutrient deficiency and then from the various diseases and syndromes that follow.
Should Domestic Ducks Eat What Wild Ducks Eat?
They typically can, but this is simply unnecessary: domestic ducks benefit hugely from a nutritionally-balanced diet put together specifically for them.
A wild diet typically appeals more to the sentiments of the owner than the ducks themselves! Ducks are typically content to eat what is given to them, and are usually not interested in scavenging too much for their meals.
But If you choose to feed your ducks a wild or natural food diet, you must make sure that it is properly balanced and contains all the essential vitamins and minerals they need.
Consider something that will be significantly more difficult compared to commercially produced feed and mash where you will know at a glance what nutrients and how many calories your birds will be consuming.
Aside from whole foods given as treats or supplements, stick to a formulated feed designed specifically for waterfowl.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.