I walked to my coop that holds my ducks and chickens, and I saw feathers everywhere. Did a predator attack? No – it’s time for duck molting.
I knew that chickens molted each year, but I raised chickens for several years before starting to raise ducks. It turns out that ducks molt, similar to chickens but yet different. Flock owners need to know that waterfowl will drop feathers as well, or you’ll be surprised like me.
The first time I saw my chickens molt, I was sure that something was wrong – did they have a disease?
Molting is part of being a bird; feathers need to be shed to regrow new ones at appropriate times throughout the year. Ducks molt each year as well, but they have different molting times, and they molt more than once per year.
If you’re wondering why your ducks are losing feathers, keep reading, and don’t panic. This is all normal and natural!
Why Ducks Molt
Molting is the process of losing old feathers and regrowing near feathers. All birds molt because their feathers are a vital part of their survival.
Ducks feathers have seriously important jobs. They help with flight, insulation, flotation, camouflage, and attracting mates. Waterfowl keep their feathers in prime shape, and molting how they replace their old feathers we new ones.
Duck molting differs from other bird species.
Chickens molt their feathers in stages in the fall. It starts at their head and ending with their tail. The process takes a few months to complete; it feels like it drags on forever.
Some waterfowl go through a process called simultaneous molt. This means they lose their feathers all at one time and regrow them within a few weeks.
Honestly, I think this is better because it’s done faster than chicken molting, but the first time you see it in person feels a bit concerning. You suddenly have naked ducks!
When Do Ducks Molt?
Ducks go through two main molting periods in the year: mid-summer and late winter/early spring. The timing of ducks molting also depends on their age and sex.
The first molt that a duck experiences is when they’re 10-12 weeks old. This is when ducklings grow their first set of feathers; you won’t be able to tell males and females apart during this time.
Ducks develop their first set of feathers when they’re 6-7 weeks old, but a few weeks later, they shed those first juvenile feathers and start to grow feathers with different colors. This is when you’ll be able to tell whether you have males or females.
Early Spring Molt
You might not notice that your ducks molt in the spring; you might seem a few stray feathers around your coop. Depending on your area, this molt might take place in the late winter.
Early spring is all about mating for ducks. A drake needs to have the best and brightest plumage to attract the females; this is why this molt is sometimes called the “nuptial” molt. Drakes ditch their ugly winter feathers and replace them with bright feathers.
In the spring, hens have bright bars and wing markings. The goal is breeding; this is when you might notice some fighting between your ducks. Drakes try to mate any hen they see, and hens might feel protective over their favorite drake.
Summer is the major molt for ducks; it takes 2-3 weeks in the middle of the summer for ducks to molt after breeding season comes to an end.
Drakes drop their breeding feathers and grow drab, matte plumage that looks more like a hen’s plumage. These feathers are more muted, allowing ducks to hide from predators.
The mid-summer molt is when all ducks, males and females, lose a majority of their downy undercoat, the insulating feathers under their top feathers. You might not realize how many feathers are under there, but trust me, it’s a lot.
During this molt, ducks lose all their primary flight feathers. Wild ducks lose their ability to fly during this period, but your backyard ducks won’t notice the loss of flight.
You won’t have totally naked ducks. Nature leaves their waterproof top feathers that are needed for ducks to stay afloat in the winter. The waterproof top feathers are replaced over the course of a year.
The best part of a ducks molt is that it takes only two weeks. Chickens take FOREVER to molt – sometimes months.
Female Ducks Molt Differently
One thing to note is that female ducks typically only molt once a year; this is in the late spring and early summer. Nature did this on purpose because this is the time when ducks traditionally have ducklings to tend.
Mother ducks would remove and shed their feathers to create a nest for their babies. She drops the outer feathers, keeping the soft ones while she hatches the eggs.
Later in the summer, female ducks regrow their feathers when their babies are older – isn’t nature awesome?
How to Tell if a Duck is Molting
Duck molting doesn’t last forever, so you might wonder how you can tell if your ducks are molting. Here are some signs that your ducks are molting.
Reduction in Egg Laying
When your ducks go through the molting period, expect egg laying to drastically decrease or stop entirely. It takes a lot of energy and protein to regrow feathers.
The good thing is that ducks will start to lay again when their molting season is over.
Another sign of duck molting is that their behavior might be more subdued than normal. They might seem to be quieter and doing less duck-like things in the run throughout the day.
Chances are they’re tired; regrowing feathers takes lots of their energy.
Clumps of Feathers Everywhere
The most obvious sign of molting is that it looks like a major pillow fight happened in your run and coop. If you think that a predator came in and killed a duck but everyone looks fine, molting began.
How to Help When Your Ducks Molt
Duck feathers are made of mostly amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Your ducks’ bodies need extra protein during molting to help regrow feathers.
It’s no surprise that Mother Nature put molting during the spring and summer when bugs are the most abundant in nature. Ducks in the wild eat thousands – literally – of bugs throughout the day to ensure they have adequate protein for feather growth.
Here are some things you can do to help when your ducks molt.
1. Give Your Ducks More Protein
Since their bodies need plenty of protein, one of the best things to do is give them extra protein. You can do this by switching to a higher protein feed, but if you feed them an all flock feed because you raise ducks and chickens together, provide your flock with extra mealworms.
Another solution is to allow your ducks to free range while they molt. Doing this gives them the opportunity to find all the bugs they want to eat.
2. Make Sure They Have Plenty of Water
Something else you need to do is provide extra clean, fresh water to keep their sinuses clear as they preen the feathers from their bodies.
3. Avoid Excessive Handling
The new feathers are sensitive to touch; they break and bleed if bent or moved the wrong way. During this time, you should avoid handling your ducks too much during these weeks.
Not everyone know that ducks molt, but it’s true! Waterfowl molt like chickens – expect it every year and don’t be surprised when your egg production decreases a bit. Luckily, ducks molting doesn’t last as long as chickens molt!