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help! Duck experts pls: Raising (wild) ducklings in winter; respiratory issues and wet feather (lon

Discussion in 'Ducks' started by Kimmyh51, Jul 7, 2016.

  1. Kimmyh51

    Kimmyh51 Chirping

    Nov 16, 2015
    I am hoping some duckling experts out there can help me out as I feel as though I am in way over my head right now...

    A bit of background: this is also quite possibly relevant to the health issues my ducks are having... Sorry its long winded, I just wanted to make sure anyone reading understands the environment in case its a contributing factor, and also the (major) limitations I have as far as changing the environment, so they can advise with these in mind...
    I live in New Zealand where it is currently winter. I live on a rural property and we have up to 200 wild mallard ducks that reside here either part or all year round. In the past 12 months, the last 6 to 8 particularly, I have become quite fascinated with them, their social interactions and intelligence. Over summer, in conjunction with a local bird rescue organisation, I raised 4 rescued/orphaned ducklings (all unrelated). After they were fully feathered and able to fly they were released but still came home most nights, living a lifestyle similar to free range ducks. They were my babies

    Fast forward to late autumn, and one of the local wild ducks showed up with 12 ducklings. From mid autumn onward here you can get overnight frosts and temps down to below 0 (celcius). After she had managed to keep all 12 alive for several days I decided I was going to intervene and try and catch her, as I knew she had little chance of raising most or even any of them to independence (feathered and flying). The weather and temperature was unseasonably warm for autumn, but that could change at any time and with 12 ducklings the mother was not going to be able to keep them all warm under her wings for very long.
    I managed to herd them all into one of my duck enclosures, where mummy duck enthusiastically ate a bowl of pallets then just as I was expecting her to start becoming uncomfortable with being in a cage, she went to sleep....
    Things went really well with her and all 12 of those ducklings are now juvenille/adult ducks, healthy and full of confidence (they all think they are 6ft tall lol). They still spend most nights in my duck houses, and so does mum...and her, boyfriend lol.
    Another duck showed up a few days after them with 5 babies but at the time I had no housing for her so didnt try and catch them. All her ducklings died 2 days later and she spent over 2 weeks at the neighbours pond calling out for them desperately it was heartbreaking to watch and at that point I decided I would do everything I could to capture/rescue any other mums and ducklings, if any more showed up. Since then it has been a constant stream of ducks with ducklings. Every couple of weeks more arrive and every time I think that Ive seen the last new brood, another shows up. I have been given one cage and built more. Now I have more ducks than I can handle. I have contacted the bird rescue to see if they can take some but they are also inundated and have no space, and couldnt find anyone who could take any, so I either keep on looking after them all or throw some out to probably die. The latter is not an option for me!
    None of the clutch's I couldnt catch or had no space for, survived all the ducklings were dead in well under a week.
    I dont have much money at the moment as I left full time employment to start my own business, and was still very much in the process of building this up. I now have so many ducks and they take so much time it is hard to get any work done, especially as I dont have a heated workshop to work in and in winter there are only a few hrs each day that are warm enough to work outdoors.
    Anyway, because money is really tight, I simply dont have the funds to take sick ducks to the vet. At the moment I am really struggling just to buy enough food for them. So the only option I have when they get sick is to try and sort it myself. There is a wildlife hospital but evey bird I have taken there has been euthanised, so its a last resort for me.
    I used to buy wood shavings and straw for their runs, but as the number of ducks has grown the amount I was spending became unaffordable.
    I was lucky that someone local offered me a whole lot of free hay and I used that for a while, then started using pine straw (pine needles) that I gathered myself.
    The other problem I am having with the runs is that the ground here is really marshy and doesnt drain well and in winter it becomes a mud pit, even without ducks on it. Its been difficult to find a way to keep the duck runs and houses clean and dry, especially on a budget of $0.
    The ground under the runs is basically a boggy marsh right now. I have built up layer upon layer of pine straw, to raise their ground level above the wet and mud. But if you dig in with your hands and pull that top layer which is about 10-15 cm deep away, you get to water over shitty mud. Not nice.
    I dont like that it is like that but I cannot see any feasable way to change it. The ground is naturally boggy and wet and I dont have another place to move all the housing (I dont own the property). I am moving away from here soon, and currently building a large free range style enclosure in the new place, this means its also not practical or feasable to make big changes to what I have here as it will all be removed soon anyway.
    To put enough bedding down fresh each day to go above the mud and water and produce a dry surface I would literally need to put down (and replace) about 10 to 20 large sacks of shavings and hay. As it is to collect up the 2-3 I was using took at least a couple of hours a day just for that.
    My current duck housing consists of a thick layer of pine straw, which if you burrow down into it, is waterlogged, but dry on top. In the main runs that my older ducks use at night I have started putting down large pieces of carpet.. Dry second hand clean carpet. There is a local flooring company that leave large rolls of used carpet in good clean condition outside their store for anyone to take away. Its all clean, dry, some of it almost looks brand new, and sometimes there are mats and offcuts that actually are brand new.
    So I put this all around the outdoor pen on top of the bedding. It makes it easier to clean in the morning. Because I dont have enough space, in the day time when The older ducks are out free ranging, the mothers and small ducklings use the same area as their day pen/run. In the mornings I remove the carpet (which is hosed clean and laid out to dry then reused a few days later when dry). I then usually either hose down the poo, or remove the really soiled material before allowing the mum and ducklings out. However some days I end up letting them out after only removing the carpet. This is because I have bad circulation and cannot do much with my hands in freezing temperatures. Cleaning out the runs is impossible with my ski gloves on, and excrutiatingly painful till at least late morning with them off. Also the pipes and hose often freeze and I cannot get any water out of them till late morning Making cleaning impossible. Some days it stays frozen so late that the mother duck is going stir crazy wanting out of the small space they are in at night. On days where I do let them out before fully cleaning the runs, I try and pick up the worst of it then do the rest once it thaws, but its far from ideal.
    The ducks and ducklings indoor night areas consist of a house, insulated with carpet around the walls and floor. Their bedding is normally a fresh piece of carpet on the floor wit a little hay on top. Each mum and bubs has a completely separate house and run. They each have a light with the older type fluorescent bulb in it to put out heat. I know ceramic heat lamps without the light would be better but I simply dont have the money to buy them. The lights I do use are a cheap workshop lamp which is only $10 and lately money has been so tight I had to wait about 3 weeks to buy the last one I got I just didnt have even $10 spare.
    I was using pine needles as bedding, but switched to the carpet (over the pine needles) as it i think is nicer for them and warmer and easier to clean up, as I can just take off the carpet and 90% of the poos go with it.
    I live in a small space (small camper) myself at the moment so have no indoors place to house any ducks except a couple of boxes used to house any ducks needing urgent care or warming up.
    I let the mother ducks and ducklings outdoors each day, because it would,be cruel not to. but some days it is so cold and damp I have to keep watching them in case a duckling gets too cold and needs to be rushed inside and warmed up. If the weather is really,bad, ie raining, I will restrict them to just the small run by their house, which I can cover so they dont get wet. If the mother has wet feather and goes off and returns wet, the whole lot go straight inside under the light till dry. But even when its not raining, its still often cold and I have to watch the, for signs any ducklings are getting too cold.
    Its just too cold, wet and miserable for ducklings!
    Anyway on to the health issues I need some advice on...

