Waterfowl for your garden

When selecting a duckling, always look for fluffy ones with bright eyes
When selecting a duckling, always look for fluffy ones with bright eyes

Are you interested in keeping waterfowl in your garden? Aviculture is enjoyed by people from all walks of life and provides a wonderful way for bird enthusiasts to learn more about various species.

Provided they have a home which is quite similar to their natural habitats and access to food and shelter, waterfowl are a wonderful asset to the garden, providing colour and sound. They’re also great for natural pest control.


Before purchasing waterfowl, you must learn more about any permits that may be required in your area. CapeNature requires permits for all exotic and indigenous species of waterfowl. An inspection of the habitat will be done for first-time applications and where applicants have over a certain amount of species. Permits to transport waterfowl from one location to another are also required.

Gauteng Nature Conservation requires permits for indigenous species only. Once the application is processed, an arrangement to inspect the habitat will be made before a permit is issued.

Not all rules apply to all provinces, so contact your local wildlife or nature conservation body for further information. Also check the municipal by-laws in your area. A municipal permit may be required in addition to the conservation permits. Ducks, geese and swans are included under poultry in municipal by-laws.

shutterstock_103665041Choosing waterfowl

Always purchase your waterfowl from a reputable breeder who has the necessary permits for his stock. Choose captive-bred stock. Not only is it illegal to remove wild ducks from their natural habitat, it is also irresponsible. Captive-bred stock should never be released back into the wild.

Aviculturists agree that over-stocking your pond can lead to problems. Decide on the species you would like to keep and choose a few birds, if possible a pair, in each. Take the size of your pond into account and consider the size of your garden too. Waterfowl do spend time out of the water.

A suitable pond

Small to medium-sized garden ponds may be suitable for one or two pairs of ducks. Swan species need a much larger body of water and are better suited to smallholdings and farms.

The design of the pond can be simple, but a shallow wading area and a good amount of foliage to forage and hide in should be included around the pond. This will give your ducks a more natural habitat in which to live. It makes sense to get your pond up and running before you introduce waterfowl.

Ponds are fairly straightforward to build, provided you have some DIY skills. You’ll need a good pond liner and a pump and filter system to keep the water clean. Running water is cleaner and healthier, so consider putting in a fountain or small cascading waterfall.

Waterfowl also need an enclosure for protection from the elements. If you live on open land and there is a threat of predators, you’ll have to consider a secure shelter for your ducks, especially at night. A small wood structure with a roof and concrete floor is adequate.

General care

  • Ducks are not good starter pets for children. They need daily care.
  • Ducklings must be kept indoors during their first few weeks. They’ll need bedding like grass or straw and something to keep them warm if they are being hand-reared without their mom.
  • In many species of duck, the correct diet is critical for breeding. Ducks who don’t eat well, don’t breed.
  • Junk food isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for your duck. Acceptable treats are chopped green veggies, meal worms and fruit.
  • Always make sure your birds have access to clean, fresh water.
  • Ask your local pet store about a suitable mineral and vitamin supplement for waterfowl. In captivity they may not receive all the nutrients they need.
  • You’ll need to find an avian veterinarian in your area. Waterfowl can develop health issues, and costs to see a specialist vet can be high.
  • Regularly examine your stock for health problems and good general condition. This can be a challenge if your birds aren’t tame, so regular human contact from an early age is recommended.

Text: Gina Hartoog

The full article appears in the October issue of Animaltalk. Get your copy to read about suitable waterfowl breeds for your pond. 


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