How to Raise Ducks for Release and Migration

By Naomi Bolton

The rearing and releasing of wild ducks is not only exciting, but also a positive conservation exercise. Select species of wild ducks migrate, and this must be taken into consideration during the rearing period. Hand-reared ducks that are released must be disease-free and must not be imprinted on humans. Ducks learn how to behave by associating with other ducks, and those that are reared for release should be kept in small groups.

Place very young ducklings in a large cardboard box lined with newspaper and suspend a lamp above the box for warmth. Ensure that the ducklings can move away from the heat, if they choose to.

Place water in a low pie tin in a corner of the box and a game bird or chick feed into a separate low dish.

Transfer the ducklings to a secure small enclosure after a week. Ensure that they have a sheltered box for warmth and ensure that domestic and wild animals cannot gain entry to the covered enclosure. Offer a game bird pellet feed at this stage.

Interact with the young ducks as little as possible. Once released, these ducks need to be wary of people and should not approach them.

Attempt to raise a number of young ducks together, so they can interact with each other and learn appropriate duck behavior.

Wait until the young ducks have grown their first adult plumage before preparing them for release.

Transfer the ducks to a large pond in a high, covered outdoor enclosure for at least two weeks prior to release. The large area will afford the ducks more exercise and acclimatize them to the surrounding environmental conditions. This is particularly important for migratory species.

Ensure that the ducks have sufficient body weight to sustain migration and that they are capable of sustained flight. The advantage of a large and high covered enclosure is evident at this point of the rearing.

Ask your veterinarian to carry out a thorough health check on all the ducks that are to be released. This is to ensure that they are not carrying pathogens or disease-producing organisms that they acquired from domestic or wild waterfowl while they were been reared. Pathogens must not be introduced into wild waterfowl populations or into the environment.

Check both state and federal regulations prior to releasing the ducks. Contact your local game and fish department to obtain permits to release the ducks. Ask if the ducks should have identification rings placed on their legs and obtain the contact details of an appropriate bird ringer, should this be required. Arrange for the person to ring the ducks.

Spray the ducks with water just prior to release to encourage a final preening session. This will ensure that their plumage is in the best possible condition for release and the start of migration, if necessary.

Wait for fine weather before releasing the ducks, at a site that is free of disturbances, particularly those caused by human activity.

Release the ducks early in the morning, so that they have the entire day in which to acclimatize to the surroundings and find a suitable roosting site. Observe the ducks for as long as possible if they do not fly away immediately.

Perform a “soft release” by placing food in the vicinity of the release site. Supplementary feeding is important for hand-reared ducks that are to be released.