Importance of Bathing For Waterfowl

by Manda H

Published December 5, 2022

If you have owned ducks or geese, you already know how messy they can be. As soon as you give them fresh water, they instantly bathe and play in it. It seems like, within a matter of minutes, their water source looks like you never even cleaned it.

Duck Bathing in water trough Meyer Hatchery

As frustrating as waterfowl can be with their messiness and water-soaked lives, ducks and geese need to have an open water source. Let’s look at why ducks and geese need a swimming spot instead of simply having a poultry waterer to drink from as chickens do.

Duck Meyer Hatchery

Cleaning Nasal Passages and Eyes

If you’ve looked closely at a duck or goose bill, you may notice that their nostrils are situated on the top of the bill. This location means they can’t use gravity to their advantage to clear their nostrils of food and other debris. Chickens, who have nostrils on the sides of their beak, can shake their heads to clear the nostrils. If waterfowl only used shaking to clear their nostrils, the debris may fall further into their nasal cavity, causing further issues. Instead, waterfowl will use their open water to flush their nostrils of any debris. You’ll often see them submerging their heads in the water and give their bill a gentle side-to-side motion. They allow water to flow through their nasal passages and blow air through their nostrils to clean out debris. Waterfowl also submerge their entire heads to keep their eyes clean and healthy.

Bathing And Preening

Ducks are notorious for their “waterproof” feathers. After all, you’ve probably heard the saying, “like water off a duck’s back,” as an idiom for criticism or warning given to someone that has no effect on that person. Water poured on a duck’s back rolls right off without getting the duck wet.

Cayuga Ducks Bathing Meyer Hatchery

Geese also have a similar protective quality to their plumage, but to a lesser degree than ducks. Both ducks and geese need to have regular access to a large enough body of water to allow them to get in the water and give their feathers a good wash. If you cannot provide your waterfowl continuous access to a pond or shallow tub of water, at least allow them to have a weekly opportunity to take a bath. For daily watering, you may find that giving your waterfowl a trough-type waterer or a jug-type waterer with a deep reservoir made specifically for ducks will help you manage the messiness.

Bathing allows waterfowl to keep their feathers in the best condition. When they bathe, the birds remove contamination from the feathers and spread oils from the preening gland (also known as the uropygial gland) over the feathers. This oil is what gives the birds their waterproofing. After a bath, you’ll see them spend some time in a sunny spot preening for quite some time. They are redistributing the oils and “re-waterproofing” their feathers.

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