If you have just had a duck/goose encounter of the closest kind and haven’t a clue what to do, don’t feel bad. Most of us have learned more in recent years about whales, tigers and crocodiles than we have ducks and geese. Count yourself lucky to have this chance to get to know one of the world’s most remarkable little creatures.
EMERGENCY DUCKLING/GOSLING CARE
(babies under 4 weeks old)
How do I know how old it is? If it is still all covered with soft down, it is under 2 weeks old. If you can feel prickly little feathers, it is between 2 and 4 weeks; if you can see some feathers it is over 4 weeks, and fully feathered, it is grown.
What do I keep it in? If you plan to keep it, get a small dog carrier (the plastic kind with wire door). Otherwise, use a plastic storage box, a cardboard box or basket. To make it feel secure, partially cover the top with something like a towel. Put a towel in the bottom as they shouldn’t stand on anything slick.
How do I keep it warm? Waterfowl babies don’t need as much warmth as other birds, but they do need a little extra warmth, especially at night, for the first week to 10 days. This can be provided with a lamp and a 100 to 200 watt bulb set over the container, a heating pad set on low and covered with a towel or you can get handwarmers at Walmart, sporting goods stores, etc. Once opened they stay warm for hours. You have to cover them to be sure they aren’t too hot and always make sure the baby can move away from any heat if it gets too hot.
What do I feed it? The best thing is duck or chicken starter purchased at a feed store. IT MUST BE UNMEDICATED FEED. In a pinch, you can give it crushed cereal like Cheerios, crushed dog food, crushed dry cat food, cottage cheese, hard boiled eggs, chopped lettuce, canned peas or chopped green beans. Ducks can feed themselves from birth, but may not recognize the food so put a dab on a finger and put it in the bill to get it started. All food should be mixed with a little water for the first week or two. They can drown easily, so only a shallow dish of water should be used. Don’t worry if you have a tiny baby that won’t eat. They are nourished by the egg yolk and don’t need food during the first 24 to 48 hours, but will usually drink a little water. You can get a package of Vitamins and Electrolytes at any feed store. If you add a scant teaspoon to a gallon of water, that will help give it a good start. Food and water should be kept available all day up to bedtime. Never give it feed without water.
How do I bathe it? As I said, babies can drown easily as they don’t have the oil or the feathers for waterproofing for a few weeks. You can put it in a couple of inches of water in a sink, but watch it closely, let it bathe, and give it time to preen (clean its feathers) in a warm place. If it doesn’t get dry enough, you can gently use a hair dryer on low.
When can I diaper it? Baby diapers can be started at a week or two. If it is over 2 weeks old, skip them and get an expandable harness at 4 weeks.
What else does it need? A stuffed toy will be very comforting and give it something to cuddle up with to help keep it warm. Baby waterfowl are not like other birds. You have probably heard that you shouldn’t handle a baby bird much. Forget it!! This baby wants and needs to be close to you as much as possible. It will run away when you reach for it, but that is only an instinctive survival move. Go ahead and pick it up, but snuggle it close to you quickly so it will feel safe.
Anything else I should know? If you have rescued a wild Mallard duck or Canada gosling, I must tell you that it is illegal to keep it. You are supposed to give it to a wildlife rehabber. However, if it is seriously injured, they may kill it instead of trying to save it, and I know one-legged ducks, and even several ducks/geese that can’t walk, but are being raised by happy human parents..one is 10 years old. If you keep it, you could run into a problem if you need a vet as they aren’t supposed to care for them. You might be able to get permit to keep it, but find out what the rules are before you tell them you have it. I’m not in the habit of breaking the rules (laws), but I have to disagree with some of the wildlife rules. What is best? That a wild baby have a great life with you or be killed? Oh, if you are thinking of taking it to an animal shelter, please forget it. It is hard enough to find a vet that knows how to care for them and the chances of an animal shelter taking good care of it are slim to none.
I would strongly advise not letting a child under 5 or 6 hold the duck even with supervision, and closely supervise older children. Ducklings/goslings can do very fast leaps and get hurt easily.
EMERGENCY ADULT DUCK CARE
If you have a seriously injured bird
, first try to stop any serious bleeding. Clean the wound gently with peroxide, apply Neosporin and bandage it as best you can with gauze and masking tape. Of course, if you don’t have those materials available, substitute the best you can.
If there is no serious bleeding but it is obviously hurt
, it is best to put the bird in a quiet, darkened place for a while to let it rest. Stress…