23 Most Common Duck Behaviors Explained

Ducks are fascinating birds, with each duck having a definite personality. They have unique behaviors such as head tilting, bobbing, standing on one leg, and bobbing. Understanding these behaviors will help you understand why your ducks behave the way they behave.

Furthermore, understanding these common duck behaviors will improve your husbandry skills, helping you take great care of your duck flock. Both wild and domestic ducks share some common behaviors. Here is an interpretation of the 23 common duck behaviors.

Here is a list of the most common behaviors of ducks with a short overview:

Behavior Description
Quacking Vocalization used for communication, such as calling for mates or signaling distress
Eating and Drinking Consuming food (such as aquatic plants, insects, and small fish) and water for sustenance
Head Tilting Moving the head up and down or side to side, often to gain better visibility or communicate with other ducks
Head Bobbing Rapid up and down movement of the head, usually as a warning signal or during courtship
Staying on One Leg Resting behavior, typically while standing on one leg to conserve body heat
Walking or Swimming in a Line Ducks often follow each other, forming a line while walking or swimming to maintain group cohesion
Sleeping Resting with eyes closed, often with the head tucked under a wing for warmth and protection
Roosting Settling down to rest or sleep, typically in trees or other elevated locations for safety
Tail Wagging Wiggling the tail, often to shake off water or display excitement or contentment
Digging Holes in Puddles Using the bill to dig in wet soil or mud, searching for insects and other food sources
Courtship Behavior Displaying various actions, such as head bobbing and wing flapping, to attract a potential mate
Mating Behavior Engaging in the physical act of reproduction, including mating calls and mounting
Preening After Swimming Grooming the feathers after swimming to remove water, maintain waterproofing, and keep plumage in good condition
Shunning Deliberately avoiding or ostracizing another duck, often due to disease, injury, or perceived weakness
Imprinting Behavior A process by which young ducklings form strong bonds with their parents or other objects shortly after hatching
Keeping Tail Down Holding the tail feathers down, often as a submissive posture or when in a defensive or frightened state
Aggression Displaying aggressive behavior, such as biting, chasing, or pecking, often to assert dominance or protect territory
Running Away Fleeing from a perceived threat, often in response to predators or humans
Egg Laying and Nesting Females lay eggs in a carefully constructed nest, usually hidden and lined with soft materials
Guarding the Nest Female ducks guard their nests, especially if there are eggs or ducklings present, by quacking and chasing away anything that gets too close. Drakes may also help with nest guarding.
Shivering Ducks shiver during the cold season to help their bodies generate heat and overcome the cold. This behavior is more common in ducklings.
Going Under Water Ducks are excellent divers and swimmers. They can dive into the water to catch fish and other aquatic creatures, as well as to avoid predators.
Blowing Bubbles Ducks dip their heads in the water and blow bubbles to clean out their feathers, feed, and dirt sticking in their nostrils.

Now, let’s get into more details, about each duck’s behavior.


Quacking is the most common duck behavior. Ducks usually quack while communicating with each other. They also quack to send important information to each other. Ducks quack for various reasons. For example, female ducks quack to attract mates or when they are about to lay eggs.

Females also quack to communicate with their ducklings. Male ducks make soft quacking sounds to alert the flock when predators prey on the birds.

Males also quack to attract females and to let other males in the flock know they own the territory. Overall, ducks will repeatedly quack when they are happy. Your ducks will also quack due to excitement, especially when you let them out to feed or swim in the water.

Wild and domestic ducks make loud quacks when separated from flock members. Your ducks will also quack when someone or something startles them.

Eating And Drinking

Ducks have exciting eating and drinking behavior that fascinates many. These birds eat by grabbing food with their beaks and swallowing it in a single gulp. Ducks also use their beaks to search for food in the water or the mud. Furthermore, a duck will use its beak to filter out inedible objects and excess water, only leaving their intended food.

Ducks love foraging around mud and dirt, picking up edible grasses and bugs. It’s an inherent feeding behavior that allows ducks to glean nutritious food from their environment.

Dabbling, or tipping, is arguably the most recognizable duck feeding behavior, whereby ducks forage by tipping their beaks in the water, catching aquatic creatures, and uprooting aquatic plants.

