When Can Ducklings Start Swimming?

As naturally gifted swimmers, ducks start swimming relatively early after they hatch. Ducks that grow in the wild rely on their swimming skills for survival, so it’s all the more important for them to start swimming early.

ducklings start swimming

Although ducks are naturally buoyant and their feathers are waterproof, baby ducks aren’t as buoyant, nor are their feathers waterproof.

Plus, ducklings raised in captivity have a harder time learning to swim, especially if they don’t have a mother duck around.

See how you can teach ducklings to swim and how early you can introduce ducklings to water.

Can Baby Ducks Swim?

Yes, baby ducks can swim and quite enjoy it, but with a few caveats. For ducklings to be able to swim like adults, they need their feathers to become waterproof.

Adult ducks excrete an oil called preen oil that causes their feathers to become waterproof. Because baby ducks don’t yet secrete this oil, there’s a risk of them drowning if they’re unsupervised.

Therefore, unless baby ducks are accompanied by the mother duck or you’re supervising them, they should not be allowed to swim until they’re a certain age.

baby duckling swimming

At What Age do Ducklings Start Swimming?

You can start introducing ducklings to water as early as one week old. But as I mentioned before, they need to be supervised or need to be accompanied by the mother duck.

Ducklings can be allowed to swim on their own when they reach 7 to 9 weeks old. By this age, they will have their feathers grown out and their preen gland will start secreting oil.

But how can ducklings in the wild stay waterproof much earlier than ducklings raised in captivity?

How Do Ducklings Stay Waterproof?

Ducklings in the wild can stay waterproof thanks to the preen oil excreted by the mother duck.

Because baby ducks will swim close to their mother, the oil secreted by her is enough to also keep them waterproof. Plus, the mother duck will rub some of her oil on her ducklings to help them swim.

Because ducklings aren’t waterproof, they should not be allowed to swim without the mother duck or without your supervision.

Ducklings will instinctively seek out water but should not be allowed to swim for too long because they can get tired and their feathers can get wet and waterlogged, which can cause their body temperature to drop.

If you’ve hatched duck eggs in an incubator and don’t have a mother duck to take care of the ducklings, you will need to teach ducklings to swim yourself.

ducklings swimming with mother

Teaching Ducklings to Swim

In the wild, the mother duck will make sure that her ducklings acquire all the swimming skills needed to survive. With ducklings raised in captivity, teaching them how to swim befalls on you.

As waterfowls, it’s important for ducks to have access to water not only for drinking purposes, but also for swimming and bathing.

It’s not just about the wellbeing of the ducks, bathing and swimming serves other purposes too – keep mites, ticks, and other parasitic insects off ducks and prevents wet feather disease by stimulating the functioning of the preen gland.

So, making sure your ducklings know how to swim is a great way to benefit from all these things.

Here’s what you should know about teaching ducklings to swim:

1.  Make sure it isn’t cold outside

Before any water-related activities, make sure the weather is nice and warm outside. Normally, ducklings can go outside when they’re around 3-5 weeks old. Make sure the temperature is consistently at 70 °F (20 °C) or above.

In low temperatures, ducklings can easily get cold, especially if their feathers are not yet waterproof. If it’s too cold, even hypothermia can set in, which can lead to the death of ducklings.

2.  Use a shallow pool or a shallow tub

You should not place ducklings in deep water straight away. Start with water that’s only an inch or two deep. The goal at first is to get ducklings to get used to the idea of water and bathing in water.

3.  Gently place ducklings in water

Once they’re accustomed to bathing in water and you’ve done this a couple of times, you can try adding a few more inches of water so ducklings can start swimming. Make sure you don’t scare them or force them into anything.

4.  Keep an eye on them

Don’t leave ducklings unsupervised, especially if there’s a larger body of water (like a pond or lake) nearby where they could wander off to.

Even in a small kiddie pool, it’s risky to leave ducklings unsupervised, especially if the water is too deep and the ducklings are small.

5.  Make it easy for them to get out

Ducklings that get tired of swimming or get cold may try to get out of the water. Make sure you make it easy for them to freely get in and out of the water on their own.

Ducklings can get tired of swimming, they can get cold, or their feathers can get too wet – all good reasons why you should make it easy for them to get out of the water.

For How Long Can a Duckling Swim?

How long ducklings can swim is different for every duckling. The age of the duckling also matters – ducklings that are only a couple of weeks old have a harder time staying afloat on account of their feathers not being waterproof compared to ducklings that already have waterproof feathers.

Ducklings that are 7 to 9 weeks old already have their feathers grown out and their preen gland starts functioning and secreting oil, allowing them to become more buoyant and their feathers waterproof.

A baby duckling is not as buoyant as an adult duck, which means they’ll exert themselves easier by swimming to the point where they can get too tired to stay above water.

Can Baby Ducks Drown?

Yes, as strange as it sounds, baby ducks can drown.

Because of their lack of buoyancy and lack of waterproof feathers, ducklings below the age of 7 to 9 weeks can easily sink and drown if they get tired from swimming.

This is the reason why supervision either by the mother duck or you is needed to prevent accidental drowning.

Because ducklings instinctively head towards the water, they should be kept away from large bodies of water, where there’s a chance of them drowning.

Introduce them slowly to water in a shallow tub or shallow pool. Make sure they can easily get out of the water anytime they want. By allowing them to leave the water on their own, the chances of exertion and drowning are lowered.

Adult ducks, on the other hand, are buoyant and stay afloat the water. They cannot drown unless they’re forcibly kept under the water.

Adult ducks also have waterproof feathers thanks to the oil produced by the preen gland. Baby ducks in the wild are introduced much sooner to the water because the mother duck rubs some of her oil on the baby ducks, allowing them to stay waterproof.

Plus, baby ducks can be seen swimming behind the mother duck, which saves them energy, hence their ability to stay longer in water compared to ducklings raised in captivity.


Baby ducklings can start swimming relatively soon after they hatch. But just because they can technically swim, it doesn’t mean they should be allowed to swim alone.

You can introduce ducklings to water at one week old, but you should not let them be unsupervised until they reach the age of 7-9 weeks.

Without their waterproof feathers, baby ducklings don’t have the same buoyancy as adult ducks do. They also tire more easily and can even get hypothermia, both of which can carry the risk of them drowning.

Always supervise ducklings that are unaccompanied by a mother duck, and make sure to prevent them from swimming in water that’s deep enough for them to drown 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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