Ducks are some of the most beloved forms of wildlife that can be found on every continent, except for Antarctica. They can be found around both fresh and saltwater sources, and are massive part of many cultures all around the world. Some people love ducks so much that they’ve even taken them as pets, just like a cat or dog.
Other than their cute little bodies and unique personalities, people love one thing about ducks in particular: the way that they wag their tails!
Why do ducks wag their tails? A duck wagging its tail can be trying to communicate a number of different things, depending on the specific situation. Much like dogs, people who own ducks as pets have observed that ducks tend to wag their tails when they get excited, or are otherwise in a good mood. During mating season, male ducks specifically may also wag their tails in an effort to find a mate. Because ducks are semi-aquatic and spend a lot of time in the water, they have also developed habitual techniques such as tail-wagging as a way to completely shake all of the water off of their bodies.
Some people have also noted that tail-wagging may just be a result of normal waddling. Because of the way that they walk, a duck‘s body will naturally sway from side-to-side, and tail-wagging can be a manifestation of a duck keeping its balance while it moves.
Just like any other pet, ducks get excited over food! If you’ve just given your pet duck a tasty snack, or if they’ve just had a fresh drink of water, you may see them wagging their tails out of sheer joy. In the case of wild ducks, they may also wag their tails when they are calming down from a particularly stressful situation.
In this way, ducks are a lot like dogs. If the duck is in a positive environment, and there are no other immediate reason as to why a duck may be wagging its tail, it’s probably just because they’re in a good mood and are happy to see you!
Why do ducks wag their tails during mating season?
Many duck owners have noticed that male ducks will begin to wag their tails around the time that they are going to start hunting for a mate. While this behavior is not male-exclusive, it is usually not seen in females. In order to woo females, a male duck may also exhibit other mating-specific behaviors, such as head-pumping, wing-flapping, and preening. If your duck is wagging their tail a lot while also exhibiting other mating behaviors, they may be getting ready to mate.
Duck mating-season is extremely variable, depending on what breed of duck it is and whether or not it has been domesticated. Some domesticated ducks could potentially breed all year-round, but most wild ducks have a mating season around spring and early summer. The most common duck breeds that are domesticated are:
Pekins: These are your classic snow-white ducks that are very friendly and great family pets.
Indian Runners: These ducks are usually brown, white, and/or grey, and run with their necks outstretched instead of waddling.
Mallards: Male mallards have a vibrant green head, while females are brown with a notable blue stripe on their wings.
Duck owners have also noted that this behavior will tend to go on for a long period of time. It could start long before the ducks actually start mating, and continue through to the end of the season.
It is important for ducks to get wet, otherwise, they run the risk of developing wet feather, a condition where the preen gland dries up and stops producing the oil that keeps their feathers waterproof. However, this doesn’t mean that ducks want to be wet all of the time!
When a duck gets out of the water, they will most likely wag their tails as a way of drying themselves off. Just like when they’re excited, this behavior is very similar to how dogs will shake themselves out after taking a swim. By shaking off excess water droplets, a duck will then be able to air-dry a lot faster.
I've lived around animals my whole life and I hold a Diploma in Animal Physiology. When I'm not reading or writing about wild animals, health and fitness, and technology, you can find me playing with my son and two cats. My pastimes include running, playing video games, and solving the NY Times crossword.