Do Ducks Eat Fish? and Which Ones Eat Fish?

Do Ducks Eat Fish and Which Ones Eat Fish
"This photo" by Mike's Birds is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As wildlife enthusiasts, we have heard numerous people ask one raging question about ducks – do they eat fish? And what else do they eat? We guess it primarily comes from people wanting to feed ducks and the need to know what to feed and what not! Here’s a short answer to the question. Yes, ducks do eat fish; in fact, there are very few things they do not eat. Like most aquatic animals, these incredibly adorable and clumsy gaited animals eat fish and numerous other small aquatic creatures.

Below is more on why ducks eat fish, what else ducks eat and what you can feed ducks.

Do Ducks eat fish?

Yes, ducks being omnivorous birds, eat fish and their eggs. Their diet is almost similar to most other wild birds, such as the geese, and they are constantly foraging for fishes under the water. For some duck species such as the wood duck or the perching duck, fishes are not available in their natural setting; however, if they are fed fish, as pet ducks, they would surely love to feast on them.

All species of ducks eat fishes. However, the intake depends on the habitat and the range of ducks, along with their physiological adaptations. For example, dabbling ducks with spatula-shaped bills prefer to eat insects and plants more than they do fishes, while mergansers and other species belonging to the diving duck category, with narrow-shaped bills, eat more fishes. 

Apart from adaptations, the habitat and the range of the duck also play a role in deciding the amount of fish the duck eats. Here’s an example: a duck living near the meadows, with limited water bodies, is more likely to eat crops, grains, and other cereals, whereas a duck living in the swamps and the marshes will prefer amphibians, fishes, and other aquatic creatures in its diet. 

Minnows, guppies, and feeder goldfish make up for a major portion of the duck’s diet. It is primarily the intrigue of seeing fishes darting to and fro that makes ducks go after and make a feast out of them. Domestic ducks like Pekins and Runners love to eat fish more than the others. 

Why is it important for ducks to eat fish?

The simple answer is that fish is a high protein food item – duh! Fish has low fat and is filled with fatty acids that are not only immensely nutritive but also have great health benefits, the top one being omega-3. Apart from protein, fish is loaded with vitamins and minerals that make for the nutritive requirements of a duck’s diet. 

The most important reason as to why fishes are an important part of a duck’s diet is reproduction. Female ducks need more fish while breeding than male ducks since the high content of calcium in fishes makes for harder and stronger eggshells which protect the offspring from premature breaking and other dangers the egg is susceptible to. 

While most aquatic creatures fuel little to average amounts of energy, the high protein content in fishes provides lasting energy that helps ducks forage, swim, and do other activities without getting fatigued easily. Like every other animal, ducks have a minimum protein intake requirement, and with the availability of fishes, the demand for protein in a duck’s diet goes down to 2-3%. 


How big a fish can a duck catch?

It’s a known fact that ducks can catch fish, thanks to their agility in swimming, the flexible neck, and of course, the bill! Since ducks are not picky eaters, they will catch any fish, as long as it fits their mouth. What’s the point of preying on a fish that won’t fit into their mouth and eventually go to waste?

The fishes ducks catch are usually small fishes, no larger than 4-5 inches, such as guppies, minnows, and graylings. Larger ducks (ducks larger than mallards and other small-sized ducks) often catch and feast on chub and brown trouts. 

Since ducks can not dismember their prey and have to swallow their food, they only catch fishes that are small enough to go down their mouth efficiently.


Which Ducks eat fishes?

Aforementioned, all ducks eat fish if it is available to them. However, in the wild, the list narrows down to a handful of duck species that eat fishes since fish is not available in all habitats where certain species live. Here are the most common duck species known to eat fishes:

