There is no doubt that ducks love water and will spend hours paddling around ponds or playing in puddles. But it’s also true that domestic ducks can live perfectly happy lives without ever setting a webbed foot into a body of water. In fact, it’s actually good for the duck and for the environment.
If allowed to swim in ponds frequented by wild ducks, domestic ducks are susceptible to diseases and parasites carried by water fowl. They can then transmit those diseases or parasites back to the barnyard, infecting more domestic birds.
“If you keep poultry and livestock separate from wildlife it is better for all concerned,” said Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner, director of the University of Maine veterinary diagnostic laboratory.
Biosecurity is the term used to describe measures farmers take to prevent the introduction or spread of disease in a flock of domestic fowl, and it is crucial for the health of birds.
Among the more serious diseases that can be transmitted from wild birds to domestic poultry is avian flu. It is carried by wild ducks and geese and can quickly destroy a backyard flock. Signs of avian influenza in poultry include sudden unexpected deaths, lack of energy, decreased appetites, decreased egg production, misshapen eggs and nasal discharge.
Another disease that can jump from wild to domestic birds is exotic Newcastle disease, or END, which is nearly always fatal. Signs of END are sneezing or gasping for air, drooping wings, swelling around the eyes, greenish watery diarrhea and sudden unexpected death.
Ponds or smaller bodies of water like puddles can experience algal blooms which produce toxins harmful to domestic ducks. Ponds are also home to insects that carry diseases harmful to ducks. Plus, ponds are gathering places for animals that prey on domestic waterfowl. All of this combines to make ponds a somewhat dangerous place.
“Ducks don’t need a pond or access to a pond,” Lichtenwalner said. “They do need access to clean water to drink and they do love dunking their heads in water, so a bucket is fine for them.”
If a duck owner is concerned that their flock members are missing out on water fun, Lichtenwalner said the best thing is a simple plastic wading pool filled with clean water that is replaced daily.
“For a lot of people with small flocks or even just one duck, they think of them as pets and not a food source,” Lichtenwalner said. “They just want their ducks to be happy and there are plenty of things you can do to keep your ducks happy that don’t involve a pond.”