    of the most recent ducklings, it seems that many have some sort of respiratory problem. I have spent hours online researching but still dont know what it is or even have a most likely suspect
    I have treated the one of the worst cases in an older duckling with antibiotics, antifungals, wormed it with a standard wormer, and also with abamectin for gapeworm. None of these treatments seemed to make any difference. In another duck it got a hoarse voice (it was a girl and her loud girl duck quack had already developed, it was not her voice breaking). That duck also started making weird groaning moaning noises when at rest but if I picked her up she would,breathe without the noise. I eventually tried antibiotics, (erythromycin) on her which seemed to clear it up almost immediately. Another duck started getting the same thing and the same treatment fixed those symptoms on her.

    However many if not most of the ducks seem to have some sort of congestion that isnt responding to anything (antibiotics, antifungals, worming meds incl for gapeworm).

    Some have had this congestion for weeks now with no improvement or deterioration and seemingly no response to antibiotics. If you think of a person with a bad head cold. Imagine they wont blow their nose,and then imagine the sound when they breathe through their bunged up nose, that is what these ducks sound like. A whistling congested sound. Some also have some other sounds I can hear if I put their chest to my ear and listen to them breath. Sort of a noisy rattling sound.
    - None are making the gaping gestures that I read are typical of gapeworm
    - None are off their food or water.most have normal energy levels, some are a little lethargic
    - One had swollen sinus's which have resolved now but the congestion sounds remain
    - None have any noticeable mucous or discharge from their nares, eyes etc
    - None have conjunctivitus, or coughing

    Tonight I had a 2 week old duckling die unexpectedly on me.