  • Diving Ducks: Diving Ducks are the fishes that eat the most amount of fish amongst all. This category has duck species that include the scaups, goldeneyes, redhead, and canvasback. 
  • Eider: Eiders are the sea-ducks that are mesmerizingly beautiful with a colorful body and beak. This species favors both mussels and mollusks alongside fishes. This species swallows their prey as a whole, crushing them with the gizzard.
  • Merganser: Themerganser is the species that is considered to eat the largest amount of fish amongst all others. A common Merganser’s diet consists mainly of fishes. However, they also eat invertebrates, crustaceans, and amphibians, among others. Their diet is the densest during the cold, comprising of salmon, salmon eggs, trouts, minnows, sunfish, and other small fishes.
  • Scoter: Found in the northern regions, these ducks feed on benthic invertebrates alongside fishes.  They also feed on herrings and herring eggs. 
  • Sea-Duck: Obviously, sea-ducks are included in the list when it comes to fish-eating duck species. The long-tailed duck and other sea-duck species love to munch on shellfish, fish eggs, and a variety of fishes all year round.
  • Stifftail: Aptly named after their stiff tails, Stifftail species, including the ruddy duck, masked duck, and the blue-billed duck, eat numerous small fishes, seeds, leafy plants, and animal matter. 
  • Whistling Ducks: The black-bellied and the fulvous whistling-ducks mainly feed on seed and grains, but a part of their diet also consists of fishes and invertebrates such as midges and snails. 


Do Fishes eat Ducks?

We know that ducks eat fishes, but do fishes eat ducks? Both of these creatures share the same ecosystem and habitat, so is it not simultaneously possible for the latter (the fish) to prey on ducks? Yes, fishes do eat ducks. Of course, the small-sized fishes go out of the question when it comes to preying on ducks, but freshwater fishes such as pike, large catfish, trouts (that large ducks feed on), northern pike, and largemouth bass occasionally feast on ducklings. These fishes are not too large, but they are predatory and opportunistic feeders who will snatch away a duckling or two any time they can.

Other voracious predators such as the musky prey upon wild birds, including ducks and young geese. Fully-grown waterfowls, too, are often eaten by the muskies and pikes. 


What else do ducks eat (full list) 

Ducks are omnivorous animals that eat both plants, fruits, greens, as well as small insects, fishes, and animals. 

Fruits, Greens, and Plants: 

Ducks can safely eat a variety of fruits, greens, and plants. These include the consumption of berries such as blueberries and strawberries, pears, plum, bananas, peaches, and seasonal fruits such as grapes and watermelon.

Millets are the ideal snack for ducks, and they love to feed on wild celery, wild rice, milfoils, and other cereals. Rice, whether cooked or uncooked, is listed as one of the favorite duck foods. 

Aquatic plants such as pondweeds, smartweed, algae, seaweed, coontail, and duckweed (we know), make up for widely available and nutritious food in a duck’s diet. 

Since vegetation is limited in a duck’s natural setting, there are not many vegetables that ducks eat in the wild. Pumpkins are a staple in a duck’s diet. When it comes to feeding, you can feed a duck a variety of greens ranging from broccoli to leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach.

Apart from these, ducks often feed on stems (especially wood ducks or perching ducks), seeds, nuts, and tree roots, both from the soil and shallow coastal waters and crops. Ducks living on farms feed on a variety of crops, which proves highly nutritive to them. 

Insects and Animals: 

A significant part of a duck’s diet comprises live insects, aquatic creatures, and several invertebrates. For starters, ducks love to feast on millipedes, insects such as worms and bees, and small reptiles such as salamanders, newts, and lizards. 

As amphibians, ducks eat both frogs and their tadpoles, small crabs, and numerous small crustaceans they can find underwater or while foraging. They also eat snails whenever they can find one.


A Duck’s Diet varies…

Species of Ducks: From about 180 species of ducks, a significant number of the species have varying eating habits and physiological adaptations for feeding and foraging. This translates to the fact that depending on their adaptations, the duck’s diet differs on the basis of species.

For instance, a few species would prefer minnows and trouts, while others would forage for insects, bugs, amphibians, and plants. Another example would be the contrasting feeding habits of the mergansers and the shovelers. Mergansers are diving ducks that are characterized by narrow bills with saw-like edges, which allows the efficient catching and swallowing of fishes.

Shovelers with spatulate-shaped bills are able to sift through mud for insects and small mollusks and plants such as algae and weed. Shovelers and all other species belonging to the dabbling duck category have lamellae to filter through water and water to retain nutritive items such as seeds, plants, and insects.

