Are My Ducks Going to Fly Away if Free-Ranged?

When it comes to giving your birds a high standard of living, one of the very best things you can do for them is free-ranging. Letting them explore, stretch their legs, and find choice bits of “real” food is always going to be good for them.

But free-ranging comes with risks, namely the fact that predators have easier access to the flock and also the fact that your ducks can possibly get away.

Ducks tend to be much better flyers compared to chickens, and that begs the question of whether or not free-ranging is safe. So what’s the story: will your ducks fly away if you free-range them?

No, typically ducks won’t fly away when free-ranged. Domestic ducks prefer to stick close to known sources of food and water, and their coops, and they don’t fly as well as their wild counterparts.

This is a nerve-wracking thing for a lot of newbie duck owners… If you’ve owned chickens before, you know that some of them are fairly decent flyers and can escape over fences, but ducks take it to a whole new level when it comes to actual flight risk.

That being said, free-ranging typically isn’t much of a risk at all. Let that comfort you, and keep reading; there’s a lot more you’ll want to know.

Is Free-Ranging Your Ducks Even a Good Idea?

There are some definite advantages to free-ranging ducks, but it is not necessarily a default option for your flock.

Allowing them to free range is definitely going to provide them with more opportunities for exercise and other activities, which can help keep them healthy by maintaining a healthy weight and working out their muscles.

And free-ranging, as always, also offers ducks with opportunities to find choice bits of food, whether it is an appealing plant, a tasty bug, or something else on your property. That’s a major advantage not just in terms of reducing feed costs, but also improving their overall quality of life and nutrition.

On the other hand, if your flock is free-ranged they are going to be exposed to more predators.

That’s just the way it is, and there’s also a non-zero chance that they can get into and eat things that they shouldn’t, or run into other hazards. A little common sense and preparation will greatly mitigate all of these risks…

Don’t Ducks Fly Pretty Good?

Indeed, ducks do fly pretty well. At least, if we are comparing domestic ducks to typical chickens.

Whereas only a few chicken species are capable of anything that we would call true, sustained flight, there are quite a few domestic duck breeds that can take off and fly around a bit; Muscovies, Khaki Campbells, and Mallards are known for comparatively good flying among domestic breeds.

Domestic Ducks Don’t Fly as Well or as Far as Wild Ducks

Another thing you should know, and the part of the story that is not often repeated when comparing the flight capabilities of ducks and chickens, is that domestic ducks don’t fly anywhere near as well as their wild cousins.

Part of this is because changes in their physiology and musculature have led to greatly reduced flight performance, generally, but also because domestic birds typically don’t feel any need to migrate like their wild counterparts.

More than this, you’ll never see a domestic duck flying along on cross-country treks or high up in the sky. They just aren’t as athletic, and furthermore, domestic breeds have a really difficult time landing on and taking off from water. That’s something that wild ducks do regularly!

Several Domestic Species are Poor Flyers

Are you really worried about your ducks flying away when they are free-ranged? Are you just concerned about them hopping the fence and getting torn limb from limb by your neighbor’s big dogs? What should you do to prevent this?

Well, depending on the breed, you might not have to do anything. There are several domestic breeds that are essentially flightless in the same way that most chickens are.

They can make flapping jumps and leaps, yes, but nothing that would allow them to get over a sizable fence. Anything that is 5 feet tall or taller is likely completely out of reach for them.

Some breeds that are known to be essentially flightless are the Rouen and Cayuga: these heavy-bodied ducks cannot achieve liftoff.

Doing nothing more than a little bit of advance homework before you buy your ducks is all it takes to ensure that they can’t go anywhere, even if they wanted to.

Well, they won’t be able to go anywhere except by walking!

Your Ducks Will Stay Near Their Food, Flock, and Coop

Let’s assume that your ducks could fly away. Let’s just say: Even if they could, they are still unlikely to leave. Why is that?

It’s because everything they care about is there. Ducks care about food, flockmates, and shelter, and that’s pretty much it assuming they aren’t trying to hatch a clutch of eggs.

If any given one of your birds has all those things accounted for, they really won’t have any instinct to leave.

They don’t crave the open sky like you might think with our own ground-bound existence. It might sound strange, but centuries and centuries of keeping domestic ducks have proven this out.

Assuming you’re providing for your flock in the way that you should, they won’t leave and if they do it will only be for a very short period unless something goes horribly wrong. More on that in a moment.

Even if they Do Fly Off They Usually Come Right Back

So, for whatever reason your duck can fly and has decided to leave the property. Oh no, now what!?

If you can believe it, the duck will probably be as surprised as you are to find out that it isn’t close to home. Chances are, when the animal realizes that, it will turn around and come right back.

And there’s no need to fear it getting lost: ducks are very much like all birds in that they have excellent navigational and general homing capabilities.

Wherever it has flown to, it will be turning around and looking for familiar territory very soon in most cases. At any rate, it will definitely be looking and listening for its mate or its flockmates.

Now, this isn’t to say that ducks don’t fly away from time to time…

Maybe they’ll be gone for an extended amount of time. Maybe they’ll fly away for good. Maybe they get into trouble or get overtaken by a predator or injured in an accident while they are gone.

These things do happen, but they’re a whole lot rarer than you might think unless you’ve owned ducks for some time.

For Really Escape-Prone Ducks, Wing Clipping Works

And, of course, there is another option for preventing escape attempts entirely. You can clip a duck’s wings just like you can a chicken’s or any other bird’s.

Contrary to the very vocal assertions of some folks, you’re not maiming or crippling a duck when you do this: done properly and carefully, it is a temporary trimming of the flight feathers that will completely eliminate their ability to fly for a time. That is, until those feathers regrow.

It’s not something you should attempt if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, but these services are widely available from vets and other poultry care professionals.

If you absolutely want to give your ducks a better quality of life by letting them free range, but you are worried sick about escapes and flyaways, you should consider wing clipping as a solution.

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