Getting Ducks To Visit Ponds – How To Attract Ducks To Your Garden
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Wild birds are enchanting in the home landscape, fun and funny to watch and add to the natural feel of the garden. Ducks, in particular, come in many sizes and colors, and are one of the more entertaining species of birds to have around the homestead. Native waterfowl are an indicator of a healthy environment and their migratory activities ensure different species at different times of the year. If you wish to know how to attract ducks to your garden, look no further – read on for some tips and tricks
Attracting Ducks to Your Property
Waterfowl management isn’t just something for which the National Parks Department is responsible. As good stewards of land, it is incumbent for us to aid in the regulation and provision of wild animals. Attracting ducks to your property may be for purposes of bird watching, hunting or simply as a distraction. No matter your goal, wild ducks in garden ponds are lively additions to the landscape and you can feel good about providing them with their food, water and housing needs.
If you have ever watched wild ducks in action, then you know they must have water. Ducks prefer shallow fresh water ponds. This is an inarguable requirement for having waterfowl in your landscape. If you already have a pond, you are in luck; otherwise, you will need to build one.
The pond should have several depths to attract different species of ducks and aquatic plants for food and cover. Tall marsh grasses are easy to grow and provide protection for visiting fowl. The ideal pond will have sloping sides so the animals can easily get in and out of the water. Some birders swear that waterfalls and other noisy water features also help in attracting ducks to your property. Getting ducks to visit ponds starts with the coverage and clean water of your pond.
How to Attract Ducks to Your Garden
Once you have a nice aquatic space for your feathered friends, it is time to address food. Ducks are omnivorous and eat a wide range of plant and animal species. They can be fed on a platform with cracked corn, birdseed, kitchen trimmings and oats or wheat. To avoid having to replenish food stations, simply grow crops of barley, buckwheat, millet, corn or other grains in a field which can be flooded lightly.
This is useful in larger landscapes where there is plenty of space and a flooded field isn’t an imposition. A dike is useful to keep the flooded area intact. Alternatively, plant sedge, rye, smartgrass, bulrush and other seeding plants around your pond as both cover and food. The tall plants will make ducks feel secure while feeding and the nodding seed heads provide an alternate diet.
Other Tips on Getting Ducks to Visit Ponds
Wild animals like to feel safe when engaging in feeding and nesting behaviors. Other animals on the property can actually be a repellent because they are potential predators of the fowl. Dogs, especially, are scary to birds and even a large tomcat can be dangerous to nested babies.
Do not use chemical pesticides or herbicides near the water site and use duck decoys to entice lonely ducks to stop in for a while. Nesting sites encourage wild ducks in garden ponds. Nest boxes may attract breeding fowl, but they should be placed in areas with good vegetative cover and where eggs will be safe from predators.
Ducks spend a lot of time just resting. Provide logs, rocks and other sites to entice the birds to take a load off and enjoy your garden while you enjoy watching them.
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Living with a pond or near water, can sometimes mean that you find yourself being a neighbour to nesting waterfowl like mallards.
Mallards start to pair up with potential mates in October and November, and begin nesting in march. The female will generally make her nest in a place that’s hidden by vegetation or in a natural hole in a tree. Most importantly though, they’ll look for somewhere near open water where the food is plentiful. This can sometimes however, result in a less than perfect choice of nest site, particularly in towns.
In the past, nests have been found in boathouses, wood piles, old crow’s nests, hay stacks, roof gardens, enclosed courtyards and even in large flowerpots in balconies several floors up!
Town ponds are a very popular nesting place for mallards and can often attract more ducks than are able to fit close by to the water. In these situations, many female mallards will nest well away from the pond to avoid competition and clashes from the others.
Encouraging and deterring nesters
Ducks can be a lovely bird to share your outdoor space with and most people welcome them nesting in their garden.
They often choose parts of a garden where plants provide them enough cover to hide the nest, so it’s worth bearing that in mind if you’d like to attract potential nesters! A well-stocked flowerbed or shrubbery, or leaving a corner of your garden to grow wild, will provide ducks with a nice nesting spot.
