If you own animals, for any purpose, it’s nice to imagine that they’ll be with us forever. But every adult knows that that just isn’t the case…
Every animal will eventually die, but some animals live a lot longer than others. Some animals can live a surprisingly long time!
Although most homesteaders think that larger animals like cows and horses will typically be around for the long haul, you might be surprised to learn how long-lived some smaller critters are. Let’s look at ducks, for instance. What is a duck’s lifespan?
A domestic duck can live anywhere from 8 to 20 years, with some exceptional individuals living much longer. Factors like genetics, nutrition, environment, and overall health influence a duck’s lifespan.
Ducks, it turns out, are remarkably long-lived creatures both in the wild and in domestic settings. This is especially eyebrow-raising if you’re only familiar with chickens which, as a rule, usually only live around 5 to 10 years at best.
This is certainly good news if you want your ducks to be around for a long time, but planning and preparing to take care of any animal that can live so long requires a particular approach. Keep reading and we’ll talk a lot more about the lifespan of ducks…
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How Long Do Ducks Typically Live?
The lifespan of a duck varies depending on whether or not it’s in the wild or in captivity, and also on many other factors.
Generally speaking, any duck in the wild will rarely live longer than 10 years, with many having a far shorter lifespan than that.
Domestic ducks that are cared for in captivity can live much longer, assuming they are not harvested for meat or feathers first. As a rule, you can expect any duck that’s cared for to live at least 10 years and many will live a lot longer, with 18 or even 20 years of age being quite common.
So, assuming you’re keeping your ducks around for eggs or just as pets, you need to be prepared to spend a considerable fraction of your own life with them.
What are the Lifespans of Various Ducks?
Ducks are just like every other animal in that various breeds and species can have radically differing lifespans.
Depending on your purposes and desires, you might want to choose a breed based on how long or how short they are expected to live though there are many, many other factors besides that to inform your decision!
Check out the following common breeds and their typical expected lifespans below:
- Khaki Campbell: 12+ years.
- Indian Runner: 8 to 12 years.
- Muscovy: 10 to 15 years; some lines don’t live nearly as long as others.
- Cayuga: 12 to 15 years.
- Pekin: 12 years, though much longer lives are fairly common.
Do Most Ducks Live to an Old Age?
It depends. For wild ducks across most species, no, they don’t live to a particularly old age. A good percentage of wild ducks will die from predation, disease, or injury at various stages of life, with an average lifespan in the wild being anywhere from 3 to 6 years.
Many wild ducks suffer from mortality rates as high as 90% as ducklings or juveniles- a shocking figure!
Domestic ducks, on the other hand, are easily expected to reach a ripe old age by the standards of wild ducks, with 10 years old being normal and much older than that being quite common still.
Again, this presumes that the duck isn’t going to be harvested for meat or feathers much earlier than that.
What’s the Longest a Duck Can Live?
As I said above, it is hardly unknown for domestic ducks to live to be 20, or even older…
There are many ducks, from many different breeds and species, that have been reported living to 25 years old or even older than 30! Incredible!
Some record-setting individual ducks have been confirmed as living to be nearly 50 years old. This, though, is truly extraordinary and you should never expect your ducks to live this long. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect them to live beyond 20!
What Happens to Ducks as They Age?
A few things happen to ducks as they get older, although the aging process probably isn’t as dramatic as you might think. Also, there are significant differences between the sexes, generally, when it comes to aging…
For starters male ducks, or drakes, can be surprisingly vigorous their entire lives and they’ll often maintain the color of their plumage well into seniority, with the only notable difference being a flattening and slight lengthening of the tail feathers over time.
Aging is much harsher on hens… Although most females will lay eggs at a high rate throughout their youth, usually their first three to five years, egg production tends to slow down precipitously and, sometimes, stop altogether as they get older.
Because of the rigors that females undergo this puts a considerably greater strain on their body and constitution, females tend to suffer significantly more health problems as they age compared to their male counterparts.
This isn’t always true, but it is a guideline, that is dependable. Something to keep in mind if you want a duck or two as companions for the long haul!
In most cases, a duck that lives a really long time will start to slow down, suffer from arthritis, struggle to molt, and generally appear and act “aged.”
Factors Influencing Lifespan
Ducks, like pretty much all other creatures, have health and a lifespan that’s greatly influenced by a variety of factors. Some of these are very obvious even to the untrained while others are quite subtle and nuanced.
Understanding these factors and, if possible, planning accordingly can ensure that your ducks have the longest and healthiest lives possible.
Environmental factors are hugely influential in the life of a duck, whether they are in the wild or in captivity.
