Domestic Ducks


Guinea Fowl

Ornamental Waterfowl





Ornamental Waterfowl

Ornamental waterfowl are the wild species (wildfowl) and there are many different sizes, shapes and colours. They are best kept within a fox-proof fence with at least one pond and lots of shrubs for cover plus nesting areas which may be a box with a hole in a tree, a large diameter pipe laid on the ground or a car tyre with straw in the centre. Even a small garden should have space for a couple of pairs of ornamental ducks.

Mixed ornamental waterfowl collection

There are not only ducks, but geese and swans as well, these last needing a much larger area and more than one pond so that smaller species are not bullied off the water. Ideally, the area should be netted over to exclude wild birds including the ubiquitous mallard which will try and mate with any duck, bully the others and probably bring in disease.

The major difference in husbandry between ornamental and domestic waterfowl is that the ornamental birds are wild species. Once an enclosure is set up, ornamental birds can mostly be allowed to get on with living and breeding and take much less management than the domestic species but still providing much entertainment and enjoyment. Also, some of the species of ornamentals can be kept together in one large, attractively planted area as they do not cross breed.

Mandarin, left, Carolina, right, drakes

Use a landing net when needing to catch ornamental waterfowl. It is permissable to pick a duck up with fingers around the base of both spread wings in one hand, middle finger pointing down the duck’s back, for a very short transfer distance – useful in small, wriggling wildfowl whose legs are vulnerable to damage.

Pintail drake

Native fresh water duck species which are good for the novice keeper could include those below (but avoid mallard as they are bullies):
Common pochard (Aythya farina)
Common teal (Anas crecca)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Garganey (Anas querquedula)
Pintail (Anas acuta)
Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Tufted (Aythya fuligula)
Wigeon (Anas Penelope)

Native Sea Ducks
Scaup (Aythya marila)

Native species for the more experienced:
Native Sea Ducks
Eider (Somateria m. mollisima)
Long tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis)
Goldeneye (Bucephela c. clangula)
European Scoter (Melanitta f. fusca)

Just as commonly kept by the novice and experienced keeper alike due to their attractive colouring and characters are the non-native species:
Australian Wood Duck (Maned goose) (Chenonetta jubata)
Bahama Pintail (Anas bahamensis)
Baikal Teal (Anas formosa)
Carolina (Aix sponsa)
Chilean Teal (Anas flavirostris)
Chiloe Wigeon (Anas sibilatrix)
Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera)
Falcated Teal (Anas falcata)
Fulvous Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna bicolour)
Laysan Teal (Anas laysanensis)
Mandarin (Aix galericulata)
Red Crested Pochard (Netta rufina)
Rosybill (Netta peposaca)
Spotbill (Anas poecilorhyncha)
White-faced Whistling (or Tree) duck (Dendrocygna viduata)

More aggressive species:
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea)
Australian Shelduck (Tadorna tadornoides)

Species for the very experienced keeper:
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)
Harlequin (Histrionicus h. histrionicus)
Hooded Merganser (Mergus cucullatus)
Smew (Mergus albellus)

Small, only noisy and aggressive in the breeding season, geese which are easy to keep (but not necessarily easy to breed) include:
Abyssinian Blue-winged (Cyanochen cyanopterus)
Barnacle (Branta leucopsis)
Brent (Branta bernicla)
Cackling Canada (Branta Canadensis minima)
Emperor (Anser canagicus)
Ne-ne (Branta sandvicensis)
Ross’s (Anser rossii)
Red-Breasted (Branta ruficollis)

Medium sized:
Bar-headed (Anser inducus)
Bean (Anser fabalis)
Greylag (Anser anser)
Pinkfoot (Anser brachyrhynchus)
Snow (Anser c. caerulescens)
White-front (Anser albifrons)

More aggressive geese:
Andean (Chloephaga melanoptera)
Canada (Branta Canadensis)
Cereopsis (Cereopsis novae-hollandiae)
Egyptian (Alpochen aegyptiacus)
Lesser Magellan (Chloephaga p. picta)

Cereopsis goose with her two goslings


Because swans are territorial / aggressive only one pair of swans should be kept per enclosure to maintain the peace.
Black (Cygnus atratus)
Black-necked (Cygnus melanocoryphus)
Coscoroba (Coscoroba coscoroba)

Mute swans (Cygnus olor) are sometimes kept in captivity for rehabilitation but these are best kept separate from resident stock both to prevent disease and fighting as not only are they very large, Mutes are very aggressive to both people and birds.