The female should be able to find food for herself while she’s incubating her eggs, but you could put out a bowl of drinking water, with some duck pellets and cooked potatoes for her to eat. Keep them in an accessible place, but not too close to the nest.
Preventing ducks from nesting is usually not very practical. They are very secretive about their nests, and so if you do see a pair of ducks waddling around, the chances are that they’re already nesting somewhere hidden from view.
If you have a pond but do not want it to attract nesting ducks into your garden, make sure you cover the pond before the breeding season starts. Although ducks may still nest, without access to water, they will be much less likely to stay in the garden after the ducklings hatch.
A female mallard builds a nest from leaves and grasses and lines it with down plucked from her breast!
Eggs are laid between mid-March and the end of July. A normal clutch is about 12 eggs, laid at one to two day intervals. After each egg is laid, the clutch is covered to protect it from predators. If you find a nestful of duck eggs, leave it well alone as it is unlikely to have been abandoned.
The laying period is very stressful for the female – she lays more than half her body weight in eggs in a couple of weeks! She needs a lot of rest and depends heavily on her mate to protect her and their feeding and loafing areas.
As the last egg is laid, the female starts to incubate. She sits very tightly, blending into the background and rarely leaves the nest apart from short breaks to feed and stretch her legs. About 28 days later the eggs hatch together. This takes about 24 hours.
End of the pair bond
The role of the male is almost over once all of the eggs are laid. He remains sexually potent for a while in case a replacement clutch is needed, but gradually loses interest and joins other males to moult.
At this time, groups of males with no obvious duties often mate forcibly with females that appear to be unattached. This anti-social phase is short-lived and ends once moulting is underway.
Mallards and the law
Mallards and their nests are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird, or to take, damage or destroy its nest, eggs or young.
Therefore, it is important not to chase away a duck that has started nesting, since she must be allowed access to her nest. If you find a nest full of eggs, you must not interfere with them. A failed nest can be cleared and remaining eggs destroyed later in the year, once it is absolutely certain that nothing will come of the contents.
How to Get Rid of Wild Ducks
Wild ducks are both beneficial and problematic. They can help keep the bug population low, but will defecate all over your yard. They will also take up residence in your pool and pond, making a mess and turning the water murky. Prevention is the best defense against wild ducks, and the preventative measures should be implemented before a large flock of ducks makes your yard their home.
Stop feeding ducks, and keep your landscape free from trash that ducks will use as a food source. If the wild ducks know they can find food in your yard, they will continue to return.
Place several predator decoys, such as plastic swan decoys, around the area to scare ducks off. Regularly move the decoys around to prevent the wild ducks from becoming accustomed to their location.
Spray wild ducks gently with a water hose while making loud noises. This will scare them out of your yard. With due diligence, and repeated sprayings and loud noises, the ducks should stay away from the area.
Mix 16 ounces of a chemical duck repellent that contains Methyl anthranilate as the active ingredient with 1 gallon of water. Spray the turf liberally with diluted repellent during dry weather. Reapply if wild ducks return.
The best backyard ducks, if you’re looking for a breed which can lay a lot and is very quiet would be Muscovy or Cayuga. These breeds can lay around 150 eggs a year. They aren’t the most prolific (compared to Runner ducks, Golden Hybrids or Welsh Harlequins which average 300) but they are quiet. Muscovies are intelligent and have great personalities. Cayugas are well behaved but tend to be very nervous. If you can keep a few, try pairing with male Pekin or Call duck. They are gorgeous and retain the most ‘dog-like’ characteristics, ie huggable, friendly and very curious.