Weather is, obviously, a big one and even though ducks are amazingly adaptable and capable of living in sweltering heat or bone-chilling cold, extreme temperatures and rough conditions will generally cause higher levels of mortality and reduced lifespan overall.
Even in captivity, a good shelter is always a net benefit to the lifespan of a duck, and whether in the wild or on the homestead, the presence of various stressors likewise plays a part.
Ducks that live in serene, happy environments live longer across all domains whereas ducks that are constantly on edge, under attack, or subjected to stressful stimuli won’t live as long.
Naturally, the diet of a duck is seriously important when it comes to overall lifespan because it plays a vital role in health. Ducks that get a diverse and high-quality diet will have all of the vitamins, minerals and macronutrients they need in order to thrive.
These nutrients are necessary for daily living, of course, but they also play a crucial role in metabolism, organ function, hormone production and regulation, healing, molting and a lot more. It is impossible to overstate just how important good nutrition is for ducks!
Ducks that have a lackluster diet, one that is either low quality, lacking in the needed levels of nutrients, or one that has more harmful ingredients and things they don’t need is naturally going to negatively impact their overall health and consequently reduce lifespan.
You can make sure your birds live longer by providing them with the best quality foods and in the right ratios to give them everything they need.
One factor that’s typically beyond the influence of your average duck owner, genetics now as always is a significant influence in every facet of these birds’ lives.
Some ducks come from a lineage, or just two particularly healthy parents, that are known for longevity and robust, hardy constitutions. This, in turn, translates to a longer lifespan, all other things being equal.
Similarly, some lines are known to be disease-resistant or have any number of other perks that will contribute to longer life.
And conversely, as you might imagine, unhealthy parents tend to give birth to unhealthy babies and the same goes for ducks.
Purchasing eggs, ducklings or mature adult ducks from a breeder with a reputation for care and careful breeding practices maximizes but does not guarantee that you’ll get a flock with strong genetics.
Presence of Flock
If you don’t know now, you will soon learn that ducks are extremely social. A single duck is not going to be a very happy duck and likely not one that will live for a long time. These birds need the companionship of other ducks and more than one or two. Yes, they might love you plenty, but it’s not the same as being a member of a flock.
Having a flock is a lifespan-booster for ducks, and having only a single companion or no flock at all is going to reduce their quality of life and also their lifespan generally, regardless of how good everything else is.
As a rule of thumb, you’ll want a bare minimum of four ducks if you want them all happy and healthy within a genuine flock structure, but five or six is even better if you can support them.
No surprises here: the presence of predators is a marked reducer of duck lifespans.
A predator attack is highly likely to kill or maim a duck, and even in the case where a duck survives, its injuries will usually plague them for the rest of their life. This results in a reduced lifespan.
But, keep in mind also that the ongoing presence of predators becomes something of an environmental factor as detailed above.
This is a stressor that will constantly be hanging over ducks as they live their life from day to day, and the worry and anxiety associated with ongoing, random predator attacks means they won’t live as long, generally speaking.
It is possible to protect ducks from predator attacks, and you should, but the approach you take will be entirely dependent on where you live, what sorts of predators are in the area and the resources you can devote to the problem.
Injuries, while survivable, might still result in a shorter life. Even if you’re entirely careful and take all possible steps to duck-proof their coop, enclosure, pond and pasture accidents are still going to happen. Worse, some injuries occur as just a normal part of duck life!
Drakes will commonly fight among themselves to gain access and mating rights with females in a flock, and these fights can be pretty rough.
Maintaining a proper ratio of drake’s to hens can reduce, but not eliminate, these problems as can having a flock that’s all males or all females.
Likewise, if you’ve never seen it before you should brace yourself: duck mating practices tend to be brutal, violent and short, and injuries to females are shockingly common especially if mating takes place on land.
Her feathers, wings, neck, back and legs can all sustain injuries from the tyranny of males that are going to mate her whether she wants to or not.
Whether from accident or not, injuries cause pain which results in stress and a reduced lifespan, or else are so debilitating that a duck just won’t be expected to live as long even if they recover.
There’s no shortage of illnesses out there that will plague your flock, from common bumblefoot to the hideously devastating strains of avian flu, viral enteritis, duck-specific strains of hepatitis and a lot more.
Whether it’s bacteria, a virus, parasites or something else, these diseases can ravage a duck inside and out.
If survivable, they might suffer lingering side effects like reduced organ function or other problems that will shave years, maybe even a decade or more, off of the poor bird’s life.
There are measures you can take to protect against some of the most common diseases, things like medication, supplements, vaccination, and more.
