If there is any animal alive more adorable than a baby duck, I just don’t know what it is. And sure, cuteness is no good reason to get any animal, but if we’re being honest the appeal of ducks is just too hard to resist for some people.
But as cute as they are, ducks quickly get noisy, smelly and just too much to handle when they are indoors.
Many owners quickly start to develop anxiety over just when they can turn their ducks loose outside. So, what’s the earliest age that baby ducks can go outside?
Baby ducks are ready to go outside with supervision between 3 and 5 weeks old, depending on breed and growth rate. Baby ducks require supervision because they are still very vulnerable to predators, cold temperatures and even drowning.
Around this age, baby ducks will look a lot closer to their adult counterparts, but they still won’t be fully developed and it’s unlikely that they will have a full set of proper feathers.
But, this is still a ripe age to start getting them used to the outdoors, and helping them acclimatize to their new home.
There’s a lot more you should know, as you’d imagine, and I’ll tell you about it below.
Baby Ducks are Usually Ready to Start Going Outside at 3 to 5 Weeks Old
You generally don’t want to take your baby ducks outside before 3 weeks of age at the earliest because they just won’t be able to handle the shock.
Baby ducks are surprisingly vulnerable to temperature swings, and if you’ve been following correct procedure and keeping them warm in the brooder prior to this, even taking them outside on a pleasant spring day might be too chilly.
Also, keep in mind that ducks grow at different rates depending on the breed, their overall health, nutrition and other factors.
Some ducks might be a lot farther along at 3 weeks while others could still look quite immature for their age at 5 weeks.
Use good judgment, and keep your ducks in the brooder or at least indoors until they are mature enough to handle a short foray outside.
Be Careful! Baby Ducks Still Need Constant Supervision!
If you take away nothing else from this article, remember this: your ducks still need supervision while outdoors! And I mean constant supervision.
Don’t just turn them loose and hope for the best because they are ducks and instinctively know what to do and how to protect themselves. Whatever!
If you don’t keep an eye on your ducks while they are this young, bad things will happen, guaranteed.
Predators Can and Will Swipe Unsupervised Baby Ducks
One of the single biggest threats for your precious babies is predators, including predators that you wouldn’t expect.
As it turns out, pretty much every animal in the world likes the taste of duck. I guess ducks share this curse with chickens!
All sorts of animals will happily and greedily pick off your baby ducks as they go to and fro outside: Coyotes, foxes, raccoons, possums, snakes, every kind of bird of prey including hawks, eagles, owls and even large crows or ravens.
Sadly, many domestic animals will also kill ducklings, including dogs and especially cats.
On that note, you better think twice before you let your pet dog or cat run loose with your ducklings.
If the animal does not have a proven track record of peaceful temperament with chicks or ducklings, don’t trust them.
The small, scuttling ducklings and their high-pitched cheeping well easily activate the prey drives of our carnivorous pets.
Believe me, that will set the stage for a traumatic core memory in children, and more than a few adults!
Baby Ducks are Still Highly Vulnerable to Cold at this Age
Baby ducks are vulnerable to cold temperatures, which pose another significant threat to them. Even assuming your ducklings are pretty well developed by this point, you don’t want to ever take them outside if the temperatures are going to drop below 55° Fahrenheit (12° Celsius).
They are just too vulnerable to hypothermia, and even if they are showing proper feathering they still aren’t fully developed and not nearly as cold-resistant as adult ducks.
A baby duck that gets too cold on an overcast day or tries to take shelter in the shade can easily go into shock and die.
This risk is made even worse if they get wet for any reason, and considering they are ducks and all that, you know they will head for the water as soon as they can.
This isn’t to scare you, and it’s not to say that you can’t let your young ducklings get wet when they go outside, but you must keep an eye on the temperature in addition to watching out for predators!
Baby Ducks Should Not Be Allowed to Swim Unsupervised or Stay Wet
Another risk concerning letting baby ducks go outside for the first time is whenever they go swimming or get wet.
Keep in mind that a duck’s magnificent waterproofing is a function of several elements, namely the design of their mature feathers and also preening that is performed with the benefit of the oils secreted by the preen gland.
This further waterproofs the feathers and increases a duck’s buoyancy and insulation.
Young ducks do not have a fully functional preen gland for some time, and if their feathers are not fully developed they will offer neither the insulation nor the buoyancy that they need to spend a lot of time in the water.
Because of this, ducklings are vulnerable to becoming waterlogged and drowning or getting chilled after leaving the water because they will stay wet.
Never let your baby ducks swim in deep water if they are not within arm’s reach at all times, and make sure that you always dry them off after they go for a swim or play in the water.
Use a Baby Duck’s Feathering as a Better Indicator for Readiness to Move Out
Probably the best indicator of when your baby ducks are truly ready to head outdoors with minimal worries is the status of their feathers.
Most baby ducks have started to feather between the 3 and 5 week old stage depending on their development, but even then the feathering is usually uneven and takes more time to complete.
Once baby ducks have completely lost their down, even if the feathering is not complete, you’ll know they are much closer to true adolescence and ready to head outdoors for the first time with comparative safety.
If in Doubt, Wait Until Your Ducks are 7 to 8 Weeks Old
If you have any doubts whatsoever about whether or not your baby ducks can or should be outside, just give it more time if you can stand it.
Once your ducklings have reached between 7 and 8 weeks of age, possibly 9 at the most if they are slow growers, you can be confident that they are ready to go outside, and can stay outside unless the temperatures really drop.
And remember, ducks are used to living outside and adult ducks are far more resistant to moisture and cold than baby ducks, so once they are fully mature you won’t need to keep an eye on the thermometer anymore unless the temperatures are truly cold.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.