Backyard ducks are low maintenance pets. They will eat all kinds of pests such as mosquitoes, snails, worms, cockroaches, fly larvae, ants and in the rare off chance, wasps (I had one duck that was crazy enough to). This is especially useful if you have a garden and want to keep it organic. If you have a tick or flea problem, try pairing with chickens, guinea fowl or quails. Never worry about throwing away your leftovers again – when you have ducks, nothing goes to waste. Unlike dogs and cats, they can feed, walk and bathe themselves. Their hardy nature prevents them from getting sick easily so you don’t need to worry about taking them to the vet and buying them medicine.
Duck eggs are far superior to chicken eggs, not only in taste but on a nutritional level. They contain six times the Vitamin D, two times the Vitamin A, and two times the cholesterol than chicken eggs. If you have cholesterol problems, don’t eat the yolk! рџ™‚ They are also alkaline based foods which means they help restore and maintain the body’s natural pH equilibrium. Read more about ducks vs chicken eggs
If you aren’t keeping females, you can pretty much go with any breed of duck as all males tend to have very quiet voices. Some Runner duck females are quiet, but some are not. You can tell how loud your duck is going to be from when it’s a duckling. If the peeping is loud, the quacking is going to be even louder.
If you don’t have any noise level restrictions, Call ducks are a must have. Call ducks and East indies make up in personality what they lack in size. They can be very cuddly. But beware, the females are piercingly loud. I wouldn’t recommend female call ducks for first time duck keepers.
Pekins, albeit beautiful and fun to hug are extremely noisy. They seem to have lost the innate instinct to be quiet so as not to attract predators. This is a large contrast to wild mallards and florida mottled ducks who are much more reserved. If you can get your hands on fresh stock, you should definitely give it a try. You’ll notice a huge difference between a wild and a domestic duck breed. If the intelligence level of a domestic duck is that of a three year old child, a wild duck can be compared to a five year old. Wild ducks are healthier, learn faster and have more wild instincts for survival. The drawback is that they’re less cuddly and might fly away some day with a wild flock.
However, in recent years, it’s become apparent that bread isn’t good for ducks. This is because bread isn’t particularly nutritious. While the bread itself isn’t dangerous to ducks, it fills them up and means the ducks are less likely to eat natural sources of nutritious food, which keeps them healthy. Over time, ducks fed on bread can become malnourished and even overweight – bad malnutrition can lead to deformed wings, which prevents ducks from being able to fly. What’s more, if you feed mouldy food to ducks they can become unwell, sometimes even developing a lung disease.
An added problem of feeding bread to ducks is that any leftover food can attract rats, potentially spreading diseases.
According the RSPB, it’s okay to feed very small amounts of bread to ducks but, on the whole, bread should be avoided along with chips, crackers, cereal, sweets and mouldy food.
How to Attract Birds to Garden Ponds (Top Tips & Methods)
How to attract birds to your pond will, again, depend on your location and the types of birds that you wish to attract and are also adapted to your region. Nonetheless, a plethora of methods can be implemented to entice avian friends to call your backyard home or at least make it a suitable stopover point during their daily or seasonal travels.
1) Draw In Insects
Attracting insects, such as damselflies, will provide food for song birds and other wildlife, as well as help with pollination.
While trying to bring in insects may inherently seem like an undesirable thing to do, and counter-intuitive to creating a healthy pond ecosystem, quite the contrary is true. Insects can aid in plant pollination, and provide food for fish, birds, and other wildlife. Toward the bottom of the food chain, insects are necessary for almost any properly functioning environment. They provide a very valuable source of protein and fats for a variety of bird species, particularly juvenile ones that are developing quickly and require a nutrient rich diet. Some insects, such as dragonflies and caddisflies, will show up on their own as adults and lay their eggs in your pond, provided the water quality is good and you have shallow areas with substrate, rocks, or plants for them to attach their eggs to. These species are also indicators of a healthy system, so if you see them around you’re doing great!
You should also plant native plants, which will attract some insects to munch on the leaves, seek out shelter from heat, and collect dew from the foliage, and others will come for the pollen if they’re flowering plants. Furthermore, avoid using any insecticides, as these will obviously kill off most insects and could harm anything else that in turn eats those insects.