    I had the same duckling indoors overnight last night as it got a little cold. It has not grown much, at almost 2.5 weeks it was the same size as those in a clutch that are just on one week tomorrow. I took it inside last night as it got cold. It sounded congested last night like many of the others. It was also panting or breathing hard overnight last night and maybe gasping a little. I didnt give it any medication as it is so young and as small as a duckling under a week old, and I didnt know what was wrong. Last night though it was having obvious breathing issues, it was still alert and normally active and able to chirp.
    It was outside today with the rest of its clutch and mum and doing fine. Tonight it was fine earlier but later on when I checked on them was just sitting not moving even when I put my hand near it (would usually run away) so I took it indoors thinking it was a bit cold. I really did not expect this duckling to die on me. It was quiet and still when I brought it in, but still able to walk, move, and so on, so I feel like its my fault it died, that maybe if i had just left it it would not have died...[​IMG]
    I warmed it up and went to give it some warm water with sugar via syringe, but noticed straight away when it was opening its mouth trying to swallow the water, that it was making some really congested sounds and it sounded as if it was just full of fluid and unable to swallow the water very well. (This wasn't the water, as it was sounding this way even as I just started to syringe it in)
    I actually thought At first that its nares were maybe badly blocked, as this clutch have not been given access to swimming, as the mother has wet feather. I havent tried to take all the ducklings inside and give them a swim in a warm bath (then dry and keep warm) as I normally do because the mother is very nervous and protective and if I tried to take them all inside she would freak out, attack me and get very distressed. I figured that the benefits of a warm bath/swim wouldn't outweigh the stress that it would cause to do that.
    Ithe duckling was also starting to gasp and gape (the only duckling that has ever started to 'gape' and I wondered if it maybe had gapeworm? At this point its congestion and breathing issues had become much more severe than any of the other ducks in my care have had. It was a lot younger, though most the other ducks didnt get congestion till around 4 weeks old. It sounded almost as if maybe there was a lot of fluid in its lungs, so much that it was having real trouble breathing.

    Anyway thinking it needed to flush its nares, I ran a warm sink of water and bathed it, being super careful to dry it off afterward and put it on a warm hottie in a small box with an electric blanket on the hottest setting all around it. I also flushed its nares out very gently with a very small amount of saline which I warmed up first after it made no attempt itself to blow out its nares.
    It seemed fine (Well the same) while drying and sitting in the warm spot I had for it. But still very congested, gaping etc and it wasnt able to chirp, and I dont think it had been able to since early in the day.
    Anyway about 20 mins later, it suddenly went right downhill, its head flopped back and it started to straighten out its legs behind it like they do when they are going to die. It seemed unable to breath and from there it just sorta shut down and died. I am frustrated because I dont know what killed this duckling. Its the 5th now to die from the same clutch. the rest seemed in perfect health, then...dead. These ones didnt have congestion issues, apart from the one that died tonight
    This clutch was initially 13 and I posted another thread because I had 4 die and didnt know why, I thought the remaining 9 were out of danger and going to do ok, its been over a week since I lost any from that clutch. I was not expecting to lose this one. Maybe there is someone who has raised ducklings for a lot longer than me and has raised them during winter, or has had clutches where a lot have died unexpectedly?
    Maybe this is normal for some clutches? Maybe it was a 2nd or 3rd clutch?
    Or is there something in the environment I am putting them in that may be causing it?

    This is not normal for the ducklings I have had, even in winter. i have had 5 clutches with mums plus one lone duckling and of those there have only been 2 died without knowing the cause. Then 5 dead all from the same clutch:

    1 clutch of 12 all survived
    1 clutch of 4 (when I took them in) 2 have been sickly,but all still alive and now fully feathered, expect will fly soon
    1 clutch of 13- found one dead in first week possibly accidentally trampled or smothered by mum, otherwise cause of death uncertain. Remaining 12 now mostly feathered, free ranging in day
    Clutch of 13: 5 died two went from healthy or ok/stable rapidly downhill and died, the other 3 I found dead so not sure of cause. 8 left at 2.5 weeks
    Clutch of 11: One is suspected to have hatched with leg turned to side, wildlife vet made decision to euthanase. One found dead in bedding where mother was brooding overnight, either accidentally smothered or got too cold.

