Basic Waterfowl Care in Temporary Shelters

DIET:  Mostly forage at dawn and dusk by feeding on the water surface or grazing in grass.
 May be fed commercial waterfowl pellets or mash ranging from 14% protein for adults to16 % for adolescents to 18-22% starter feed for chicks less than 3 weeks old.
 They enjoy eating dark green leafy vegetables, grass, leaves, roots, and aquatic plants.  Only a small amount of seed and grain mix should be offered.
 Scatter some food or use multiple dishes to simulate foraging behavior.

HOUSING: Tolerant of a wide range of temperature and humidity if shelter is provided.
 Most ducks are highly social, but some males may become aggressive and will have to be separated.  Geese and swans are monogamous and pairs should be kept together. 
 Minimum 5 square feet floor space recommended for ducks, more for larger birds.
 Do not keep birds on hard concrete surfaces; this quickly leads to foot problems.
 Bedding material can be straw, hay, peat moss or sand. A few birds may eat wood shavings and develop intestinal blockage.  Astroturf can be used and hosed clean daily.
 A wading pool should be provided with a ramp for small birds to get in and out.
 Use nylon netting on tops of pens to prevent escape. Trim feathers on one or both wings to prevent escape if necessary.

RESTRAINT: Warning: Handlers can be injured by large geese and swans!
 Restrain the legs with one hand and support the abdomen on your forearm, with the other arm wrapped over the body to restrain the wings, and the hand holding the neck, or tuck the neck under your arm.  Avoid scratches from toenails of large birds.
 Larger birds can give powerful strikes with the wings, so a sheet can be wrapped around the body to restrain them.  Don’t compress the chest or allow bird to overheat.
 Cover the head with a sock or towel if needed to calm the bird and avoid bites.
 Use nets or long hooked sticks to capture birds.

COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS: Sick birds will move away from other birds and may be picked upon.  They will be reluctant to move and will spend more time sleeping.
 Bumblefoot caused by malnutrition and improper flooring is very common.
 Nonspecific lameness in young birds on grain and corn diets may improve on pellets.
 Botulism from rotting vegetation or maggots causes neurologic symptoms.
 Mycotoxins from moldy food will cause varying symptoms.  Keep food clean and dry.
 Egg-related health problems are common in females, usually resulting in swelling of the abdomen, straining, or prolapse of the uterus.

OTHER: Bands should be placed on the tibiotarsus rather than lower on the leg as they are less likely to get caught on wires and cause injury.
 Since the larger birds have very powerful wings, do not attempt to draw blood from the wing.  The medial metatarsal vein in the leg is more easily and safely accessed.

Compiled by Julie Burge, DVM, Burge Bird Services, August 2010
1. Campbell-Ward, M, 2009, Unusual Pet Care Volume 3, Zoological Education Network, Lake Worth, FL, p. 159-164.
2. Campbell-Ward, M, 2009, Ornamental Geese, Exotic DVM, v. 11:1, p. 32-34.
3. Flinchum, G, 2006, Management of Waterfowl, in Harrison, G and Lightfoot, T, eds, Clinical Avian Medicine, Spix Publishing, Palm Beach, FL, p. 831-847.
4. Flinchum, G, 2005, Swan Pet Care, in Fisher, P, ed, Unusual Pet Care Volume 1, Zoological Education Network, Lake Worth, FL, p. 1-6.
5. Kottwitz, J and Coke, R,, 2007, Unusual Pet Care Volume 2, Zoological Education Network, Lake Worth, FL, p. 135-139.