2) Add Plenty Of Plants (Aquatic & Terrestrial)
Adding both aquatic and terrestrial plants will provide food, shelter, and habits for all kinds of different birds.
On the topic of plants, you’ll be exponentially more likely to entice birds to your pond if you have a variety of native plants. These should include aquatic plants (including submerged, floating, and marginal), as well as grasses, shrubs, flowers, and trees. Waterfowl will utilized the aquatic plants and the grasses for food, cover, and nesting material.
Songbirds will make use of the shrubs, flowers, trees, and will forage about in the grasses for seeds and insects. Hummingbirds will capitalize on just about anything with nectar-rich flowers and tube-shaped or funnel-like corollas, such as columbines, bee balms, foxgloves, and petunias, among others. In addition, most birds will get some sort of use out of trees, whether for roosting, nesting, hiding from predators, or consuming buds or any fruit that they may produce.
3) Create Shallow Sections
Creating shallower pond sections will attract bathing and feeding songbirds, as well as waterfowl.
Having a shallow section to your pond that is no more than two or three inches deep is not only good for emergent plants as well as some species of fish, but birds (and insects!) as well.
Waterfowl, and dabbling ducks (such as mallards and teals) in particular, will, as their name implies, dabble about in the water and substrate in search of seeds, tubers, roots, insects, and macroinvertebrates. Passerines will bathe in the shallow water, using it to clean themselves, drink, and cool off. Add in some large, flat rocks for them to perch on as well, and you have a fantastic little bird bathing and relaxing hotspot.
4) Improve Water Quality
Improving water quality and adding extra aeration, such was waterfalls and fountains, will help attract wildlife.
Obtaining and maintaining good water quality is mentioned in many of our articles, and for a reason – its importance really cannot be understated. Good water quality means that your plants will thrive, algae will be kept at a minimum, invasive plant species will be less able to establish themselves, and all of these things in combination means attracting high quality pollution-intolerant insects, which in turn will attract frogs, birds, and other beneficial wildlife.
Providing aeration and steady water flow will help with this as well by not allowing water to stagnate and incorporating more dissolved oxygen into the water. However, make sure to keep the shallow areas of the pond relatively calm, as too turbid of water will deter birds.
5) Avoid Excessive Mowing
Excess mowing close to ponds can disrupt plant growth, cause water quality problems, and deter birds from visiting.
You can continue to mow your yard (if that’s something that you do), of course making sure that the clippings don’t end up in the water, as these will add nutrients to the water and encourage algal blooms. However, you should avoid mowing about a meter wide strip around the pond. This will allow for plants to grow around the pond, providing food and cover for birds.
If a bird spots suitable habitat such as this while flying, it’s likely to drop in and check it out, perhaps staying or returning later to establish itself there. If things become too overgrown for your liking, you can simply manually cut some of the plants back, making sure to compost them away from your pond so they don’t wind up decomposing in the water and causing nutrient overload or oxygen depletion.
6) Implement Nest Boxes
Placing nesting boxes around ponds will provide shelter, security, and a possible permanent home for native song birds.
Building or purchasing nest boxes near your pond can attract an assortment of bird species. Of course, different birds prefer different types of nest boxes, so you’ll have to figure out which birds you’d prefer to appeal to and incorporate the appropriate nest box.
For example, some species of ducks prefer large boxes placed either several meters up in a tree or on a stand of some sort, wrens and chickadees need smaller nest boxes located near a forest or at least some protective shrubs so that they can feel safe, and bluebirds require nest boxes that face east toward an open grassy area for easy entry and exit and plenty of ground foraging opportunity.
7) Create Micro-habitats
Creating a range of “mirco-habitats” around the pond and garden can help attract a more diverse range of birds.
This step is simpler than it likely sounds, and merely means incorporating a few habitat types around your pond to attract as many different types of birds as possible. For example, on one side of your pond, you could plant trees and shrubs, while another side could be left open and grassy, and yet another could be a flower garden, marshy area, or a flat area with rocks and gravel. All of these different areas will attract a variety of different birds, making your pond and garden wildlife much more diverse.
