Will Ducks Adopt Other Ducklings?

It’s rare for a duck hen to foster ducklings that aren’t hers. However, duck hens have a motherly instinct that enables them to adopt abandoned ducklings, especially if they are the same size and age as hers.

Many factors affect adoption in ducks. For instance, the age of the ducklings, the number of ducklings, and a duck’s personality can determine whether a hen can foster abandoned ducklings.

Social and Parental Behavior of Ducks

Ducks are social and outgoing birds. These birds feel at ease when they are foraging in large flocks. Wild ducks spend the day searching for food on land and in shallow waters. Ducks are skilled fliers and swimmers.

No wonder wild ducks fly hundreds of miles yearly during their migrations. Like most birds, ducks have a clear social structure. Wild and domestic ducks live in vast flocks for the rest of their lives.

Although a flock may have several male ducks, a dominant drake plays the guardian’s duty. The dominant drake reserves the right to mate with the hen ducks. He is also the flock leader and protects the hens and ducklings from potential threats.

The social structure of a duck includes the dominant male at the top of the hierarchy, subordinate drakes, hens, and lower-ranking ducks. Like chickens, ducks have a pecking order that they establish early in their lives.

Ducks also have an exciting parenting behavior whereby mothers care for their ducklings.

Drakes don’t take part in maternal care. Male ducks abandon their female partners when they begin incubating. Duck mothers provide their ducklings with several types of parental care.

For instance, mothers cover their little ones with their wings after hatching to ensure their offspring stay calm. Adult mothers fight off intruders who attempt to come too close to their broods.

Furthermore, mothers ensure their ducklings have access to drinking, feeding, and roosting areas. Several mothers can forage outdoors with their broods, but no duckling can join another mother’s brood. Consequently, a duck is less likely to foster ducklings from her fellow hen.

Ducks hardly form long-term bonds. Instead, they form seasonal bonds, also referred to as seasonal monogamy. Ducks will form new bonds every season, unlike geese which form long-term bonds.

Although ducks live in large groups, every individual mother raises her ducklings. Parenting in ducks isn’t a communal activity but instead a personal responsibility.

For instance, every hen will raise her ducklings independently, even if they are multiple hens with their broods in a flock. It’s almost impossible for a mother to raise ducklings from another brood.

Adoption Instinct in Ducks

While it’s rare for ducks to adopt ducklings from another hen, females have a motherly instinct that motivates them to adopt ducklings from other hens.

Furthermore, ducks have adoption instincts, like most animals. There are few instances of adoption in ducks. For example, a duck can adopt ducklings from another female if she loses her ducklings to diseases or predators.

The foster mother is willing to adopt ducklings to replace her brood with new ducklings.

Many factors can influence adoption in ducks. For instance, ducks are likely to adopt weeks-old ducklings because their motherly instinct will tell them the orphaned ducklings are vulnerable, and they ultimately need a foster parent.

However, ducks are unlikely to adopt older orphaned ducklings that can survive without their mother.

The size of the group or duck flock can also affect adoption. The adoption rate can be higher in a larger flock than in a smaller flock because a larger flock has many hen ducks willing to play the fostering role.

The presence of a dominant duck can also influence adoption in ducks. Dominant ducks usually discourage mothers from adopting ducklings from other broods.

The dominant ducks usually perceive the orphaned ducklings as intruders, and they don’t allow any hen in the flock to adopt and raise ducklings that aren’t theirs.

Factors that Affect Adoption

Here are the significant factors that affect adoption in ducks:

Age of The Duckling

A duckling can lose its mothers after a few days of hatching, leaving the bird vulnerable and at the mercy of its flock.

Some of the females in the flock could be willing to foster the duckling, especially if the duckling is the same age as the ducklings in her brood. Nonetheless, a hen is unlikely to adopt a duckling if it’s a couple of weeks old and capable of surviving without its mother’s presence.

Older ducklings are also not ready for adoption and will desist attempts by another female to adopt them and include them in their brood.

Color of the Duckling

A duckling’s color can determine whether another hen will be willing to adopt it. The color variation in ducklings is primarily because of the breed.

Different duck breeds have different colors. Some are white, brown, black, or pale. A mother duck can be willing to adopt ducklings with a color resembling that of her ducklings.

In such a scenario, the foster mother will liken the orphaned duckling to one of her ducklings. However, the mother will not adopt the little bird if it doesn’t resemble her offspring.

Number of Ducklings

The more ducklings in a flock, the lower the possibility of adoption. For instance, a single orphaned duckling has a chance of adoption because a potential foster mother won’t have difficulty caring for the lone bird. However, a female duck may be unwilling to adopt many ducklings because caring for multiple ducklings can be challenging for the hen.

Broodiness of Duck

Broody ducks make great mothers. They have a more solid motherly instinct than their less broody counterparts.

Broody ducks also tend to provide exceptional care to their ducklings. They have a strong adoption instinct to adopt ducklings from other broods since they see such ducklings as their own.

Duck Personality

A duck’s personality is also a critical factor that affects adoption. Some female ducks have calm and kind personalities, while others can be hostile toward other ducks.

A duck’s personality can determine whether the bird will adopt other ducklings outside their brood. If a hen has a motherly instinct, it will most likely adopt ducklings from another hen.


Ducks can adopt other ducklings, although ducks aren’t excellent at adopting ducklings as geese. Ducks have a sound social structure whereby a mother strictly cares for her ducklings.

However, some ducks have a motherly instinct and are ready to adopt other ducklings.

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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