When most people first think of a loving, loyal pet, the image of a duck does not necessarily come to mind. Dogs, cats, and even other birds like parrots are far more common as house pets. Still, ducks can make wonderfully entertaining companions in or outside of the home. They are surprisingly clean to live with -- providing they are diapered -- and will bond with their humans more completely than most other pets can.
Ducklings and Imprints
Imprinting is the process by which ducks choose their de facto parent, and this imprint will remain intact throughout their lifespan. Whether a duckling will be affectionate with its own kind or with humans is determined by the initial imprint. The imprint is made when the duckling is first hatched: whether it sees and is initially cared for by its biological mother or an adoptive "mom" of a different species, it will be forever tied to that parent. This type of bond is unbreakable and leads to a loving, expressive relationship between duckling and parent.
The Social and Anti-Social Duckling
Ducks are friendly creatures who will seek out the attention of their imprinted parent or fellow ducklings. If a flock of ducklings is raised together, they will bond and play with one another, regardless of the species of the parent. A solitary duck who has lived with and loved her human will not interact with or even acknowledge other ducks if encountered later in life. This intense love for a parent can make rehabilitation and release for orphaned ducklings nearly impossible.
Duck Duck Human
Because of the deep bond between parent and duckling, human-raised ducks will spend their lives seeking the love and attention of their human companion. Much like the more familiar loyalty of a dog, ducks know who their owners are and regularly express love and recognition affectionately. Ducklings immediately become attached to their parent, which is why one can so often see ducklings marching uniformly behind their mother and nesting close to her.
Duck Duck Who?
Ducklings who don't have any human or non-duck interaction from an early age will bond primarily with other ducks, but there is still another possibility: bonding with a different species altogether. Copious stories and photographs depict ducklings snuggling or playing with geese, rabbits or even large dogs. Ducks are loving birds and thrive with proper companionship, be it duck, human or otherwise.