Ducks drink by dipping their beaks in the water, drinking the water with their beaks, and then raising their heads while swallowing the water. Furthermore, ducks enjoy feeding as a flock other than as individual flock members. Feeding in groups encourages foraging and further ensures all the members stick together.

While feeding, you will notice your ducks will repeatedly fill their beaks with food and dunk them in the water. They don’t do this to waste food or make a mess but dip food in the water to ensure it’s easy to digest.

Head Tilting

Head tilting is another fascinating duck behavior every duck owner must interpret. When your ducks tilt their heads, it doesn’t indicate they are necessarily angry or scared. They simply want to get a better view of everything. Duck eyes are attached to their sockets.

When your birds seem like they are giving you those mean side eyes, they are actually tilting their heads to help them see in various directions, usually in search of food or when on the lookout for predators. Therefore, your birds aren’t giving you a mean look by tilting their heads.

They want to see different directions and get a better look at their surroundings. You can notice eye movements when they tilt their heads sideways to observe the sky when searching for flying predators. Ducks can tilt their heads while resting, swimming, or eating, provided they want to check different directions.

Head Bobbing

Unlike head tilting, head bobbing is a duck behavior that sends different messages. For instance, head bobbing can be an act of flirting. Your ducks will bob their heads up and down while quacking excitedly when the birds are happy. They can also bob their heads excitedly, especially when they notice another duck they haven’t seen before.

The birds can also bob their heads when you give them some tasty treats or when they get access to clean and fresh water. If there is plenty of head bobbing in your flock, it means the flock members are happy.

However, head bobbing isn’t always about excitement and happiness. For instance, if your ducks keep bobbing their heads over their side, it can mean they are unhappy or upset. Female ducks usually do this kind of head bobbing to reprimand lower-ranking ducks in the flock.

Females also bob their heads over their sides to warn other ducks not to get near their ducklings or nests. Female ducks also bob their heads to tell other females not to get close to their male partners.

Duck hens bob their heads when chastising their ducklings for wandering too far from their watchful care. Head bobbing is a typical behavior of dominant female ducks in a duck flock.

Staying On One Leg

While raising ducks, regardless of the breed, you will notice that your birds will sometime stay on one leg. Staying on one leg is common in birds, including ducks. Ducks stand on one leg to help them control their body temperature. Staying on one leg is common during winter and cold months when ducks’ legs and feet get extremely cold.

A duck will remain warm during the cold season by tucking one of its legs up against its body. Ducks, like chickens, don’t have feathers on their feet and legs, so they are vulnerable to cold in the winter. Therefore, a duck will stand on its leg to prevent losing heat through its feet and legs, especially if the bird is standing in the water.

By staying on one leg, the duck can reduce the amount of body it loses by half. Staying on one leg is more of a natural adaptation than a behavioral inclination that ducks rely on to keep warm in cold conditions.

Consequently, your ducks will stay on one leg to instinctively beat the cold. If your ducks persistently exhibit this behavior, understand they are beating the cold, so you should strive to keep them warm.

Walking Or Swimming In A Line

A duck’s eye placement plays a crucial role when a duck is walking or swimming in a line. The behavior is typical in all domesticated and wild duck breeds. Ducks walk or swim in a line following a lead duck that keeps its eye on the front while the ducks behind the leader keep looking side to side.

This behavior allows a duck flock to stay together and remain safe while walking or swimming in predator-prone areas. You will notice your ducks walking in line when foraging far away from your homestead. They do this to help them detect predators.

Similarly, your ducks will swim in line to help them detect water predators. Ducks also walk and swim in line when searching for food in new territories. Ducks feel safer when walking and swimming in line.

This behavior helps the birds detect threats and overcome predators. Walking or swimming in line is a tactical behavior that allows ducks to disperse rival ducks. It also reduces the flock’s target size for predators, since it’s difficult for predators to target an entire flock.

Wild ducks also spread out in an extensive line while foraging in a vast wetland, while the dominant ducks in the front remain alert. These dominant ducks will send out alarm calls when they spot danger, warning the flock members to swim, fly or hide.


Ducks have an interesting sleeping behavior where they tuck their heads under their wings and sleep while opening one of their eyes. A duck’s brain consists of two halves. Each half of the brain controls a single eye. One part of the duck’s brain remains alert for predators, while the other half enjoys a restful sleep.

