Caring For Ducklings:
Ducklings get orphaned for any number of reasons including the Mum being killed or chased off, the ducklings simply getting separated or being swept away in a stream or being unwell so the Mum abandons it so as not to attract unwelcome attention from predators looking for the weak.
It has been my experience that once separated from Mum it is unusual to get them paired up again and other Mums certainly won’t take them on and in fact will try and kill them if they encroach upon their clutch of ducklings.
Males do not take over looking after ducklings if Mum is no longer around so once ducklings become orphaned they need to be cared for promptly or they will die. They usually die from cold or predation.
Keeping ducklings alive short term is relatively simple if you can provide a few basics:
Housing – a wine or beer carton is big enough for upto a dozen new ducklings. Be careful to keep the holes less than the size of a 50 cent coin as they can escape through very small gaps. A cat cage will not work as they will escape and it will be hard to keep it warm enough. Be careful that the lid of their house is properly covered in as ducklings, particularly Paradise ducklings can jump and claw their way out of many enclosures. A hot water cupboard is a great place to keep them in their box as it is warm, quiet and dark. A small cuddly toy can be something useful for them to cuddle into or upto.
Warmth – ducklings rely upon their Mum for warmth so you need to provide replacement warmth. A hot water bottle covered with a pillow slip to stop the ducklings burning themselves is a great and easy source of heat. You will need to keep the hot water bottle topped up with hot water as it will quickly cool over the hours. Be careful to not place the hot water bottle such that the ducklings can get jammed in between it and their temporary home. Alternatively a wheat bag or a pet electric blanket can be used or even an old desk lamp can be used as a heat source. A temperature of upto 28 degrees Celsius is fine.
Water – ducks need water to drink (they do not drink milk). The water needs to be set up so they can drink but not bathe in it. A duckling that gets wet can easily get hypothermic and die as it does not have adequate water proofing or its own internal heat or fortitude to get dry. One way of providing such water is a low shallow bowl or large lid of a jar with a rock in the middle that will allow them to drink but preclude them from bathing in it.
Food – as a temporary diet completely soaked cat biscuits or Wheetbix or wet cat food is adequate. You can try a combination of these sorts of foods. Wet brown bread is another option but it does not have enough protein in it to do much good and white bread is pretty much a total waste of time but is certainly a last resort if nothing else is available. The food needs to be changed at least every other day and it should be changed if it smells off or if there is much duck faeces in it. Chick crumbles or equivalent brands of chick feed is the only feed to provide ducklings if you are caring for them for more than a few days as it has the correct balance of protein and vitamins and minerals etc for proper body growth and development. Improper diet will lead to skeletal abnormalities, water-proofing difficulties and other growth and developmental issues such as angel-wing so just like any other pet or a human, correct diet is essential particularly in the initial 4 months of their life when they develop and grow.
Keep them quiet and restrict interaction with humans – Ducklings can easily die of shock and when you think about how big we are in comparison to their size we must terrify them so when caring for ducks they need to be kept quiet and are not toys to be played with or handled all the time. Keep all other pets and children well away from them; they are living beings, not toys or pets.
General: Ducks like all birds have specific feed and housing requirements which if not met will result in a high level of mortality. Correctly looked after you can expect an approx. 98% survival rate of orphaned ducklings.
Long-Term Care: Few ducklings survive in long-term care unless you provide 100% perfect care and diet. It is my advice to get any ducklings to somebody who has the proper experience and facilities to look after ducklings.
Water-Proofing: This is a whole other issue that is essential to get 100% right and not something that is successfully achieved without a lot of experience. A lack of water-proofing is a death sentence to ducks and ducklings.