What’s the Average Lifespan of a Duck?
Ducks are a popular poultry to keep on the homestead, and their eggs are increasingly in demand due to the size, taste, and nutrition value they hold. If you are considering keeping ducks and you’re curious about their natural lifespan, you may be surprised by the answer. Pet ducks do not face the same threats that will afflict ducks in the wild, and this is reflected by their longer lifespans.
How long do ducks live? Domestic ducks have an average lifespan of 8 – 12 years, with some breeds having the potential to live for up to 15 years. The lifespan of a pet duck will depend on both its genetics and its environment. Wild ducks have a significantly shorter lifespan, often only 1-2 years, due to the threats that they face in their natural environment.
If you have ducks, you will want to know how long you can expect them to live. This will not only help you to manage your expectations for your pets, but will also help you time the arrival of new ducklings should you choose to replenish your flock as your older ducks head into retirement. Read on to learn more about the lifespan of ducks, at what age ducks begin to slow down their egg production, and how you can tell the age of a duck.
How Can You Tell A Duck’s Age
Once a duck has reached a mature age, there is little to distinguish the older ducks from the younger mature ducks. Egg production may give you a hint as to a mature duck’s age, but this is not always an accurate indicator – a duck’s environment and breed will also affect egg production. The age of a duckling is easier to determine, however, mainly due to the bird’s feathers.
Ducklings can grow up to an ounce per day, and during the first few weeks of life will have soft, downy feathers. After around 3 weeks of age, you will begin to notice adult feathers sprouting through that soft down. By about 6 weeks of age, the adult feathers should be fully developed. At this point, a duck is considered physically mature, though she will not be able to lay eggs for another few months.
How To Extend The Life Of Your Duck
Larger duck operations will cull their ducks when they are no longer efficient to keep – for egg producers, this usually means culling when production begins to taper off. If you are keeping ducks on your homestead and don’t mind providing for them during their retirement years, you will want to know how you can keep your ducks as healthy as possible so that they can reach their full potential lifespan. You can do this by providing adequate nutrition, caring for their wellbeing, allowing natural laying breaks, and protecting them from predators.
Your Duck’s Nutrition
While ducks will munch on bugs and weeds on your homestead, foraging will not meet their nutritional needs. To give your ducks adequate nutrition, you will need to purchase a commercial feed. If you can’t find feed specifically formulated for waterfowl, you can give them chicken feed. If providing chick feed to ducklings, however, make sure to supplement with brewer’s yeast to protect your birds from Niacin deficiency.
Keeping Your Ducks Happy
Animals, like humans, will usually live longer if they have a quality of life worth sticking around for. To provide for your duck’s wellbeing, make sure they have adequate space to explore, other ducks to socialize with, and enough water to wade in now and then (especially during warmer weather). You can also help them live longer, healthier lives if you limit the stress that they experience. A duck that is regularly chased by an unruly dog, for example, may not live as long as a duck who lives a more relaxed life.
Giving Your Ducks A Break
Some breeds, like the Indian Runner, may lay year round without intervention. Other breeds will stop laying during the Winter months unless you use supplemental light. If you have a breed that naturally slows down in the Winter, allowing her that break will extend her laying years, and possibly her life as well. If you push a duck to produce as many eggs as possible, it is likely her body will give out earlier than otherwise.
Protecting Your Ducks
Most domestic ducks are too heavy to fly, and so have no natural defenses against predators. To protect your ducks, you will want to keep their enclosure inaccessible to intruders such as foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and even neighborhood dogs. You can do this by fully enclosing their run, or you can provide an adequate fence with a coop or house in which you can lock them during the night. Most predators are more active at night, and so your ducks will be most vulnerable after the sun sets.
If you have a pond on your property, you may let your ducks free range around the water’s edge. But do ducks need to be put in a coop at night? To learn more, visit my article Do Ducks Need a Coop: What You Need to Know.
How Long Do Ducks Live In The Wild?
A duck living in the wild will have a significantly shorter lifespan on average than a duck living in captivity. There are a number of reasons for this, and all of them come down to environmental influences. Threats to wild ducks include nutritional deficiencies, disease, droughts and other habitat erosion, fishing line entanglements and of course, predators.
Wild ducks have one main defense, and that is flying. Most wild ducks are strong flyers, and will launch into the air at the first sign of a predator. Other than flying, however, ducks do not have many defensive tricks up their sleeves and are quite vulnerable. The main threat facing ducks in the wild are their predators; this includes coyotes, hawks, snakes, raccoons, and foxes. Of course, human hunters are a threat to ducks as well.
For these reasons, ducks in the wild will live significantly shorter lives on average than their farm friends – on average, just 1-2 years, with a high mortality among the vulnerable ducklings.
Which Duck Breeds Live Longest
Different duck breeds have slightly different average lifespans, with smaller ducks typically living longer lives than larger ducks. Muscovy ducks are known to be an especially long-lived breed, with some Muscovy ducks living well into their teens. Khaki Campbells are another long-lived breed, with individuals commonly living into their teens.
In addition to larger ducks having shorter lifespans, it is theorized that ducks with a faster growth rate will also meet their demise earlier than those who grow at a gentler pace. The most rapidly growing domestic duck breed is the Pekin. While there are many reports of Pekins living to be 10 to 12 years old, anecdotally many duck keepers report that their Pekins only live 5 to 7 years at most. Pekins tend to go weak in the legs in their older age, likely due to the rapid growth they experience as ducklings.
At What Age Do Ducks Stop Laying Eggs?
Ducks, like chickens, will be most productive when they are around one year of age. After their second year, their production will begin to decline steadily over the next several years. When they reach 7 to 9 years of age, they will completely stop laying eggs and will head into retirement.
Breeding will have a significant impact on how long a duck will lay eggs. Some breeds, like the Khaki Campbell, can lay over 300 eggs per year. Other breeds will lay closer to 120 eggs annually. Because ducks, like humans, are born with a finite number of eggs, those with a higher annual production will stop laying at a younger age than those breeds with a lower annual production.
Most duck keepers will continually add in new ducklings so as to maintain a steady supply of eggs – some farmers allow their older ducks to retire and live out the rest of their days on their homestead while others will cull the older ducks to make room for the younger ones. If you are introducing new ducklings as your current flock’s production begins to decline, it is important to keep in mind that young ducks begin to lay eggs when they reach 5-7 months of age. Some duck breeds are unlikely to go broody and ducklings will need to be purchased unless you are incubating eggs yourself.
To learn more about when ducks lay eggs, visit my article When Do Ducks Lay Eggs? Duck Egg Laying Guide.
How Old Was The Oldest Duck?
According to the Guinness Book Of World Records, the title of oldest domestic duck actually belongs to two ducks owned by a woman named Gladys Blackbeard in South Africa. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a record as to when they died, but in 1966 they were verified to be 49 years old. On their 49th birthday it was noted that they were both still in good health, other than their failing eyesight. No one seems to know how long they actually lived to be, other than Gladys herself, but no other duck in recorded history has come close to beating this record.
If you take proper care of your ducks and provide them with everything they need, you can help them live as long as their natural lifespan allows. They probably won’t see 49 like Gladys Blackbeard’s ducks, but 15 or 20 years of age would not be unheard of.
Another way you can see that your duck lives a happy life is by giving them access to water. Do ducks need water to survive? To learn more, visit my article Do Ducks Need Water? Duck Water and Pond Requirements Guide.