Ducks will rest the two brain parts if they spend the night in a huge group or when they feel completely safe from predators. However, ducks will only sleep with closed eyes if other flock members watch out for predators. A lone duck or a few ducks will sleep with eyes open and heads tucked carefully under the wing to help them watch out for threats at night.

Nonetheless, ducklings sleep with all eyes closed since their mothers are there to monitor predators when the little birds are sleeping.


Ducks aren’t roosting fowls, unlike chickens. These birds will be perfectly fine sleeping on soft shavings and straw on the cage floor. Ducks don’t necessarily need roosting perches. Instead, the birds prefer making nests in the corners of their coops.

However, ducks have an amusing roosting behavior where senior and dominant flock members roost at the corners while the junior members sleep close to the door as they look out for threats and predators. However, ducklings roost close to their mothers for warmth, comfort, and security.

Wild ducks prefer roosting in vast open areas like large rivers and windswept lakes. Ducks roost in sheltered and secure habitats where they can conserve their body heat and remain safe. Free-range ducks like roosting in sunny, open areas on sunny and warm days to keep warm in the sun.

Overall, ducks can be pretty picky about their roosting spots. They don’t roost just anywhere but choose secure and warm areas.

Tail Wagging

Tail wagging is a behavior that helps ducks dry off after swimming or after being in the water for some time. So, tail wagging can also be an indication of excitement. For instance, your ducks will keep wagging their tails as you fill their pond with clean water.

The birds will also wag their tails while waiting for tasty treats. It’s like how a dog keeps wagging its tail when it’s super excited and happy. Tail wagging is a male duck’s courtship behavior. The ultimate aim of a male duck wagging its tail feathers is to attract a mate. Females may wag their tails to respond to the males’ moves. Tail wagging can also help ducks cool off after a hot day.

Digging Holes In Puddles

Ducks are easy on the lawn, unlike chickens, that love scratching and making a mess. Instead of scratching, ducks will use their beaks to muck in the puddles. Ducks dig holes in puddles to forage for bugs. You will notice several holes in your garden once the puddles in the garden dry up.

Courtship Behavior

Ducks engage in courtship behavior year-round. Flirting is common in ducks, especially drakes. For instance, drakes shake their heads and tail feathers to court and attract duck hens. Females accept these advances by bobbing their heads. Male ducks aren’t monogamous, like male geese.

They will exhibit their courtship behavior to pick out suitable females and stick up with the females after courtship until the end of the mating season. The females’ courtship behavior also changes during this season. Females become hostile toward new male ducks, and they choose their favorite mates.

The dominant drake will usually attract more females. When courting females, drakes will flick water at the hens with their beaks to attract the females. A drake can also swim around a hen with its wings and neck stretched wide to express his mating interest to the female.

Mating Behavior

Ducks are sexually mature during the first years of their life. When a female duck is ready to mate, she will swim while extending her neck above the water’s surface. Ducks usually breed on water and land. A hen will swim or walk toward the male of her choice.

The mating behavior can be violent, mainly when too many males fight for one hen or a couple of hens. The female will select the drake she wants to sire offspring with.

Preening After Swimming

A duck will immediately start preening after swimming in a pond. The preening behavior usually takes place for around 15 minutes after swimming. Preening is vital for ducks because it helps distribute the natural oils in their feathers, making them waterproof and ultimately allowing them to dry off quickly.

You can tell when your birds are preening after swimming because they constantly rub their heads over their bodies.


Ducks are highly social birds. However, these birds will occasionally shun a member or some members of their flock. Male ducks usually exhibit shunning behavior, biting and chasing a shunned member. Males also shun, injure, and sometimes kill competing males. Shunning is an undesirable behavior when ducks live in a congested coop.

Shunning can also be a result of food scarcity. Furthermore, shunning can be prevalent when too many drakes compete for few females. New flock members can fall victim to shunning by the older members.

Imprinting Behavior

Ducks exhibit an imprinting behavior in their first moments of life. Ducklings imprint everything they see and experience during their initial life stages. For instance, ducklings will imprint upon their mothers after hatching. Furthermore, a duckling will imprint upon other ducklings after hatching in an incubator.

The more you handle and interact with newly hatched ducklings, the higher the chance the little birds will bond and imprint upon you. The imprinting behavior allows ducks to coexist with other ducks and their owners.

