Do Ducklings Need a Heat Lamp?

Adult ducks are extremely cold-hardy thanks to the thick layer of body fat under their otherwise waterproof feathers. Because ducklings are covered only with fuzz, they don’t have any protection against the cold.

Ducklings need supplemental heat in the form of a heat lamp during the first couple of weeks of their lives or until their feathers are fully grown in.

Let’s see why and how you should use a heat lamp for keeping ducklings warm, and what are the alternatives to a heat lamp if you want to protect your ducklings from the cold.

Why do Ducklings Need a Heat Lamp?

When newly hatched, ducklings don’t have fully grown feathers to keep them warm. The yellow fuzz that covers their body is not enough to insulate them from the cold.

Therefore, supplemental heat is needed to keep ducklings warm. And here’s the kicker – newly hatched ducklings need supplemental warmth regardless of whether it’s cold or warm outside.

That’s right, even if it’s summer, ducklings need to be kept warm. And since ducklings can get overheated too, you will need to adjust the output of your heat lamp to account for the environmental temperatures.

Below, I will describe how to set up a heat lamp for ducklings, what to watch out for, and when to adjust the temperature.

How to Use a Heat Lamp for Ducklings?

Setting up a heat lamp is especially important for ducklings that hatch at the end of winter, the beginning of spring, when temperature fluctuations are still happening, and temperatures can suddenly drop overnight.

Even if you’re keeping your ducklings indoors, they still need a heat lamp as the ambient temperature is typically not high enough for them.

Here’s what you should know about setting up a heat lamp:

– Hang the heat lamp about 18 inches above the bedding

When setting up a pen for ducklings, use pine shavings or straw as bedding. About 4 inches of bedding should be enough. Hang the heat lamp 18 inches above the bedding.

A good heat lamp should provide enough warmth for around 35 ducklings. If you have more ducklings than that, you may need a second heat lamp.

– Adjust temperature depending on time of day

Start out with the temperature set to 90 degrees F. You can adjust the temperature depending on whether it’s night or day, based on how your ducklings are reacting.

Normally, you should lower the temperature during the day and raise it during the night. If you notice your ducklings all huddled under the lamp and being noisy, you may need to raise the temperature. If they seem to be avoiding the lamp and panting, you need to lower the temperature.

You may also need to adjust the height of the lamp. If it’s too high and your ducklings seem to be feeling cold, you may need to lower the lamp. If they’re too hot, you need to raise the lamp higher up.

– Adjust temperature depending on ambient temperature

Don’t set the heat lamp to a high-temperature setting if it’s otherwise warm outside or indoors. Use your judgment and watch how your ducklings are behaving to determine the adjustments you need to make.

Ideally, when the temperature is just right for your ducklings, you’ll notice that some ducklings are sleeping, some are eating, and others are moving around in the pen.

As ducklings start growing, you can start lowering the initial temperature by 5 degrees F each week, until you reach 70 degrees F.

– Introducing ducklings to the outdoors

Once your ducklings have grown a little and their adult feathers are starting to grow, you can start introducing them to the outdoors, especially if the weather outside is nice and warm.

Start slowly, by taking them outside only for a couple of hours a day, then slowly increase the time they spend outside until they’re fully acclimated to spending the whole day outdoors.

Types of Heat Lamps for Ducklings

There are several types of heat lamps suitable for keeping ducklings warm. You can use red infrared bulbs, ultraviolet bulbs, or even an ordinary lamp bulb operating at a low voltage (60 watts).

Make sure to only use bulbs with ceramic sockets to reduce the risk of fires and sockets overheating.

You can also get infrared ceramic heat emitters that are most often used for reptiles. These don’t emit any light, they only provide heat.

Ducklings don’t need illumination, only warmth. So, ECO bulbs that emit light, but remain cold are useless for keeping ducklings warm.

How Long do Ducklings Need a Heat Lamp?

Ducklings need a heat lamp for the first 6 weeks of their lives. Or until their feathers fully grow in, whichever comes first.

You can slowly introduce them to the outdoors, but never leave them out overnight unless their feathers are fully in and it’s warm enough outside.

Keeping Ducklings Warm Without a Heat Lamp

A heat lamp is not the only way to keep ducklings warm. There are several other options, all of which make great alternatives to a heat lamp. These are:

  • Electrical brooder: these brooders are a reliable way to keep ducklings warm without the need to use a heat lamp.
  • Hot water bottle: a quick and easy method to create warmth for ducklings is to fill a water bottle with hot water. Of course, you will need to replace them as they cool down, and aren’t as reliable, but they can work in emergencies and as a way to wean ducklings off a heat lamp.
  • Natural sunlight: move the pen to a location with natural sunlight to help ducklings stay warm. This method is only suitable for ducklings that can already be moved outside. But can come handy indoors too.
  • Feather duster: For ducklings that are not as reliant on heat anymore, a feather duster with real feathers can be a cosy place to snuggle up.


Ducklings need supplemental heat during the first couple weeks of their lives. Aside from an electrical brooder, a heat lamp is the most reliable way to keep ducklings warm for 6 or so weeks, until their adult feathers are fully in

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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