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Are Ducks Carnivores, Omnivores, or Herbivores?

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If you are new to duck rearing, you might be wondering what kind of foods ducks will eat. Do they eat plant matter, do they eat animal matter, or do they eat both? Not to worry, we have the answer.

The question is, are ducks carnivores, omnivores, or herbivores?

Ducks are omnivores. Ducks are waterfowl, and like other waterfowl, they eat both plant and animal matter.

White ducks on green grass in farm

Although they are all omnivores, some breeds are more inclined to eat plant matter, while some prefer animal matter.

Their inclination to eat plant or animal matter is also influenced by the seasons.

We will shed more light on your queries about the types of food ducks can eat in the subsequent paragraphs.

What Is the Difference Between a Carnivore, Omnivore, and Herbivore?

Animals differ in many obvious ways, and that includes their diets. Depending on what they eat, animals can be grouped into one of 3 classes. They can either be omnivores, herbivores, or carnivores.

The following table highlights the differences between these 3 classes of animals:

Prefers Plant or Animal MatterCan eat only animal matterCan eat plant and animal matterCan eat only plant matter
Stomach TypeSimpleSimpleSimple or Complex (Ruminant)
Vitamin A Detoxification AbilityCan detoxify vitamin ACan detoxify vitamin ACannot detoxify vitamin A
Presence of Digestive Enzyme in SalivaNo digestive enzyme in their salivaThey have amylase in their salivaThey have amylase in their saliva
TeethCarnivores have long, sharp canine teeth in front of their mouth, which they use for tearing. They also have sharp incisors for cutting meat. Some carnivores may have a few molars at the back of their mouth.Omnivores have canines and molars. The canine teeth are located in front of their mouth, and they are used for tearing meat. The molars, on the other hand, are intended for grinding.Herbivores have square, flat molars used for crushing, chewing, and grinding.
Length of Digestive TractCarnivores have short digestive tracts.Omnivores have medium-length digestive tracts.Herbivores have long digestive tracts. Their digestive tracts are sometimes 10 times as long as their body.
Stomach pHVery acidic stomachs with pH 1-2.Very acidic stomachs with pH 1-4.pH ranges from 3 to 7.

Which Category Do Ducks Fall Into?

Going by the table above, ducks are omnivores. They eat both plant and animal matter, they have a simple stomach, and they have medium-length digestive tracts.

Ducks also have digestive enzymes in their saliva, one of which is amylase. Their stomach pH ranges from around 2 to 4.

While ducks do not have teeth like other animals, they have various adaptations that play the role of teeth.

Some of these adaptations include lamellae, a bill nail, and grin patch that aids in filtering aquatic diets.

woman's hand feeding wild duck

What Do Ducks Eat?

Ducks eat various types of foods. Some of them include the following:

Animal Matter Ducks Eat

  • Fish eggs
  • Small fish
  • Worms
  • Snails
  • Insects
  • Small crustaceans
  • Frogs
  • Slugs
  • Tadpoles
  • Mollusks
  • Salamanders and other small amphibians

Plant Matter Ducks Eat

  • Leaves
  • Grass
  • Weeds
  • Seeds
  • Algae
  • Grains – whole grains are the healthier choice for ducks
  • Aquatic plants
  • Tree roots
  • Small berries
  • Fruits

Ducks also eat pebbles, gravel, sand, and small shells. These substances provide them with grit, which facilitates their digestion.

Grit also provides nutrients like calcium, which forms part of a healthy diet and egg shell production.

Factors That Affect What Ducks Eat

Sometimes, ducks try out other types of foods they come across. The diet any duck follows is dependent on various factors, some of which include:

The Species of the Duck

Some species of ducks are designed for certain types of foods. For instance, the Mergansers have thin, toothed bills specialized mainly for eating fish.

duck hunting fish under the water

Ducks, like the Northern Shoveler, which have spatulate-shaped bills, predominantly feed on aquatic insects and algae because their bills are designed for filter feeding.

Change in Seasons

Some ducks prefer to eat animal matter during certain seasons, and plant matter in others. This preference varies across species and across seasons, not to mention the locations the ducks are in at the time.

The Duck’s Range

Ducks that live in fields tend to eat more plants and grains. Those that spend most of their time on water will eat more crustaceans, amphibians, and fishes.

When a duck migrates, its range changes, and consequently, its diet changes too.

In times when a certain type of food is scarce, ducks will increase their range to find other sources of food.

The Duck’s Habitat

The habitat of a duck will determine the type of food that makes up the majority of its diet. For example, ducks that stay in marsh habitats will have amphibians and small fish making up the bulk of their diet.

On the other hand, those that live in forests will have more fruits and nuts in their diets. 

duck house on a pond

Feeding Style

The feeding style of the duck plays a big role in its diet. Diving ducks will go deep into the water in search of fish and crabs. Dabbling ducks, on the other hand, feed on the surface and eat more plants and insects.

Some Food Items That Should Not Be in a Duck’s Diet

While you may give ducks some bread as treats, you should not make it a mainstay. Bread is undesirable for ducks because of its low nutritional value and indigestibility.

A diet that consists mainly of bread or products similar to bread is likely to cause health problems such as malnutrition and poor development.

Besides bread, another substance that should be precluded from a ducks’ diet is lead. Lead may be found in sinkers from abandoned fishing lines. It usually looks like a nut or seed to a foraging duck. So, sometimes, they eat it.

The toxic effect from the lead can remain in the body of the duck for a long time, eventually causing illness and sometimes death. 

Wild white ducks eating

Can Ducks Be Vegetarians?

There are many duck species all over the world living in different environments. This means they have to eat whatever is made available to them by their environment.

Domestic ducks will usually have a variety of food to choose from and can change their diet. They can switch from small insects to shells that provide them with the necessary calcium, depending on the time of year.

Some ducks do not have access to the range of food available to domestic ducks and may be restricted to eating plants, seeds, grains, and water plants. Such ducks may end up becoming vegetarian.

Can Ducks Eat Meat?

Besides eating insects, fish, and similar animal matter, ducks also eat meat. One of the advantages of giving ducks meat is that it can supply their body with protein that can make their eggs healthier.

Although ducks can eat meat, its consumption should be limited. You should avoid giving ducks processed meats, such as deli meats; they may contain harmful additives.

You should also ensure that you do not give them fatty or salty meat.

Final Thoughts

Ducks are omnivores, with a diet that varies depending on the species of duck, the season, and their environment. But this does not mean they can eat just any plant or animal matter. Before feeding your domestic ducks, or those wild ducks in the park, confirm that it is safe for them.