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Water Birds

Water birds incorporate a wide range of fresh water and salt water species which eat different food. This section deals with the more common waterbirds we deal with.

  • Fresh water species include Swans, Ducks, Coots, Grebes, Ibis, Herons.
  • Seabird species include Cormorants, Seagulls, Terns, Petrels, Pelicans, Pacific gulls, Penguins.

Also see


Fresh water - Swans, Ducks, Coots, Grebes, Ibis, Herons

There are many species of water birds; therefore it is important to look at the beak and feet to determine what they are and what they might eat.

Birds having flat beaks such as swans and ducks eat mainly waterweeds, grass, seeds and a variety of beetles and bugs.

Usually the chicks of these birds are self feeders and can be fed on grain, chicken pellets, and soft fleshy greens.

When they are in poor condition, they may have to be force fed on a diet of soaked dog puppy kibble (Pedigree Puppy pellets) or the like. These pellets are rice based with other nutrients and provide a good all round food for the birds.

Ibis and Herons, which have sharp pointed beaks, feed on small fish, worms, bugs, crustaceans, frogs and even field mice.

Raising Baby Ducks

1. At first, keep them in a cardboard box about the size of a banana or lettuce box. Line the box with plastic so that it is water proofed. Garbage bags are ideal for this. Now place news paper and tissues or fine seaweed to form the base of their home and replace this material morning and night or as necessary for cleanliness. You will need a cover or screen over the box because these little ducks can jump quite high even for their small size.

2. A hot water bottle may be needed to keep the little fellows warm. Wrap the water bottle in newspaper to keep it clean and to stop the ducks too hot. The whole box can easily be carried outside so they get a little sun or put in the shed or brought inside if the weather is cold.

3. A 40 watt 240v globe mounted inside a terracotta flower pot will also keep them warm and you won't have to worry about refilling hot water bottles. (Make sure you mount the pot on a tile or old plate so that the box doesn't catch alight).

4. Pacific Black ducklings eat baby cereal like Farex, Heinz mixed cereal and Weet-bix but chick starter from the fodder shop is the principal food. The food should be served in water and placed in a shallow tray or dish. A Pyrex or plastic lid about 2cm deep is all that is required at first, [increase in size as they grow]. A dish of water about the same size is also required. They also like treats such as scrambled egg or Pedigree Puppy kibble soaked in water until they are soft. Wombaroo insectivore food can be added as a substitute for insects. They need very finely chopped greens such as lettuce, thistle or clover; a little at first, increasing as a percentage of total food as they get older.

Wood Ducks graze from day one and a complete clover plant is ideal for them to feed on.. If Wood Ducks don’t have any grass to graze, they will pick out the feathers from each other.

5. You will find the ducks will stand in and mess in their food ...don't worry, that's what ducks do. Their food needs to be renewed at least 3 times per day.

6..Orphaned ducks are not waterproof for about 2 - 3 weeks so don't place a deep water bowl in the box for quite some time or they may drown. As they are not crawling under mother duck, the little fellows feathers don't get oiled up until their own oil gland begins to work. They get cold and wet quickly which can cause them to die.

7. As they get bigger they can run really fast and need to have a large cage or aviary in which to move. They eat birdseeds, bugs, worms, greens (finely sliced), in fact almost anything. Until they are feathered they still need to be placed in a warm location at night.

8. Their feathers start to grow by four weeks. It takes about 8 weeks from hatching to being able to fly. At this stage they can eat grain as well as greens. When and where they are released is important because they tend to be like homing pigeons.

9. If you release the ducks at home, you can expect to see them come back to visit you even after 6 months. They tend to come back around breeding season each year.

Seabirds - Cormorants, Seagulls, Terns, Petrels, Pelicans, Pacific gulls, Penguins

The staple diet of these birds is fish. Generally small whole fish slide down their throats better than floppy fillets. It becomes easier to feed them if you can get the fish size appropriate to the bird’s need.

Readily available fish food is obtainable from fishing shops. These are white bait, blue bait, pilchards, tommy ruffs and other small fish. (Australian names).

Warning... these birds have particularly sharp beaks. Take care with hands and eyes. When sea birds get stressed they tend to throw up the contents of their stomachs, which creates more problems because they are now going to get hungry quickly and you will stink.

If sea birds are rescued in very poor condition, you may have to mince the fish in a vitamiser into a liquid form and pour it down their throat.

If you are lucky they will self feed from a glass dish of water with the fish placed in it. By using a glass dish they can see the fish from any location.

At times it is quite surprising just how large a fish some of these birds can swallow. Pelicans can eat up to a kilo of fish per day, so you need to find a good fish supplier which can meet your needs when required.

A healthy sign for these birds is when they vent with a white spray, needless to say that it smells strongly and makes a mess.

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