Waterfowl Housing Checklist


Waterfowl that require hospitalization may come from a variety of settings (Fig 1). Although free-ranging wildlife encounter many more stressors than fowl habituated to humans, the basic approach to waterfowl patients remains the same.

Toulouse Just Chaos

Figure 1. Waterfowl patients, like this Toulouse goose, Waterfowl that require hospitalization may come from a variety of settings. Photo credit: Just Chaos via Flickr Creative Commons.

Hospital caging

When hospitalizing any waterfowl patient, there are a number of basic facts to keep in mind:

Waterfowl are messyFrequent cleaning is often required in a hospital setting. Rubber mats or grates will help keep the enclosure relatively clean and dry.Whenever possible, also keep a spare enclosure ready. The waterfowl patient can then be switched to this cage to expedite cleaning.

Large-bodied birds require cushioned floor substrate

Unless hospitalized for a very brief period, large waterfowl like geese and swans must be provided with padded flooring to minimize the risk of pododermatitis.

Maintain waterproofing

Allow waterfowl patients to regularly swim in a large hospital tub or a kiddie pool whenever possible (Fig 2). If the patient cannot immerse itself in water for medical reasons, use a water bottle to heavily mist the bird at least twice daily to promote self-preening and maintenance of waterproofing.

Goslings in the sink

Figure 2. Provide waterfowl with regular “swim treatments” if their medical condition allows. Photograph provided by Dr. Gwen Flinchum. Click image to enlarge.


Offer fresh water in a large bowl or bucket

The waterfowl should ideally be able to completely submerge its head and the entire length of its neck in the water container.

Always keep water close to food items

Without ready access to water, scratch grains and commercial feed will quickly adhere to the serrated lamellae and bristles on the waterfowl bill.



Offer commercial waterfowl feed to meet basic nutritional needs

Select commercial feed appropriate for your patient’s age (Table 1)

Table 1. Commercial waterfowl food

Life stage Recommended feed Protein level (%)
Gosling (1-day to 4 weeks old) Starter diet 20
4 weeks to flight stage Grower/finisher diet 16
Adult 1:1 Maintenance diet with scratch grains 14
Egg-laying adults Breeder diet 17
Molting adults 2:1 mixture of Starter:Breeder diets 20

Offer food free choice in large, shallow pans

Use of shallow food containers allows waterfowl to shovel food into their bills, using a scooping motion of the head and neck.



Provide supplemental heat

House ducklings in an incubator or brooder box lined with several layers of newspaper and towels.

Like all waterfowl, ducklings are messy

Clean duckling enclosures at least every couple of hours. Keep an extra brooder box or laundry basket ready as a “holding pen” to expedite cage cleaning.

Since most ducklings are precocial, they usually eat readily on their own. Provide fresh water, mealworms, and duck starter diet crumbles in shallow bowls. Where available, it is also helpful to include aquatic vegetation like duckweed.



When dealing with free-ranging wildlife, the goal should always be to transfer the bird to an experienced, licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. In the meantime, it is imperative that the anseriform be housed appropriately to promote recovery and prevent injury.

House healthy or convalescent waterfowl in a covered, outdoor pen with good ventilation (Table 2). In fact ventilation is far more important than provision of warmth for waterfowl with normal, waterproofed plumage. Wire mesh windows or doors are best to allow good air circulation. Waterfowl that have been held inside for critical care must be gradually acclimated to outdoor temperatures.

Table 2. Requirements for outdoor housing of waterfowl

  • Covered
  • Predator-resistant
  • Welded wire exterior
  • Plastic netting to prevent feather, extremity, or bill damage
  • Varied substrate for heavy bodied birds to reduce leg and foot problems
  • Good ventilation
  • Pool access
  • Grass grazing area (4 week-old birds and older)

Access to a pool with dimensions of 1.2 x 1.2 x 0.45 m or larger will help waterfowl
maintain optimum feather condition and waterproofing.