Habitat and Range: The habitat plays a gargantuan role in deciding what a duck eats. Even ducks of the same species living in two contrasting and different habitats have varying diets. For example, while a duck living in the marshes is more likely to feed on fishes, small aquatic insects, and amphibians such as toads and frogs, a duck of the same species, living in fields will follow a diet that comprises grains, crops, millets, and other cereals. 

Since ducks migrate, to some extent, it is obvious to the point that as their habitat changes along the route, so will their diet; therefore, a perching duck that is now feeding on stems and nuts will be munching on grass, weed, and other available food items in the habitat it is migrating to. 

Different Seasons: As for most other animals, a duck’s diet changes throughout the seasons. Depending on the abundance of food, ducks being opportunistic feeders, eat myriad live insects in summer and spring and almost anything they can find in winters due to scarcity of food.

Feeding Style: Feeding style is the most crucial facet to deciding what a duck eats. There are primarily two feeding styles favored by ducks: dabbling and diving. 

Dabbling allows ducks to find food in shallow water and dig through the mud in the forage of insects, plants, and snails. All the species of dabbling ducks such as the mallard and the northern pintail feed off the shallow water, mostly on the surface or on the land. Although dabbling ducks do not dive deep into the water, they do dive in as deep as they can, without completely submerging up-ending. 

With the pecten, they efficiently filter through the water to find food such as weed, algae, and insects that are trapped in the beak.

Diving ducks, on the other hand, dive deep into the water to feed on fishes, small crustaceans, and other small aquatic creatures. They have serrated teeth and swallow in anything small enough to fit their mouth. Diving ducks are not very efficient at digging mud and foraging for live insects, and their diet mostly consists of fishes and plants.



Should you feed bread to ducks?

Feeding a duck with bread is quite common among people, and going to a park with kids and feeding ducks with an old loaf of bread is considered a great way to spend a couple of hours outside. But bread apparently isn’t good for the duck’s health. Bread isn’t nutritious, and it also fills them, which keeps them away from eating natural, nutritious food. 

Ducks fed mostly with bread may lead to malnutrition and overweight, which might cause deformed wings and lung diseases. While feeding ducks with bread, the leftover food can attract rats and potentially increases the rate of spreading diseases.

Do ducks eat popcorn?

Junk foods like bread, chips, donut, and popcorn should not be given to ducks to eat. It doesn’t provide them any kind of nutrition; rather, it makes them unhealthy.

Do ducks scare fish away?

Yes, they do scare fish away. And if you are trying to catch fish near a place that is frequently visited by the ducks, your chances of catching a fish go down. 

What should you feed a duck? 200 – 250 words

Ducks aren’t picky eaters; they can easily feed on almost anything they will find on your property. They can be fed with a variety of healthy, safe, and nutritious food. Healthy food provides them with nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that keep them healthy and also helps in growth and development. 

They feed on different types of insects or bugs like potato bugs and worms, and it is quite funny to watch them jumping and running after these insects and worms. A flock of ducks living near ponds feeds on small fish and fish eggs. 

They are also very fond of greens like grass, weeds, and seed heads. Ducks are attracted to berries like wild berries found along the property line. They eat sunflower seeds which isn’t the main source of food for them, but it acts as a supplement. Pellets and poultry starter pellets are great for feeding ducks. Young ducks should be initially fed with the chick starter, and they gradually move to layer pellets as they grow. 

Cracked Corn and other grains, including Oats, wheat, barley, etc., are loved by the ducks, but they should be given in adequate quantity as a treat and not as a main source of food. 

There are some extra foods and treats which can be given to the ducks, like fruits and veggies, including cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelon rind, and apple cores. The duck goes crazy for mealworms, and it can be used as a treat since it helps in training them too.

What should you not feed a duck?

There are people who unknowingly go on feeding ducks unhealthy foods, which causes disease and malnutrition in ducks. When it comes to what you should not feed a duck, the list goes on and on. Ducks should not be fed with medicated chicken food as they require more food than chicken, and they are also not prone to many diseases. Chips, cookies, cake, and white rice are some of the common refined human junk food that people unknowingly feed ducks with. These foods are a huge no-no! About ducklings, they grow really fast. Hence they shouldn’t be fed with high protein-rich food; else, they might develop a common abnormality like angel wings caused due to overeating.


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