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What Temperature is Too Cold for Ducks?

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Winter is coming soon and everyone is getting ready. Farmers, homesteaders, and a few others, however, have an extra concern: “How to care for their ducks during the winter.”

If you own ducks, don’t worry because this article is here to show you how you can care for your ducks during the winter, give you reasons why you should not worry much about your ducks, give you a list duck breeds that can survive low temperatures, and share extra useful tips.

two duck resting on snow during winter

Can Ducks Freeze to Death?

For some years now, there have been sightings of sick and weak ducks in Michigan during winter. (source) What is certain about the news is that those ducks are mostly wild migratory birds that got unlucky.

Domestic ducks have a high chance of surviving the winter because they have humans (you) to care for them.

Ducks can freeze to death in severe cold. Ducks are equipped with natural insulation in their bodies that helps them resist cold but prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures can lead to death.

Adult ducks are less susceptible to the cold than ducklings and, as a whole ducks are more resistant to cold than many other birds.

Here are three ways ducks protect themselves from low temperatures:

Possession of Preen Glands

A preen gland produces sebum (oil) and is located near the tail of ducks. When preening (i.e. rubbing their beak over their body to clean themselves and reposition their feathers), ducks spread the oil produced by the preen gland over their body.

Preening makes the feathers of ducks to become waterproof. Waterproof feathers permit very little or no amount of water (which easily gets cold) to reach the body of ducks.

ducks standing in frozen lake

So Many Downs

The down of birds is a type of feather that is soft with filaments scattered in every direction. Down feathers are below the feathers above. Down feathers are insulators as they trap air, and your ducks can be warm even in harsh conditions).

Exchange of Blood Temperature in Their Legs

Ducks have feathers to protect their bodies from low temperatures. The only parts of the body of ducks without feathers are their legs.

Luckily, ducks (and a few other birds) are equipped with a marvelous exchange system in their legs. Their arteries and veins are so close, so when warm blood from their warm body flows into their legs, it increasing the temperature of the cold blood flowing into their body (from their legs).

According to a professor emeritus of ornithology, Eldon Greij, the ability to exchange blood temperature in their legs makes ducks walk on cold (or icy) surfaces for a long time without major impacts. (source)

Note that ducklings (young ducks) are not fully developed to withstand cold, and they are at risk of becoming hypothermic when it is too cold. You need to provide extra care for them during the winter.

Can Ducks Sleep Outside in the Cold?

duck sleeping out in the winter

This is probably the most popular question asked by duck owners during winter. There have been so many people complaining that their ducks going out at night.

As earlier stated, ducks are cold-hardy and can withstand low temperatures. If the night is not windy, your ducks are probably okay. Provide shelter for them so that they can go there when the temperature of the night gets too low for them.

To be safe, however, keep them in their coop or a place where they can’t go out. Ducklings must not be exposed to cold nights during winter.

How to tell if Your Ducks are Too Cold

Okay, you still are not comfortable with your ducks out in the cold, so you want to know how you can identify ducks feeling too cold. Like other animals, ducks can tell you that they are cold by showing some signs. Here are ways you can identify cold ducks.

When They Huddle

It is common for birds to sometimes huddle during winter. If, however, your ducks are mostly inactive and huddle regularly, they are telling you that the cold is too much. You can help by taking them into an insulated coop or providing an extra source of warmth for them.

ducks huddling together

When They Stand Less Often

Even though ducks have a heat exchange system that increases the temperature of their legs, ducks will mostly plop down, and stand less often when they are too cold.

To warm their legs, they will often tuck the legs into their body. When you notice that your ducks are standing less often, take them inside where it is warm.

Always Found in Warm Places and are Mostly Inactive

Ducks generally remain active during the winter and don’t mind going out to forage for food or even bath in a pool.

If, however, you find your ducks inactive and always in warm places, you should insulate their coop (if it is not insulated already), or take them to a warm place (like your garage) where you can monitor them closely.

Should You Change Diet When it is Cold Out?

When foraging, ducks eat insects, spiders, worms, and other invertebrates they can find. In winter, your birds will find less food when they forage.

To make up for this loss, you will need to increase the ration of feed you give to your birds. Here are some useful tips on feeding your birds’ diet during winter.

Provide More Protein

ducks eating

The feather of birds is more than 70% protein. Since birds need their feathers especially in winter, a high percentage of the proteins they consume will be used to grow more feathers.

Also, proteins, unlike carbohydrates, are slow to digest. Digestion (which is a metabolic activity) produces heat in the body. When you give your birds more sources of protein, they will appreciate you.

If you are buying bird feed, check the protein content. The best protein content for your birds is 18%. Make sure that the protein content is not below 16%.

Fresh Water

Give your ducks access to freshwater. If you own ducks, you would agree that they play with water a lot. Ducks have short legs, so you can help them by placing water troughs in different locations (where you mostly find them).

To keep your water from freezing, cover 1 or 2 inches of the water trough with sawdust or hay. Placing the troughs in sawdust or hay is a cheap form of insulation. While it does not guarantee that your water won’t freeze, it keeps the water from freezing for a longer time.

Check the water troughs regularly to make sure that the water is not dirty, or has frozen.

Give Them Greens

duck eating cabbage

Greens like chard, cabbage, kale, etc. should be given to your ducks as supplements to their feed. You can hang a cabbage above the head of your ducks to keep them busy and warm.

Should You Insulate the Duck House?

There are different reasons why your duck house should be insulated. To mention a few:

  • Insulate your duck house when you have ducklings. Provide heating lamps for your ducklings. Ducklings are not fully developed to withstand cold and need extra care.
  • If the breed of your ducks is not cold-hardy, you need to insulate their coop.
  • Ducks do not mind a cold winter but hate winds. If you have windy nights, take your ducks to a coop that does not permit so much wind to get in.

Note that ducks produce a lot of moisture when they respire, so they require a well-ventilated coop. Unlike chickens, the duck house does not need to be insulated with expensive materials. Here are some useful tips on insulating your duck house:

ducks and  duck house
  • The floor of the coop should be as high as possible. The lower ground is cooler when compared to an elevated floor. To elevate the coop floor, use as much hay or sawdust as you can. These materials (hay and sawdust) do not just elevate the ground, they also trap warm air.
  • Provide air vents. As earlier stated, ducks produce moisture when they respire. To get a dry coop, air vents should be installed in their coop. DO NOT install the air vents in the lower parts of the coop.

List of Cross Breeds of Ducks that Do Well in Cold Weather

Different breeds of ducks have adapted to different climates. For us in climates that experience cold winters, here are some breeds that easily survive the winter:

  • Muscovy ducks
  • American Pekins
  • Khaki Campbells
  • Rouen ducks
  • Blue Swedish ducks
  • Cayuga ducks, etc.

Smaller duck breeds and ducklings of every duck breed need extra care during the winter.

Final Thoughts

Your domestic ducks are cold-hardy, so you don’t need to worry much. For the best winter experience, give your ducks extra proteins and provide sources of freshwater. Provide greens like cabbages as well.

Ducks produce moisture when they respire, so make sure that their coop is well-ventilated. As a form of insulation, elevate the floor of the duck house with sawdust or hay.

We hope that your ducks get the best experience this coming winter.

Sources:

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