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How Do Ducks Clean Themselves? (Easy Explanation)

by Alex Kountry
Updated on

If you have ducks around you, then you must have noticed that ducks can be quite dirty and very messy.

They love to play and splash around in water whether it is clean or dirty

And while splashing around, they tend to dirty their feathers

How do ducks clean themselves? Ducks clean themselves by preening. This is simply a duck’s way of ensuring that it’s feathers are clean. So during preening it gets rid of duck dirt, parasites and any other smaller particles that may have settled on its body or feathers. This is how they stay clean and prevent diseases in their coop.

What is preening?

How Do Ducks Clean Themselves
Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on

Now we know a little about preening and how it is essentials for ducks to preen, let us take a detailed look at what preening is

There are over 20,000 feathers in a full grown duck and the one way the feathers stay clean and in top condition is by preening.

Preening is a duck’s way of grooming it’s feathers to keep them in the best condition by removing dust, dirt and parasites.

During preening the birds also align each feather ensuring that it is the best position relative to the closest feathers and the body.

Ducks are usually known to preen several times a day to keep them healthy and clean

One very important organ in the bird’s body that makes preening very possible is the uropygial gland, also called the preen gland.

It is usually found at the base of the tail and produces an oily, waxy substance that helps keep the feathers of the birds waterproof and flexible.

So during the preening process, the duck will ensure that this oil gets to each feather so they are evenly coated and protected.

Some birds such as owls, pigeons, hawks and parrots do not have a uropygial gland. Instead they have specialized feathers that usually breaks down into powder which serves the same purpose as preen oil

But birds like ducks who derive fun in splashing and bathing in water will produce preen oil that helps keep their feathers safe and healthy.

What are the benefits of preening?

Here are some of the benefits your ducks will be get from preening regularly

  • Preening helps ducks to moisturize their feathers with preen oil so they become very strong and flexible. This helps them better withstand the stress of flight and swimming so they are not brittle and break easily
  • Preening helps ducks to align their feathers for optimum waterproofing and insulation against harsh weather conditions such as extreme heat or cold
  • Preening also helps ducks to align their feathers into the right aerodynamic shape which will make flying very easy. This helps them use less energy while flying and allows them to make more acrobatic moves.
  • Preening helps them to get rid of parasites, body lice and other insects that can damage their feathers and cause them harm. This helps keep the birds from diseases and also protects the entire flock from disease outbreak
  • Preening helps remove tough sheaths from newly molted feathers of ducks. This helps the feathers get into position quickly so they can effective in helping the duck fly or swim.
  • When a duck preens regularly, it creates a healthy and clean appearance which helps them attract a mate. Nobody wants a dirty partner and ducks are no exception. A healthier, more attractive duck has a high chance of attracting healthy, strong mate and a better chance of raising healthy chicks
  • Finally during bonding and mating of ducks, both partners engage in mutual preening called allopreening. This is a form of bonding ritual between both partners and it helps keep their connection strong and going.

How do ducks preen?

We have seen some of the many benefits of preening, and it is no wonder ducks will preen multiple times daily, let’s see how they actually preen.

Ducks will use their beaks and feet to preen each feather on their body methodically, nibbling or stroking every feather from the base to the tip so that it is perfectly aligned.

If you are very observant you will have noticed your bird in weird and unusual positions trying to reach different feathers.

1. Ducks might dust bath at time

One way ducks might preen their feathers is to take dust baths

What this simply means is that the dusts will help dislodge any particle or parasites that are trapped in the feathers of the birds.

It also helps to absorb excess preen oil so that their feathers are not heavily coated.

2. Ducks also like sunning themselves

This is a special way ducks control parasites and mites by moving these insects to parts of their bodies where they can be easily nibbled or eaten.

Sunning also helps make the preen oil more liquid and easier to spread to different feathers in a thin, even layer.

3. Ducks enjoy bathing

Another way and probably the most popular way ducks preen their feathers is by bathing

Ducks will bathe in water before engaging in extensive preening and splashing around to moisten their feathers.

Bathing alo helps remove dust, parasites and other insects from the feathers of your birds and also helps to align their feathers properly.

4. Ducks like stretching

Ducks will stretch extensively as this helps them provide space between each feather so the entire feather can be groomed or stroked effectively. Stretching will also allow your birds to properly align their feathers after preening.

Are there any problems duck encounter while are preening?

While preening is very important and essential for the health of a duck, there might be some problems and complications if things are not handled properly

For example, sometimes it might be very difficult for you birds to reach certain feathers so they can preen effectively

When this happens, the bird may develop bald patches and might not be able to preen properly

This can temporarily lead to baldness and might look funny and weird to people but it’s not a big deal as the birds will grow back the feathers in those areas.

How to wash a duck?

In the unlikely event that your duck cannot wash themselves and you need to help them do so, here are tips to help you get started

  • Here are the items you will need – wash tub (at least 2), soap, soft toothbrush, vinegar, towel and a drying cage
  • Fill the tubs with warm and the tubs should be big enough to contain them standing
  • Add enough soap to make it soapy and sudsy. Recommended detergents you can use include casteel soap, cheer, ivory, and lux flakes
  • Add about ¼ cup of vinegar to the tub
  • Pick up your bird with both hands so it does not flap its wings and drop in the tub
  • Hold down with one hand and with the other hand scrub the wing and feathers
  • After thorough scrubbing, remove the bird and put in the second tub with clean water so they can properly rinse out the soap.
  • Finally use a large towel and dry down the bird making sure to dry the feathers and keep them clean


Ducks will keep themselves clean by preening.

This is a process that allows them to get rid of dust, dirt’s and parasites while growing strong and healthy feathers.

Photo of author

About the author

Alex Kountry

Alex Kountry is the founder of HayFarmGuy and has been a backyard farmer for over 10 years. Since then he has decided to write helpful articles that will help you become a better backyard farmer and know what to do. He also loves to play tennis and read books


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