But others are more akin to a natural disaster, burning through entire regions infecting and killing at will, and whether or not your flock survives, and what will be left of it, is up to chance.
Or, sometimes, to authorities: particularly in cases of flu and other highly contagious diseases, infected animals are often ordered destroyed by local and state agencies to slow the spread of contagion.
It’s unfair, but generally, male ducks live a lot longer than female ducks in all circumstances, be they in the wild or in captivity.
Drakes usually show more robust health and less vulnerability to disease overall. Plus females are responsible for laying eggs and this takes a lot out of them, literally and figuratively.
There’s also the fact that when females are brooding on a clutch of eggs they typically don’t leave those eggs for any reason- even to get a drink or a bite to eat. And hatching takes up to 4 weeks!
That is a long time to fast and go without water or food, and the strain brought on by the ordeal is terrible for a female.
Then you have to consider that in the wild a female duck is incredibly vulnerable to predators because they will searching both for her- a literal sitting duck- and her eggs to eat them.
The male duck might put up a fight to protect his mate and progeny, but it’s usually the poor mother that winds up fighting to the death for her unborn babies.
For these reasons and more, don’t expect a female duck to live as long as her male counterpart.
Lastly, don’t forget about the purpose of the duck if they’re kept on the homestead. Are you keeping them around for a constant supply of eggs? Are you planning on harvesting them for their meat? Do you just want them around because they are cool, fun, and make great pets?
This, of course, will determine the lifespan of the duck to a huge degree…
Ducks that are destined for the dinner table won’t even reach a year of age. Ducks that are kept for egg production will eventually stop producing eggs; do you keep them around in retirement after that, or cull them?
Of course, a pet duck has a privileged position and can be expected to live out a very long life of ease and luxury compared to its more utilitarian cousins…
Is It Worth Taking Care of an Old Duck?
This is a question I get hit with a lot but it’s not an easy one to answer. Assuming that you want to keep a duck around into old age for whatever reason, if it’s still being kept for utilitarian purposes we have to consider whether or not it’s worth taking care of them.
I want to say this right up front, and I hope you take it to heart: you shouldn’t listen to me or anyone else on this when it comes to moral or ethical obligations.
You need to search your own soul, talk to your family, and come to a determination ahead of time that is right for all of you.
That being said, the following questions can help you make up your mind when emotions might be running high at the moment of truth:
Is the Duck a Resource or a Pet?
Let’s get right down to it: Is the elderly duck being kept as a resource, either to feed or supply your family or to make money in business? Or is it a pet?
The two generally are not the same thing, and while you might get eggs from a pet, the expectation of whether or not to keep a pet alive in old age when it’s no longer strictly useful is quite different from a duck that is only alive because it can provide.
If you’re in the business of raising ducks for eggs, meat, or any other productive purpose when the duck gets too old to serve that purpose you probably want to cull it to maximize profits and efficiency in your day-to-day operations.
Is the Duck Consuming Too Many Resources?
Like pretty much every other living thing, older ducks need more resources. To be clear, they might not drink or eat as much in their old age but that isn’t the point.
But they will cause more problems, require more interaction, need more cleaning and meds, and generally more attention all the way around.
Your attention, your time, is your most precious resource even if your homestead is a family operation or one with employees or other staff.
If an older duck basically requires dedicated tending at various points throughout the day, or all day, you really need to think about the actual financial and opportunity costs associated with that.
Is It Causing Issues in the Flock?
Older ducks sometimes suffer from behavioral problems. Maybe they just aren’t getting along with other members of the flock anymore, or maybe they’re being shunned for whatever reason.
Many animals start to depart from or drive off fellow members when they sense that death is close or just looming. Maybe the older duck can’t communicate in the same way, or maybe it smells different- it’s hard to say just why this happens.
In any case, you should keep in mind that ducks are highly social animals and in many instances, the good of the flock comes before any individual duck.
If the social setting has turned into a strain on your elderly duck or the elderly duck is causing lots of issues for the rest of the flock, that should be factored into your decision.
Is the Duck Suffering?
And, last but never least, always keep in mind the condition and well-being of the animal itself.
Older ducks may or may not remain vital and energetic. Males especially tend to live to ripe old ages and will be going at full speed the entire time.
Nonetheless, ducks can suffer from inflammation, arthritis, and all sorts of other maladies that will afflict them as they get older, and most of the time they will get worse. Cancer and other problems are also fairly common.
Does it seem like your duck is in pain or stressed all the time? Are they still eating, swimming, and moving around vigorously or do they have trouble doing everything?
If you think the duck is suffering or if their quality of life is terrible, you should probably euthanize them.
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.
Find out more about the team here.