Is Your Duck or Duckling Panting? 11 Reasons Why It Happens

Our ducks exhibit all kinds of strange and sometimes humorous behaviors. They tend to be inquisitive and sometimes playful with people and each other. Some of my fondest afternoons are spent watching my ducks roam around and explore the yard. But for more than just fun, it pays to be acquainted with the way they act.

chickens and Pekin ducks
Some chickens and Pekin ducks on the homestead. yes, the white one in the foreground does have its bill open but it’s not panting, it’s foraging. 🙂

Sometimes their behaviors can tip you off that something is wrong. One behavior that some new owners don’t expect is panting. Yes, that’s right. Ducks and ducklings alike will pant, or at least they will sometimes appear to pant.

This seemingly strange behavior is nothing to worry about, usually, but other times it means that your birds are in danger.

In all cases, you need to investigate and make sure they are all right. Keep reading, and I’ll give you 11 reasons why your ducks might be panting.

Duck is Too Hot (Especially Likely for Ducklings!)

The first reason on our list is also the most obvious, or at least the one you probably thought of first. If our ducks and ducklings get too hot, they will pant, which is simply an open bill accompanied by heavy breathing.

They do this to help cool themselves down as their body temperature climbs, and sometimes if they’re subjected to a sudden, high temperature like being kept out in the sun or under a heat lamp in a brooder, they will start panting even if they aren’t too hot.

As a rule, you don’t want your flock to be too hot for long because that can lead to heat stress, illness, and maybe even death, especially in the case of ducklings.

Always provide shady spots for them to get out of the sun, and make sure ducklings can move away from heat sources in the brooder.

Actively Swallowing Food

The next reason on our list is thankfully nothing to be worried about. When your ducks are actively swallowing food, they may keep their bill open for a short time or open and close it rhythmically, sort of like a fish.

As long as they stop doing this and then go back to the bowl for more food, or water, you don’t have a thing to worry about. If they keep doing it, especially while or immediately after they are done eating, there might be a problem. Those are the next two entries on our list.

Ate Too Much

Strangely, if ducks overeat, and believe me, they will if you give them the opportunity, the stress of a full gizzard and sometimes crop will lead them to pant reflexively.

It’s almost like they’re trying to urge the food along in their digestive system. Unfortunately, this does not work. Turns out our ducks tend to be pretty miserable when they are too full, just like we do!

Chances are if your ducks have overeaten that you’re responsible for it, either giving them way too much or letting them fill up on rich, sweet treats. Make sure in the future you more carefully portion out their meals to prevent them from becoming uncomfortably full like this.


If your duck is pumping its hind end up and down erratically and holding its bill open during or after a meal, or opening and closing it in long stretches, it might be choking.

Regrettably, adults and ducklings are both fairly prone to choking, especially if you give them sticky food like mash or if they’re forced to eat dry food without adequate water nearby to help them swallow.

Ducks will also happily pick up and try to swallow things that are totally inedible, often pieces of metal like screws, washers, and so forth.

Obviously, this is a major hazard, and you should try to inspect the back of their mouth and throat to see if it’s possible to pull or swipe out the obstruction. If you can’t, get the duck to a vet right away.

High Stress Levels

Ducks are like any other animals that we might keep in that they can suffer from stress. Stress can come from internal or external sources.

If they’re feeling too much pressure from rivals or aggressive mates in the flock, dealing with loud and startling noises, undergoing constant predator attacks, kept in dirty conditions, or too hot or too cold, they will start getting stressed out.

A consequence of sustained, high-stress levels is panting, much in the same way that a dog will do when frightened or stressed. Make it a point to reduce or eliminate these stressors systematically, and your ducks should stop panting.

Illness or Injury

Another cause of panting is illness and injury. Injury causes pain, of course, and proportional to the pain will be the stress level that the duck experiences. As we just learned, high stress equals lots of panting.

Illness can be a little trickier to diagnose, both because ducks are stoic and also because many respiratory diseases and ailments can immediately cause panting since they make it harder or painful for the duck to breathe.

If you’ve ruled out stress, problems with food or temperature, and only one or two of your ducks are panting, suspect sickness.

Airway Obstruction

Something else to suspect, particularly in the case of a single duck seeming to pant with no other cause, is airway obstruction.

This could be related to illness in the form of mucus or phlegm, or there might be a physical blockage of the airway due to swelling, internal injury, or even the inhalation of something like plastic, twine, or other fine and clingy materials.

Chances are this is nothing you’ll be able to correct yourself, but it will cause the duck considerable stress, and they should pant continuously until things improve.

Don’t hesitate to take the affected animal to the vet for assistance. Keep in mind that if the situation gets worse, they might suffocate, so act quickly.

Clogged Nasal Passages

This is sort of a rider to the previous cause on our list, but distinct enough that it requires its own entry. Keep an eye on the nostrils of your ducks if they seem to be panting more than usual, and you’ve ruled out the other causes on our list.

If you also notice your duck to be sneezing frequently, that is a sure giveaway assuming they aren’t getting sick.

Check their nose for caked-up dust, a tiny sliver of grass, straw or hay, or anything else that could get in there and irritate them. Sometimes they can dunk their head and get it out, but if they can’t, you’ll need to help them, but do so carefully.


One of the worst possible causes of panting is lungworms. They are exactly what they sound like.

These parasites can afflict many kinds of birds, and they tend to take up residence in the airway or the lungs themselves as part of their reproductive cycle, feeding on the easily accessible blood there thanks to how delicate these tissues are.

Panting, coughing, and sometimes sneezing are common symptoms, and if you rule out other causes it definitely warrants a trip to the vet pronto because the longer the infection goes on the more damage they can do to the respiratory system of your poor duck.


I’ve said it over and over again, and so have lots of other folks trying to educate others about ducks: your birds must have unlimited access to fresh clean drinking water at all times.

Don’t assume that they’ll get all the water they need to stay hydrated when they take a dip in the pond or pool. Plus, that water might be so filthy that they don’t want to drink it – at least it will be if you haven’t been cleaning up after them!

Make sure that their water source is constantly full, clean, and clear. Ducks dehydrate quicker than you think thanks to their high metabolisms, and when they do, they will pant.


Finally, some good news on this list! Some adult ducks, but not all, and many ducklings will seem to pant by opening and closing their bill almost like they are chattering happily to see you, even if they aren’t making any noise.

This panting motion is actually just a display of excitement and happiness, and nothing to be worried about.

If your ducks haven’t seen you in a little while, or you are coming to greet them with their favorite treats in hand, don’t be surprised if they all start “panting” in this way!

panting ducks Pinterest image

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