Keeping Tail Down

The way a duck holds its tail can send many messages across. For instance, a duck will wag its tail when it is happy and excited. However, your duck will keep its tail down if it’s going through stressful moments. Fear can also make ducks keep their tails down. Younger ducks, for instance, will keep their tails down to avoid confrontations with senior flock members.

The tail-down posture can suggest that a duck is grappling with a health problem. Egg-bound duck hens also keep their tails down due to distress and pain while trying to pass eggs out. Furthermore, keeping the tail down can be a sign of submission. When drakes are fighting over territorial and mating dominance, a younger drake can keep its tail down to signify retreat.


aggressive drakes

Aggression is one of the negative duck behaviors. Ducks will usually exhibit aggression when they feel threatened. However, some duck breeds are more aggressive, while others are calm and docile. Aggression in a duck flock can be due to various factors. Drakes and other dominant ducks can show aggression while defending their flock.

Aggression is common in ducks when there is a territorial dispute or when ducks fight over food, space, and mates. Ducks can be aggressive toward intruders. Some ducks are also aggressive toward their owners and their family members.

Aggression is more common in male ducks than in females, although females can be aggressive when someone tries to steal their eggs or harm their ducklings.

Running Away

Ducks are pretty sensitive, and they prefer keeping off danger. These birds will run away when they can’t confront a threat. Even the bravest drake or dominant hen in the flock will take off upon sensing danger. For instance, your duck will run away when it comes across a ferocious predator like a fox, possum, or raccoon.

The bird knows its chances of fighting off the predator are minimal, so it must run for its life. Wild ducks usually run away from danger because they understand how challenging it can be to defeat a ruthless predator.

Some ducks can fly away from danger when they cannot run fast enough to avoid confrontations with enemies. Moreover, a duck can escape rival ducks that seem too powerful for the bird. Either way, running away is a natural survival behavior that helps the duck keep off possible danger.

Egg Laying And Nesting

Egg laying is a crucial process for domestic and wild ducks. When hens reach the egg-laying stage, they usually make nests to lay their eggs. Ducks must keep their eggs safe from predators and other birds, so a nest is vital for every egg-laying duck hen. Even in the wild, ducks don’t lay randomly but choose a secretive place to make nests and lay.

Domesticated ducks also don’t depend on the nesting boxes their owners provide them for lying. Instead, they choose a nice spot and make a comfy nest where they can lay and protect their eggs. Broody duck hens also need a nest to sit on their eggs while incubating. Every hen will make its nest, and it will never use another hen’s nest, either for laying or incubating eggs.

Guarding The Nest

A duck hen’s most considerable responsibility is to guard her nest. While drakes’ primary responsibility is to guard their flocks and territories, their female counterparts will spend more time guarding their nests, especially if the nests have eggs and ducklings.

A hen will quack and chase anything that attempts to get close to her nest. Drakes may sometimes help their hens guard the nests, especially when incubating eggs. Every hen has an instinctive behavior to guard her nest. Furthermore, hens don’t expect other flock members to guard the nest on their behalf.


While ducks are cold hardy, extreme cold can bother these birds, particularly wild ducks that lack shelter against cold and rainstorms. Therefore, ducks shiver during the cold season to help their bodies generate heat and overcome the cold. Shivering is more common in ducklings because they don’t have sufficient thick feathers to keep them warm in the cold.

Going Under Water

Ducks are fabulous divers and swimmers. Besides swimming and foraging for food, ducks can dive into the water to catch fish, frogs, and other aquatic creatures. Ducks also go underwater as a defensive technique that helps them avoid predators in the water.

Wild birds, for instance, have been known to go under the water for hours to evade predators. Ducks’ nostrils enable them to remain under the water while breathing.

Blowing Bubbles

Blowing bubbles is another fascinating duck behavior. Your ducks will sometimes dip their heads in the water and breathe out forcibly while blowing bubbles in the water. This behavior helps ducks clean out the feathers, feed, and dirt sticking in their nostrils.


Ducks are fun to interact with and watch on the land or in the water. These birds portray many behaviors more than other birds. Understanding these duck behaviors can help make things easy for every duck owner. Thus, you must learn how to interpret your ducks’ behavior.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

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