As a little girl, my grandmother used to take me to a lake close to her home every Sunday to feed the ducks.
I loved those visits so much that I used to hide bits of my own food from my parents during the week so that I would have more for the ducks on Sundays.
Then I grew up and took my own kids to the lakes and dams near us to feed the ducks every week a few times a week. The ducks loved our visits as much as we did.
As the years have passed and I have had more exposure to other homesteaders, we have visited together and shared knowledge and coffee.
I’ve learned a lot about the diet of ducks and seen first-hand the effects of nutrient deficiencies, excess sugar, carbs, and gluten.
While having lunch at one such friend, I took a new mom with for a visit and she happily tore off a piece of bread and told her angry toddler to go feed the ducks – more for her sanity than because the ducks looked hungry.
Wow, talk about swift action! The homesteader we were visiting and I were out of our seats in a second and she had grabbed the bread from the toddler so quickly, even the toddler was shocked into good behavior mode.
She went on to explain to the new mom why we should never feed ducks bread.
Bread is not healthy for ducks at all! It has absolutely no nutritional value to ducks. It also makes them feel very full very fast.
The problem with that is that because they feel full, they do not eat enough of the correct food and can suffer from nutrient deficiencies.
Eating soggy bread with bacteria-rich soil mixed into it can also cause avian botulism, which would be devastating to the birds.
But children still exist, we are parents, aunts, uncles, friends, and babysitters, and some of us hope to become grandparents one day. And of course, kids still love to visit ponds and feed ducks.
So, what can we safely feed the ducks?
We ended up swapping recipes for mixtures our ducks loved and even talked the new mom into saving her table scraps for us.
Ducks are omnivores therefore they will enjoy a wide variety of snacks.
But when feeding them treats, you need to remember that ducks do not have teeth (not like our teeth anyway). They cannot chew.
They have pectin in their bills that help to filter water out of their mouths when they scoop up food. They swallow their food whole.
This can result in tragic choking and also constipation. For this reason, you should always chop the treats you are armed with into smaller-sized bites – especially for ducklings.
There are many healthy options to choose from. Some of which we throw away during meal preparations or after-dinner clean-ups every day. So, before you throw it out, think about this article, and stick your scraps in the fridge.
Here are some nutritious and delicious treats for ducks…
Table of Contents
Fruit is a duck’s best friend in the treats department. They love the sweet taste and the flavorful juice.
It is also very cute to watch them eat fruit – especially watermelon – you can see their delight and pleasure with every bite.
Because of the natural sugar in fruit, these should only be given in moderation.
Melons don’t require much preparation, just half them and set the halves out. You will need to chop up most other fruit to manageable bite-size pieces and you will also have to remove pips from things like peaches and plums.
Ducks especially love watermelon and strawberries, but here are some favorites that are safe for them:
- Peeled mashed or diced banana (if you have bananas that are overripe, peel them and freeze them. If I feel like making banana loaf for the family, I use bananas I have stashed like this. Bananas freeze beautifully.)
- Fresh, seedless cherries
- Halved grapes
- The yellow part of fresh pineapple
Vegetables and Herbs
Vegetables are highly nutritious, packed with vitamins and minerals, and so easy to collect scraps of from your own kitchen.
You can include vegetables in your duck’s daily feed as a tasty treat. Because ducks normally eat plant life, there is no harm in giving veggies every day.
You will really see the different ‘personalities’ come out when you feed a mixture of different scraps of vegetables.
Ducks have very individual taste preferences, and you will see this when they move from item to item until they find their favorite vegetable.
Once they find their favorite, it is every duck for himself. They will argue over who gets that treat.
Herbs add taste to their treats and can be included in mixtures of treat items for the ducks to enjoy. You can add fresh or dried herbs to a mixture of fruit, vegetables, or proteins to add flavor.
Vegetables and herbs are very easy to store in the fridge. Please chop them into manageable bites so that your ducks do not choke.
Ducks love to eat these safe vegetables:
- Lettuce (just not Iceberg lettuce as this can give ducks diarrhea)
- Diced carrots
- Fresh beetroot
- Bok Choy
- Sweet potato (in moderation, ducks do get fat from too many carbs in their diets)
- Bamboo shoots
- Lemon balm
- Hot peppers
While protein is not an essential part of a duck’s diet, they do use it to build their own proteins and grow feathers.
As omnivores, ducks do enjoy eating meat, fish, and bugs.
Served right, ducks love their protein treats.
If you have kids and want to get them to feed the treats, getting the treats can also be a lot of fun – especially for boys.
They can hunt bugs, look for worms under rocks, catch snails, or even find pooled water with mosquito larvae. Hunting can keep the kids out of mischief and build up the excitement of an outing to feed ducks.
Protein can be supplied in the form of:
- Mealworms – they look disgusting but are easy to raise for your ducks, and this is a favorite treat for all ducks, wild and domestic
- Scrambled eggs – ducks love scrambled eggs, and you can add herbs or vegetables into the scrambled eggs
- Feeder fish – guppies, goldfish, minnows
- Wasps – don’t let the kids try to catch these, if you can swat it dead it is safe to eat
- Fish eggs
- Leftover cooked fish
- Leftover cooked meat – chop it into very small pieces
- Lobster or shrimp shells
As odd as it seems, ducks really enjoy dairy from time to time. All birds are lactose intolerant; therefore, it is important to make this a very rare treat and only give each duck a small amount.
You can give them small amounts in a small container or even a mug if you do not have lots of mouths to feed.
It is safe to treat them to a bit of:
- Plain yogurt – you can add vegetables or fruit into the yogurt
- Low-fat or fat-free milk
- Plain cottage cheese – you can add fresh or dried herbs to add flavor
Do not forget that ducks came from the wild where they feast on many odd things. Ducks can be a menace to your garden.
