How to Know the Age of Ducks (With Pictures)

Have you ever wondered how you can tell how old a duck is? Ducks are vulnerable creatures when they don’t have their mother nearby to protect them. If you recently brought home some duck eggs or some baby ducks to raise for yourself, knowing the age and stage of development of the ducklings can help you learn the best way to care for these animals. In this article, we will discuss the stages of development of a duck, including the main physical characteristics that will determine the approximate age of a duck, as well as tips on how to care for it.

new little chicken divider

What are the Stages of Duck Growth?

egg incubation

Of course, the life of a duck starts from an egg. Once the mother duck lays her eggs, she will sit on them to provide them with body heat. Heat is very important for the process of egg development because it starts the process of cell division of the embryo.

If you are incubating duck eggs without the help of the mother duck, you will need an incubator. An incubator is a device that simulates the incubation of ducks or chickens by keeping the eggs within a certain temperature and humidity range to promote hatching. They usually come with a fan to help distribute heat and a mechanism for turning the eggs, which are an important part of chick development. When choosing an incubator, look for a device that rotates eggs automatically; otherwise, you will be turning the eggs by hand at least four times a day.

Most duck eggs usually hatch in 28 days. For the first 25 days, the incubator should be set to 99.5°F with a relative humidity of 55 percent. After 25 days, you can transfer the eggs to the hatching tray, or if available, you can transfer them to the hatchery. During the hatching period, the temperature should be set to 99°F.

duck egg

Embryo Development

When the egg incubates, there are several different processes that take place inside the shell that help develop the embryo into a duckling. The first cells develop into the duck’s spine and nervous system. The next step is the heart, blood cells, and arteries. The final step of this process is the development of feathers, beak, and feet.

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The hatching process takes place in a relatively long period of time. Keep in mind that not all eggs will hatch at once. You may be tempted to step in and help the last duck trying to break out of its shell, but you have to resist the temptation; when it hatches, the duck’s veins are still dry. If you try to help the hatching too early, you can cause the ducks to bleed, which is potentially fatal. You should wait until about 48 hours after the external pip, when the ducklings make their initial cracks in their shells, to help hatch if needed.

Newborn ducks do not yet have feathers; instead, they have a downy covering. They’ll get their feathers eventually, but until they get it, they can’t swim or fly on their own. Ducks do not need to be fed during the first 24 hours of their lives because they still get their sustenance from the remaining egg yolks. You should transfer them to a well insulated cage where they can stay warm. You can use a cardboard box lined with a towel as long as there aren’t too many holes in the box. Avoid using newspaper as it does not insulate well and ducks can easily slip on it. Use a brooding light to warm your ducks, but make sure the bulbs are not too close to your ducks. Your duckling will need a heating lamp for the first few weeks of its life, but you can reduce the heat gradually as it ages. Once they develop their feathers, your ducks no longer need the extra heat.

duck and chicken eat

0-3 Weeks

During the first few weeks of your duckling’s life, you will likely see them grow at an incredible rate; Baby ducks can grow about an ounce per day. During the first few days of their life, you will notice that their legs are wobbly, but by the third day or so they should be able to stand confidently.

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After the first 24 hours, you can start formula feeding your ducks. For the first 3 weeks of life, their starter formula should be high in protein at about 18 to 20 percent. Ducks also need a lot of water. Since ducks also like to play in the water, you may find that you need to change the water frequently unless you have a duck drinker. Keep in mind that your duck has no feathers at this stage. Ducks also produce a type of oil called preening oil that helps them stay above water, but young ducklings have not yet developed the uropygial glands, or preening glands. They are prone to drowning at this age, so you should make sure that your ducklings can easily get out of the water you provide for swimming.

Around 2 weeks, you may notice your ducklings starting to quack. This may not sound like an adult quack, but it may be more of a mix between peek and quack. They may not need a heating lamp at this stage, but they should still be warm. If you are introducing them to the outdoors, you should pay attention to the weather and bring them indoors at night to prevent them from getting too cold. By the third week, you will begin to see your duck’s feathers begin to develop, but they are not fully mature at this age.

goose and duck

4-8 Weeks

Between 4 and 6 weeks, your duck will continue to grow its feathers. You may notice that they still have some feathers left here and there, but they should have all their feathers by the end of the sixth week. With all their feathers, your duck can live completely outdoors. You’ll also notice that they sound like full-grown ducks—no more chirping or chirping in between. At 4 weeks, you can change their diet to a protein maintenance level, or about 14 percent.

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Between 5 and 8 weeks, your ducks are likely to start flying. It is around this time that ducks are considered adults, although they cannot lay eggs until they are about 4 months old. In the wild, ducks leave their mothers and become independent once they become confident fliers. Of course, your pet duck will likely still depend on you for food and water.

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While it’s not always easy to tell exactly how old a duck is, physical and behavioral traits provide clues about its approximate age. In general, ducklings covered in downy hair with no signs of feathering are less than 3 weeks old. Ducks with partially grown feathers are likely 3-5 weeks old, and fully feathered ducks around 6 weeks. Whether or not ducks can fly also helps provide context; if the duck is full feathered but not yet flying, it may be younger, maybe 5-7 weeks.

As you can see, ducks grow very quickly and have different needs at different stages of their development. Understanding your duck’s developmental stage is an important step in providing them with the best care.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay