We are asked about all sorts of waterfowl-related matters. These are some of the most common subjects:

If you keep any waterfowl they will love a large pond, but you will need to fence them in and predators out. Even if you have never seen a fox, they will be about.

The current biosecurity requirements due to Bird Flu are that captive birds are prevented from having access to large open bodies of water. This is because the risk of transmission is significant from wild birds at the moment.

If you wish to keep non-native species, you will need to prevent them flying off. Especially when they hatch youngsters. Any captive birds are an attractive meal for predators — have a look at our fencing page.

Ducks, geese and swans all need water, but in numbers they will substantially change the biology of the pond. Nitrogen levels will rise, tasty plants and smaller creatures will get eaten.

The natural diet of waterfowl is varied; vegetation, seeds and aquatic animals. Many are adept at exploiting any available food source. Highly processed white bread will fill an empty belly, but it is lacking in many dietary essentials. There are better alternatives, such as chopped green vegetables, sweet corn or peas. Duck, goose and swan food is readily available and provides a balanced diet. Wholemeal bread is better than white.

Feeding the birds on a local pond or river is a pleasure that has started many on the path of enjoying waterfowl, but there are some pitfalls.

Artificial feeding encourages an unnaturally high population. High densities of birds can lead to disease, poor water quality and territorial disputes. The margins of the waterbody may become eroded and muddy, birds may fail to disperse at natural migration times. Waterfowl will hoover up most small living creatures, so there will be a loss of biodiversity. Uneaten artificial food encourages vermin. Some, like rats, can harbour disease and cause issues for human health.

Hard as it is to imagine, there are some who do not like waterfowl, mainly for these reasons. In a public space there will be many different opinions. 

In Mallards and their domestic descendants, drakes (male) have a soft rasping voice, but the ducks (female) are the ones with the harsh ‘quack’. Anything that gets birds excited can make them have something to say.

The Call Duck was specifically bred to ‘call’ wild Mallard in for hunters. Over time, the small size and nice nature of this breed has made it understandably popular as a pet and exhibition bird. The Call is probably the noisiest of the ducks. Definitely something to be aware of if you have close neighbours.

Some of the wildfowl have plenty to say, but this is usually running up to the breeding season.

If in doubt, try to visit someone who has some of the birds you are interested in.

The most likely waterfowl you will regularly see close to human habitation inland are:


Feral ducks — ones that were once domesticated but now live in the wild. Escaped or deliberately released.

Mute Swan

Greylag Goose

Feral geese — ones that were once domesticated but now live in the wild. Escaped or deliberately released.

Egyptian Goose

Tufted Duck

You will find all the waterfowl listed in taxonomic order (that is approximately the order in which they evolved) under the menu. There is also an A to Z guide on the Home Page.

White bibs on ducks are a good indicator of domestic blood in the family tree. Mallard genetics are widely studied and understood, the bib is a dominant trait.

It is useful to look at where a bird is expected to be found. A mottled slate-blue duck with a slightly odd beak is not likely to be a Blue Duck, unless you are reading our pages in New Zealand!

Shutting birds in is largely a matter of convenience & cost in giving them protection from predators. Domesticated waterfowl adapt well to being housed and can easily be trained to settle into a shed at night. Bribery and routine are all you need. Egg collecting from housed birds is usually easier than scouring the hedgerows for secret nests!

Wildfowl are usually not so keen to be under cover. Keepers of these use high fences, usually with electric outer wires, to protect their collections.

Waterfowl are easy to care for, but with any livestock there is a commitment. The ideal solution is to find someone nearby who will take on the birds.

We have a network of members all over the country, keeping all kinds of waterfowl. If you need help with re-homing, please tell us what breeds/species there are (if you know). Photographs can be helpful.

Contact secretary@waterfowl.org.uk and we will do our best to help.


Have another question? We may well have the topic covered on our site:

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