They will eat your flowers! One of my friends spent a few days planting beautiful flowers in anticipation of a visit from her father who loves pretty gardens.
On the morning of his arrival, she went out to feed her ducks and was confronted with complete annihilation in her garden.
All the flowers were gone, the plants had been pulled from the beds, it looked like a war zone.
You can offer them fresh or dried flowers as a treat if they have not been treated with pesticides. Ducks love:
- Sunflowers – the seeds alone also make a nice treat, and they are very easy to grow
- Squash blossoms
If you have a beautiful garden with flowers everywhere, you may want to have a sit-down with your ducks and discuss where they can and cannot go and what they can and cannot eat.
Grains, Cereals, Legumes, and Seeds
Grains and cereals are a great treat. Cooked or raw they are tasty and easy to prepare, and they are easy to store until you are ready to treat your ducks.
In my house, everyone avoids the last serving of cereal from the box because it is mostly just powder. Put all these scraps together to give to the ducks.
Ducks will eat:
- Cooked rice – there is always leftover rice when I cook, I also scrape rice with gravy back into the pot I cooked the rice in and stir it in with the leftover rice to spread the taste of the gravy
- Cooked whole wheat
- Cooked brown rice – you can also add raw or cooked vegetables to the rice
- Mung beans
- Wheat berry
- Un-sugared cereal
- Puffed rice
- Cheerios – little kids love cheerios as much as ducks do; with my kids it was always one for you and one for me
- Sunflower seeds
Just like you enjoy icy water on a hot summer day, ducks enjoy frozen (but partially thawed) treats in summer.
The wonderful thing is you can create your own frozen feast by simply freezing leftovers that are the appropriate size together in a container. You can add water when you freeze your treats so that they will float for longer as your ducks hunt for their treats.
Some fruits and vegetables freeze better and thaw out quicker. These include:
- Peas – with peas and corn, you can cover them with water when you freeze them so that they come out as a sheet of ice that will float for the ducks to scoop up the peas or corn as the ice melts
- Yogurt – you can add fresh berries or bananas or any vegetables or fruit for a healthy snack
- Mealworms – I personally have an aversion to mealworms, I cannot stomach the thought of opening my deepfreeze to find worms next to my lamb roast, but I am told they float nicely and are therefore easy to scoop up
Drop the frozen treats into the water for the ducks to scoop up in their bills. Ducks normally bob their head underwater to grab fish or plant life, so do not be afraid you will ruin the food by tossing it in the water.
Blending together your own recipes can be a lot of fun. You can add things in, introduce new ingredients, leave things out, and watch the ducks look for their favorite ingredient.
In winter, try making soup for your ducks by finely grating vegetables like sweet potato, or pumpkin, or courgettes, or peas, or even beans.
Place the vegetables in warm water and give the ducks the warm soup. They will soon be placing orders at the soup kitchen.
Ducks also love garden soup. Take chopped grass and weeds and simply add these to warm water for them.
Please do not give them grass cut with a petrol mower or anything treated with chemicals as these will be harmful to their health.
Ducks also love spaghetti. I chop the spaghetti and mix in diced tomato, basil, and thyme. You can feed them this just like this or you can freeze it.
If you have leftover rice, hard boil a few eggs and crush them shells and all, and mix the eggs with some broccoli or cauliflower with the rice. You can add hamburger meat or fish with it too.
I have a friend who eats lobsters and crabs. She saves the shells for me and I mix these in too when available.
In summer you can make your own frozen yogurt by adding fruit to plain yogurt and freezing it.
You can make fruit slushy’s by blending ice chips and fruit that has been through a processor.
You can also make a special layer of “cake” ice-cream for them. Take a deep container add a layer of strawberries cover them with water and let it freeze. Then add watermelon and again cover with water and freeze.
You can repeat the process as often as you like with whatever fruit or vegetables you have on hand. When it is done, just drop it into their pond. They will love pecking out the different treats while the ice floats.
You can also make banana and oat cookies by mashing bananas and mixing in oats and baking for ten minutes. Just make sure you cut the cookies into small portions (about the size of half a grape).
If you ever need to give medicine to a duck, cut a cherry tomato or a grape in half, tuck the medicine into the tomato or grape, and feed it to your duck. They will not even notice your sneakiness.
The treat your ducks will like best: flapjacks, pancakes, or waffles! They are happy to eat these as is.
We use a lot of bananas in my house, so I sometimes mash a banana and spread it over the breakfast leftovers for the ducks. They love it! Spoilt rotten.
In winter when it is cold, ducks do not really like to go out to hunt grubs and bugs and there are not many plants available, I like to treat them with warm vegetable soup or warm spaghetti or cooked rice with vegetables and cooked fish. They love the variety, and it is – almost – all highly nutritious.
Watching them eat fruit is my favorite. I love the gossip and backstabbing that goes on as they argue over a scrap and how they wiggle their tails in delight when they find that one sweet, juicy morsel.
Treats should only be 10% of your duck’s diet. But the variety and availability of ingredients is in your kitchen or garden now.
Make sure you wash fruit and vegetables before you feed them to your ducks as they may have been treated with pesticides or other chemicals that can be harmful to your duck’s health. Also, remember to cut all treats into small pieces.
If you are going to feed the ducks with your grandkids or just want to treat your favorite pets, do not reach for the bread – not when there are so many nutritious, tasty options available.
Send us your special blend recipes in the comments below. Enjoy treating your ducks!
Di-Anne Devenish Seebregts was raised in an environment where daily life consisted of hiking, environmental conservation, growing fruit and vegetables, and raising poultry for meat and eggs.
She combined her passion for the writing word with her love of the pride that comes with not relying on others. She raised three children (who are now adults) to value the environment, and understand the value of being self-sufficient.