You may need to research and experiment a bit here, as the birds native to your area may prefer particular types of habitats, and actively avoid others.
8) Add Bird Feeders & Bird Baths
This one may seem a bit obvious, but adding bird feeders is just about a foolproof way to draw birds to your pond. Primarily, these would include seed feeders for passerine birds, and nectar feeders for hummingbirds and the like. Make sure to not have these too close to your pond, as any food that drops out will end up in your water and could damage water quality over time, or your fish if they try to consume it.
You can also add some bird baths close to your pond, preferably near shallow sections of pond water. Once birds become accustomed to using the bird bath in their new environment, they may start using the shallow areas of pond water near the banks in the future!
6 Answers 6
Here are some often repeated remedies. However ducks are like people with individual likes and dislikes. What might terrify one duck could be "ho-hum" to another.
- a plastic owl: usually available at birding stores, sometimes outdoor/hunting stores. Get the better quality ones with a head that moves or the deluxe versions with wings that move. (I'm not making this up!)
- any bright object like CD's on a string or bright reflective streamers
- as a temporary solution string fishing line across your yard near where they land above head height. All birds don't like to hit things when they are landing and fishing line will not hurt them, only surprise them.
I would love to have ducks at my pond. Is there any harm, and how do I attract them?
A: Ducks certainly make an entertaining and colorful addition to a pond or lake. Various species of these plumed wetland visitors grace just about every continent and climate on planet earth – including sub-Antarctic islands like South Georgia and the Aucklands to oceanic locales like Hawaii and New Zealand.
Despite their worldwide distribution, getting ducks to call your pond home can be a challenge. But you can attract them if you understand their specific needs.
Pondside Open House
The duck types that frequent ponds include mallards and wood ducks, along with Muscovy ducks, black-bellied and whistling ducks. Ducks are omnivores and like to eat a wide range of foods, from small fish, eggs, snails, worms and bugs to grass, weeds, seeds, and berries. In general, they require a lot of space and copious amounts of water in the form of marshes, lakes or large ponds. Aquatic plants, like reeds and water lilies, make them feel at home, as does concealed areas with tall marsh grass and shrubby cover for nesting and hiding.
Attracting the Flock
Providing a duck friendly habit is the best way to convince the feathered visitors to stop by, but here are some expert tricks to make your pond more appealing:
- Create a Mess Hall: Set up feeding areas by clearing out an area or providing large, low platforms, and toss out some cracked corn, spilled birdseed and kitchen scraps. Don't feed them by hand, but use goodies to pique their interest.
- Plant a Duck Garden: Berry bushes can help draw ducks. And if you have a garden area near your pond, use mulch to attract tasty insects and earthworms.
- Offer a Nest Box: Though ducks will nest in a variety of places, from ground nests in grassy areas near the pond to brush piles and hollow logs, provide them with nest boxes to help attract nesting ducks. Wood ducks will readily use nest boxes built by people. (Check out how to build one here.)
- Install a Fountain: Ducks flock to the sound of splashing, so consider installing a fountain or waterfall in your pond.
- Use Natural Décor: Add some half-submerged logs, overhanging shelves, marsh grasses and marginals, aquatic plants and brush piles to your landscape.
- Add Some Decoys: A duck decoy pair floating quietly on your pond will attract the attention of the real-life things. They'll swoop down to investigate and (hopefully!) decide to stay for a while.
Unlike a Great Blue Heron, ducks will leave your fish alone – but they can trigger other problems. If a lot of them are visiting, they can cause water quality issues (which can be remedied with the beneficial bacteria in Airmax PondClear. They could bring in unwanted weeds, like duckweed and water milfoil, that wasn't present before. The ducks, ducklings, and eggs could also attract feral cats, raccoon, skunks and other predators.
Having these colorful beauties visit your pond, however, is worth the hassle. When they do stop by, observe them from a distance – and enjoy bird watching!