Why do Ducks Eat Dirt and Mud?

In reality, ducks do not eat dirt or mud as most people presume. Instead, they sift through mud to find grubs, plant material, or bugs in a process known as drilling.  Like other waterfowls, duck’s natural diet is insects, seeds, pondweed, amphibians, water snails, and sometimes crustaceans like crayfish.

Thankfully, their flat beaks help them detect, grasp, and swallow food in a flash. In addition, beaks help to filter inedible objects and excess water.

A duck’s alimentary tract is pretty comprehensive compared to a human’s monogastric system. It has a proventriculus section where digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid get added to the feed and break it down.

Moreover, there is the muscular gizzards segment where grit helps grind fiber and grains into more digestible elements. From here, food goes through the small intestines, where nutrients get absorbed into the body.

What do Ducks Dig for in the Mud?

Ducks drill through the mud in search of food. In the process, they pound their web feet on the ground. The vibration caused by the impact prompts bugs to come out from the surface. Moreover, digging in the mud helps ducks access small stones and pebbles, which act as grit.

As mentioned above, grit plays an essential role in a bird’s digestive system. They are two types of grit; insoluble and soluble. Soluble grit examples dissolve deep into the duck’s digestive system producing much-needed calcium. The main advantage of enough calcium in a duck’s diet is strengthening bones and eggshells.

Furthermore, it enables the vent or cloacae to open when releasing an egg. Examples of soluble grit include oyster shells, limestone, eggshells, and cuttlebone. On the other hand, insoluble grit like granite and flint grind food mechanically in the gizzard.

After several grinding sessions, grit may wear down to the extent of leaving the gizzard. The tiny residues then pass through the digestive tract as feces. Insufficient grit in a duck’s gizzard causes a life-threatening condition known as Sour Crop.

Treatment of a Sour Crop often involves offering ducks plenty of clean water plus antifungal or antibiotic medication. Also, qualified vets may empty the crop using crop needles or flush it clean with sterile saline.

Can Ducks Get Sick from Mud?

Rarely would ducks fall sick by sifting through the mud. However, a high iron soil composition may trigger a couple of complications, especially heavy metal poisoning. Heavy metal poisoning, also known as hardware disease, is a fatal infection caused by zinc or lead ingestion in birds.

Thanks to ducks’ intrinsic desire to scavenge, it is not unusual for them to develop acute heavy metal poisoning compared to other birds.

Common symptoms of heavy metal poisoning include constant thirst, body weakness, weight loss, poor coordination, seizures, tremors, depression, and listlessness. It requires appropriate treatment and prompt medical intervention for ducks to recover fully from metal poisoning. Most experts recommend Chelation therapy to detoxify poisonous metal particles from birds’ bodies.

Note that Chelates are organic compounds repeatedly injected into the affected bird’s muscle to normalize the blood composition and levels. After the bird’s condition becomes stable, you can continue on the chelating agent dosage orally to the end. Other effective treatment alternatives include d-penicillamine or other orally taken agents like dimercaptosuccinic.

Additionally, provide your birds with plenty of fresh, clean water and molasses. Successful herbal treatment options include bay, cilantro, borage, marigold, dill, plantain, mint, thyme, tarragon, sage, and rose petals. Above all, give anti-consultants to minimize seizures and Vitamin B complex/thiamine for faster body tissue recovery.

If mentioned treatments fail to work, vets opt for surgery under local anesthesia to take out large metal pieces. Finally, an antibiotics prescription helps to heal and prevent further infections.

Unfortunately, birds that develop neurological complications because of prolonged exposure have slim recovery chances. All in all, the best prevention measure is analyzing the soil thoroughly before allowing your duck pets to come into contact with it. Keep following as we define other successive measures to prevent metal poisoning in your flock.

  • Make weekly routine checkups around the yard, free-range area, and pen and collect any noticeable metal object.
  • Inspect the area with a high-quality metal detector, especially if you have building or construction projects in the compound.
  • Take precautions when wearing metallic necklaces and earrings that can easily fall off.
  • Stay away from galvanized fencing, waterers, and metal feeders.
  • Thoroughly search through shavings, straw, and hay used as duck’s beddings.
  • Avoid lawnmowers, chainsaws, weed whackers, or other metallic equipment around the coop area. Remember that these gadgets can send metallic particles flying all over the place.

Possible causes of metal toxicity are metal toys, fertilizers, coins, Christmas decorations, staples, galvanized nails, and aviary wire. Others include lead gunshot, paint chips, insecticides, iron multivitamins, machine parts, and fishing sinkers or weights.

Can Ducklings Eat Mud?

There is nothing much to worry about baby ducks messing around with mud. Like adult ducks, they sift through dirt for nourishment. Nonetheless, carry out critical measures mentioned above to prevent metal toxicity.

What’s more, do not feed ducklings with junk food, bread because it has no nutritional value. Instead, introduce rice, oats, frozen peas, sliced grapes, chopped lettuce, and birdseed from an early age to keep them healthy.

Why do Ducks Make So Much Mess?

Ducks are messy by nature. Often, they bury their bills in dirt and spend most time splashing in pools around the yard. Moreover, they poop all over the place generating plenty of manure in a space. The easiest way to keep the run clean is by covering the ground with sand because it provides drainage.

Leave a specific part of the pen or yard without sand for easier foraging. Ensure to add another layer of sand bedding soon after your ducks soil it. This tactic keeps your ducks from messing with their waste. Also, it keeps the environment healthier and cleaner.


Ducks require plenty of healthy food, clean water, and comfortable sleeping quarters like other bird pets. Fortunately, they are hardy creatures and rarely fall sick. Still, be aware that ducks are more prone to heavy metal poisoning because of their scavenging nature.

Hopefully, this article touches on preventing and treating metal toxicity successfully. All said and done; ducks are lovable creatures and such a delight in your yard.

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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