Water in an enclosure needs to be fresh, preferably flowing. A series of ponds in an enclosure rather than just one large one will allow the smaller species more freedom if more than one species is kept together. Shrubs and trees will be nibbled by the birds so ensure that only non-toxic plants are put in the enclosure.

The most basic feeding is poultry pellets and wheat. This can be put in an automatic feeder such as a spiral feeder or put in troughs. Sea ducks will need higher protein in the form of small size complete dog food or a specialist feed. Grass must be short and should be, maintained green throughout the winter although this is not easy. Geese, particularly, eat a phenomenal amount of grass.

Some ducks and geese have difficulty walking as their legs are set further back to facilitate swimming. All wildfowl will readily fly unless pinioned or wing clipped and most drakes go into eclipse plumage for camouflage in mid summer. It is illegal to release into the wild non-indigenous species, so most ornamental waterfowl need to be pinioned between day old and 7 days old. It is illegal for the keeper to pinion birds older than 7 days old. There is little blood if it is done at the correct angle and the downies do not seem to be set back by the process. Some breeders pinion one wing for females and the other side for males, having sexed the downies, so they can tell the different sexes from a distance. If an ornamental duck suddenly appears with a brood that are impossible to catch, then they should be caught just before they can fly – they start to practise with enthusiasm and much flapping – and then the primary feathers should be clipped. Clipping needs to be done every year after the moult. At the next breeding season, a sitting duck can be contained within a ring of very small mesh wire netting when she is due to hatch so the downies can be caught up, or the eggs taken for artificial incubation and the youngsters hand reared.

Suitable nestboxes should be provided for the duck species kept – some nest in a hole or pipe, some want a box on the water or up a tree, some are ground nesting, either building a nest or taking advantage of a car tyre with straw in the centre, so choice should be provided and the open ends of pipes should be covered with conifer branches to make them dark and more attractive to the female duck. Most keepers will let a duck incubate her own eggs for a few days and then will remove them to incubate them and artificially rear them or use broodies. The differing incubation times make artificial incubation awkward to time, so that a batch hatch together for company.

Ornamental waterfowl stress easily and will not normally willingly enter a shed or hut unless reared there, hence the requirement for a fox-proof area so they do not have to be shut in. They will cope with a resident well-behaved dog but cats must be excluded from the enclosure.

They are all creatures of great habit – life is safer that way – so any change in routine can upset them. They have good colour vision, so it is sensible to try and wear similar colour clothes when looking after them and to talk to them so they become familiar. They do recognise faces, voices and some body language, but unaccustomed bright clothes will scare them. The flock mentality is a protective mechanism which means that ducks and geese must have company, even if it is only one other duck or goose – it also means they stick together, useful if they need to be herded. A piece of wire netting or a long bamboo cane in each hand are usually enough to guide them into a different area. There is a pecking order, not as rigid as with hens, but adding fresh stock should still be done with care and vigilance. Anything overhead or flying is a potential predator – one bird will often alert the breeder to a sparrowhawk or buzzard and then there is a general warning buzz. Waterfowl comically tip one eye upwards to see something in the sky, even if it is only an aeroplane.

Waterfowl tend to nibble at everything so care must be taken if fencing as wire and nails will kill them by perforating the gut. Plastic string is very dangerous whether eaten or wrapped around a leg. If string is seen hanging from a bird’s bill, it should not be pulled under any circumstances but cut off and hopefully the duck or goose will eventually pass it.

These wild birds are prey species and therefore hide any symptoms of illness. This means that when a bird is seen to be ill, it is very ill indeed and needs immediate veterinary attention. Routine worming of the birds before the breeding season with Flubenvet in the food will help maintain fitness.