When do Baby Ducks Eat?


A common question I hear from friends who are hatching their first ducklings is: When do my baby ducks start eating.

Ducklings can remain unfed for approximately 36 hours after hatching, in fact, in the first 12 to 24 hours, they may be reluctant to eat and that is completely fine and safe. Baby ducks are more inclined to resting after hatching rather than eating and drinking. Once they have rested, they will start to eat the food provided to them.

Feeding ducklings is not a complicated task as they pretty much start eating on their own. There is no teaching involved but knowing what to and how frequently feed is the key to raising happy quacking ducks.

If you are expecting your baby ducks to hatch soon, start asking yourself questions about their diet: Why don’t they need to feed in the first few hours? How often should ducklings be fed? What kind of food is safe for baby ducks?

These questions will help you in your journey to raise your baby ducks properly and keep them healthy.

First Few Hours Post-Hatching

As small and fragile baby ducks look post-hatching, they do not really need to be fed right away. Surprisingly, they can go up to 36 hours without any feed. As peculiar as it sounds, there is a reason behind that.

After hatching, ducklings can get their nutrition from the last bit of yolk sac that they absorb prior to hatching. This gives them the time to rest post-hatching as mother duck prefers to stay in the nest for 24 hours too.

If your baby ducklings are in the incubator, you can let them dry off in there for a couple of hours.  

First Feed for Ducklings

Ducklings will not need to be hand-fed or ‘taught’ to eat. When ready, they will start eating on their own.

Even though ducklings have enough nourishment from the absorbed yolk, it is recommended to start feeding as soon as possible after they have rested enough. Put some food in your hand and they will start eating. Then provide them with food and water in their dish and watch them gobble it up.

Feed Free Choice

Ducklings need to eat often to grow strong and stay healthy. It is not really a question of how frequently they should be fed, but rather how many times a day they need food at minimum. And the answer is multiple times a day.

They should be fed three to six times a day at a minimum. Ideally, they should have food around at all times as they have fast digestion. Setting feeding times for adult duck works but for ducklings, constant availability of food is important. As a rule of thumb, dry food should be available in their cage for at least 18 hours of the day.

Another reason, you should not strictly hand-feed baby ducks is because ducks need water to swallow their food. If you choose to hand-feed the ducklings, make sure they have access to water.

Over-Feeding Ducklings

You may be wondering if the constant availability of feed will make the ducklings overfed. The answer is simply no.

Access to food at all times will not make ducklings overeat. They have fast digestion and a big appetite, but they are smart enough to eat when they are hungry and walk away when they are not.

Do not think of ducklings as a pet cat or dog who may be interested in chowing down all the food as fast as possible.

Ducklings Feeding Checklist

  • Make feed available for no less than 18 hours a day
  • Make water available at all times while hand-feeding
  • Do not worry about overfeeding

Cut Down Feeding Time

If for one reason or another, you want to reduce the feeding time or set dedicated times for feeding for ducklings, the appropriate age for feed limitation is around 6 to 8 weeks. Ducklings younger than 6 weeks should have feed available 24/7.

Some keepers suggest that 2 weeks is adequate time to reduce feeding hours, but it is better to wait and make your ducklings’ health top priority.

Nourishment for Baby Ducks

Knowing what to feed a duckling is as important as knowing when to feed.

Ducks are omnivores which allows for a lot of variety in their diet. Introducing a range of nutritionally fulfilling food to ducklings early will be beneficial to them when they grow into adult ducks.

A good diet for ducklings and adolescent ducks means strong adult ducks with high-quality eggs. What efforts can you take to ensure that ducklings get nutritious food?

What Do Ducklings Eat?

It is good to start with waterfowl starter crumbles or mash. If you decide to give mash, make sure that is wet so that ducklings can eat it with ease. In case, duckling crumbles are not available, try chick starter with some additional supplements. Remember, do not purchase a medicated chick starter for ducklings as it can be potentially deadly for them. Also do not feed baby duckling adult duck food as the calcium content is too high and can, in the worst case, be lethal for baby ducks.

For ducklings that are below two weeks old, their feed should contain 18 to 20% protein. For ducklings older than two weeks, 15 to 16% protein is essential and the same goes for adult ducks.

If you decide to feed chick starter due to unavailability of waterfowl starter, supplement the food with niacin. Ducklings need a higher amount of niacin than chicks. To make up for low niacin in chick starter, add 0.5 cup pf brewer’s yeast in 10 lbs. of duck feed or get niacin tablets to add in water.

Protein Checklist for Ducklings and Ducks

  • 18% to 20% for two weeks old or below
  • 16% to 18% for two to eight weeks old
  • 15% to 16% for eight weeks and above

We have already established that adding variety to a duck’s diet is very beneficial. Chop up some veggies and fruits into small pieced to feed to your lovely ducklings. Their favorites veggies and fruits include cabbage, lettuce, peas, and strawberries.

Ducks do not have teeth; they use small rocks and sands to crush their food. If your ducklings are in the brooder, they cannot forage rocks therefore you should provide them with grit. Also, make sure that ducklings have clean water available at all times.

Foods to Avoid

Ducklings are cute and fluffy, but they are also very fragile. There is a long list of foods that can be toxic or unhealthy for them. Duckling may not get sick right away, but they will certainly be affected. Avoid these foods for your ducklings:

  • Bread
  • Chocolate
  • Onions
  • Spinach
  • Sugary treats
  • Junk Food
  • Pet Food like Cat food
  • Avocado
  • Citrus Fruits
  • Apple Seeds
  • White Potatoes
  • Tomato Leaves

Besides the foods above, do not rely on just greens or grains to feed the ducklings. It does not fulfill their protein and other dietary requirements and can badly affect their health.

Now that you know when and what to feed your ducklings, you are almost ready to raise them. Besides food, ducklings have other needs too, hence research the basics before getting started. Pick the food that is appropriate for ducklings and add the required supplements. Avoid potentially dangerous food and ensure that food and water are available at all times or 80% of the day. Give them some love and watch them grow into healthy and happy ducks!


Hi, My name is Rasmus. I am a hobby "polytarian" and a backyard farmer. Ever since I was a baby, I have been surrounded by poultry of all kinds. This blog is my way of sharing what I have learned from my bird-crazy family, books, and my personal experience.

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