The process of molting is crucial for poultry. Molting allows the birds to get rid of their damaged feathers and grow new ones. Like how we buy a new coat, our bird friends need their new coats. The new feathers help keep the birds warm and insulated in the winter. A new feather “coat” also helps to reduce the chance they will contract mites or parasites. Some birds even molt to strengthen their flight feathers for predator protection.
Ducks Molt Too
You may have noticed when your chickens go through a molt in your flock. Usually, at the end of the summer and early fall, you start to see lots of feathers around your coop like clockwork. You may begin to see some chickens that are a bit “naked” looking too! Egg-laying also stops during this time. It is time for molt! Not only do chickens molt, but ducks molt as well, only they molt in a little different way than our chickens do.
Chickens and other birds have a yearly sequential molt, meaning they molt typically around the same time of the year and molt from head to tail. Their molts take a little longer to recover. Ducks and some other waterfowl have a simultaneous molt coupled with smaller molts. A simultaneous molt means they molt a lot of their primary feathers all at once and then regrow their feathers over the next couple of weeks. During this time, they are typically unable to fly, but the ducks are fantastic at adapting. They retain the feathers needed to stay waterproof while they are swimming. Ducks molt in phases, different feather areas at a time. A duck molt recovery time, in general, is much quicker than a chicken molt.
Male and Female Ducks Molt Differently
Male and female ducks have different molting schedules. When ducks are ducklings moving into the juvenile stage, they will go through a series of molts while growing in their adult feathers. You may see your ducks lose their duckling feather coloration and start to form their adult colors during this time. Molting can happen several times before you see the true adult feather colors.
As adults, female ducks can molt up to twice a year. During the spring molt for female ducks, they keep enough feathers to keep a clutch of eggs warm. Their molted feathers become a part of the nest to help insulate the nest and keep the ducklings cozy after hatching. Female ducks can also go through a molt in the summer, where they molt their down feathers and regrow them after the breeding and hatching season. If they are still raising ducklings, they may move their nest to a location that is even safer from predators since the ducklings and the mother ducks are growing their flight feathers at this time. They instinctively know to be extra careful during this time.
Male ducks can molt a few times during the year. Their first partial molt is known as the “nuptial” molt. During this time, the drakes will molt and grow in their more brightly colored feathers. This molt usually happens right before mating season, making them very “fancy and attractive” for the female ducks. After mating season, drakes will go through an “eclipse” molt. With this molt, they lose their more flashy feathers and regrow more camouflage-type feathers. This molt helps to protect from the predators of the summer and fall. The drakes will have more of a complete molt with the eclipse molt, even molting their down feathers. For both the female and male ducks during the summer molt, you may see some “rough” looking ducks for a few weeks, but know your ducks will recover quickly. Seeing many feathers in the coop can be scary, but it’s a natural, good process.
Helping Ducks Through Molt
Ducks are known to be very good at molting. Waterfowl, in general, are very hardy, but there are a few things you can do to help your ducks during molt. You may find that your ducks are eating more feed during the molt than usual. Growing feathers is tough work! Feathers are made up of 90% protein, and it is helpful to supplement your duck’s feed during this time. Be sure your ducks receive the correct amount of 15-17% protein in their feed.
You can add other supplements such as Coop Kelp and Brewer’s Yeast that will help your ducks throughout molt. These supplements offer extra vitamins to help your ducks recover. You can give your ducks some higher protein treats such as mealworms, feeder fish, and even dried insects. If you offer your ducks some mealworms, they will love you for the treat. Many ducks relish these treats! As your ducks forage, they search for bugs, worms, and other sources of protein. You can even offer your ducks herbs such as dill, basil, and parsley for an extra boost. Mix the spices right into their feed, or float some fresh herbs in their pond or pool. It’s a great boredom buster too!
Avoid Excessive Handling
While your ducks are molting, you want to be sure not to handle them too much. Their new feathers are sensitive and can even break off, causing light bleeding. Some extra bedding in their coop is beneficial during a molt. Be sure to keep your duck coop dry, not only during molt but at all times. During the molt, you will see a decrease in egg-laying as your ducks are working to regrow their feathers. You may notice your ducks hide a little more during the molt or are more subdued. This behavior is typical since they are in a resting, rebuilding time. Within a few weeks, your ducks will be back to their regular routine.
The next time you find a big pile of feathers in your duck coop, take a look at your calendar and remember your duck’s molting schedule. Soon you will see your duck’s brand new “feather” coat! Be sure to visit Meyer Hatchery’s great selection of ducklings to add to your backyard flock!
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