    The ducklings from the clutch where now 5 have died, were all eating well from the start and they go through a good amount of food. But they dont seem to me to be as large as the others were at this age, they dont seem to be growing as fast. However the mother apparently had them in the wild for 2-3 nights and lost none...those nights were unusually warm though almost like summer, and the nights went back to typical frosty winter the first night she was in my care.

    Second issue with winter ducklings (well their mums)
    Wet feather: am I causing it?
    I have also had two mother ducks who were normally waterproof develop wet feather In my care. One the first night she arrived, the afternoon they arrived the duckligns were swimming and clearly waterproof the following morning they were not.
    The other was fine for about 5-6 days then I moved her from outside in a shelter under a light into a proper house with insulation and the next day she had wet feather. The two ducks with wet feather were never in the same house or in contact. Other ducks were in the houses and runs that both were in and did not develop wet feather. Though the ground and weather has been wet, the bedding and houses of all my ducks are kept dry and cleaned daily and none of the runs is mud and I dont feel that they were kept in muddy conditions that would cause wet feather. One had a day run which is quite large and a section was slightly muddly but the majority was grassy, the other was on thick layers of pine straw well above water and mud.
    Could there be something about being under the light at night causing wet feather? Or is it just par for the course and maybe because they are probably due to moult (the mother of the first autumn clutch started her moult as soon as her ducklings were fully feathered.

    So to summarise:

    Lots of ducks with respiratory symptoms
    None had symptoms typical of any of the main respiratory diseases such as aspergillosis, chronic respiratory disease or pneumonia, gapeworm, etc.
    Not all ducklngs had the exact same symptoms
    All ducklings had the same congested snotty nose sound when breathing, but other symptoms not always consistent.

    I wish I had the money to just take them to a vet and say, whats wrong, fix it. But I dont. Plus there are no vets with avian experience near me (only one with specific avian vet qualifications in the entire country and hes at the other end).

    I am worried if I took any to the wildlife hospital, which is a charity hospital run on donations and vets donating their time, that they might just get euthanised. Its not a place where you can take an animal and then the vet sees them and discusses with you, you have to surrender them and leave them there, you often dont find out they were euthanased till its already been done.
    There is nowhere else I can take them unless I have the money to pay, and given I have alreqdy tried antibiotics, antifungals etc I suspect that any vet I didntake them too would want to run all sorts of diagnostic tests, which I cant afford. Heck I cant even afford the consult. And for many of the possible diagnosis's the test to confirm a cause, was one that would probably be expensive, ie. ELISA.
    Believe me I dont want to, and dont feel comfortable at all in trying to play vet myself. As I said earlier, I am in way over my head here, but I dont know what else to do as I dont have any other resources. So either I try and figure out whats wrong and if possible try and treat it myself, or I just do nothing and hope for the best (if I were any good at that I wouldnt have upwards of 50 ducks and ducklings outside in my duck enclosures right now!). I started out thinking Id help one duck raise her ducklings which hatched at the wrong time of year, not expecting a barrage of other ducklings to show up. And there are still a. Umber of ducks exhibiting nesting behaviour so more will show up... Not that I can do anything for them I literally have no where for any more)

    I really feel kinda trapped. I dont have the resources I need to have to do this properly, as I should do and as these animals deserve, , but no one else is going to do it at all, so I feel like I have no choice. I cant bear seeing the ducks lose all their babies whose eggs they have sat on for so long in such cold weather, with only a few days of their hatching.

    Sorry this is soo massively long, but I have spent hours and hours researching ducks, ducklings and all the diseases and their causes, symptoms and treatment and feel like nothing I am seeing fits well enough into any box for me to be able to try and make a diagnosis. So hoping someone with a lot more experience than me can maybe look at all this and come to some possible conclusions or help me figure out what is happening, without having to pay for vet tests.

  2. Welshies

    Welshies Crowing

    May 8, 2016
    Alberta, Canada
    I didn't even get through all those posts.
    First of all, you basically have no job, and you are possessig these animals... and are overrun by them.
    You need to get rid of the ducks.
    Trying to "save" the moms and babies is sweet, it really is, but you HAVE to let nature run its course. Also, where you are, it may be illegal to possess wild mallards. You could get arrested and fined tremendously.
    If you still want ducks, find some and hatch them. Take in the orphans each year with a permit. But leave the families.

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