Ducks are aquatic freshwater and seawater birds that inhabit much of the world, from the high Arctic to forests near the equator. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, ducks are tough and hardy birds that have adapted to a huge range of conditions and habitats and are excellent at surviving extremely low temperatures. Given their tough and hardy nature, how long do ducks live?
Ducks in the wild are not particularly long-lived, and most will not make it past the age of 10. The average Mallard in the wild lives until it’s around 5 to 10-years-old. Ducklings have exceptionally high infant mortality rates, so only around 5/10 ducks will even live to see adulthood in some populations.
In captivity, ducks can live for much longer, potentially up to 20 years. There is a Guinness World Record category for the oldest duck, which cites the oldest ducks as being owned by Gladys Blackbeard of Grahamstown, South Africa - they allegedly lived until they were 49!
A more easily verifiable contender for that accolade is Ernie, an Apricot Call Duck that reached the age of 21 in 2019.
Read on to discover more about the life and lifespan of ducks!
A white domestic duck
Many ducks will not even live to see their first birthday. For Mallards, only around 30% survive their first year, and as many as 60% will die in the first 30 days. A study of Eider ducks similarly found that just over 10% survived from hatchling to fledgling. This is why duck broods are quite large compared to other birds - many ducklings simply will not survive to reach the fledgling stage.
Infant mortality rates complicate the issue of duck longevity and make it hard to measure the life expectancy of wild ducks. Ducks that survive until adulthood will typically live for around 5 to 10 years at least, and some live much longer.
Common Eider Duck (Somateria mollissima)
Ducks in the wild need a bit of luck to even see adulthood - as many as 50% to 90% of ducklings will die in their first month.
Those ducklings that do survive will typically go on to live for at least 5 to 8 years, but some wild ducks have been recorded living until they’re 20 or even older. Measuring the lifespan of birds in the wild is notoriously difficult as it relies on reliable long-term data, and many studies are dated or based on anecdotal evidence.
Adult Mallards usually live until they’re at least 5, but may live until they’re 10 or 12 in some cases, though this would be a fine achievement! Mallards in captivity can live until they’re around 15 or so.
For more information on the lifespan of mallards, check out this article.
Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos)
Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)
Muscovy duck lifespan
The largest duck, the Muscovy, can live until they’re 10 to 12 in the wild with an average of 7 to 8. They are one of the longest-lived ducks in captivity and can live until around the age of 20.
Eider duck lifespan
One of the longest-lived ducks, Eider ducks that survive their first year can go on to live for 14 or so years.
Male and female Eider Ducks (Somateria mollissima)
Eurasian Teal Duck (Anas crecca)
Teal duck lifespan
There are various species of teals, and most are quite long-lived, surviving up to 14 years in the wild. One wild Eurasian teal is reported to have lived for 27 years.
Wigeons are also some of the most long-lived ducks - wild wigeons have been recorded living for around 20 years. One reference cites a wild wigeon that lived until it was 34.
Wigeon Duck (Anas penelope)
Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
Whistling duck lifespan
Whistling ducks seem to have some of the shortest lifespans of all ducks, with some records citing an average life expectancy of just five years or so.
In captivity, most ducks can live for 20 years or longer. There are various anecdotal reports of ducks living until they’re 30 or higher, but verifiable accounts of older ducks seem to place the oldest candidates in their early 20s.
A Mallard duck is said to have lived until 26, and the entry for the oldest duck in the Guinness Book of World Records cites ducks that lived until they were 49.
It’s really impossible to say how long ducks can theoretically live in captivity.
As adults, ducks are still susceptible to predation from a wide variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and other animals. Diseases that affect ducks include duck viral enteritis (DVE), duck viral hepatitis (DVH), riemerella anatipestifer, avian cholera and colibacillosis.
Adult ducks will likely die from predation or disease before they die of what humans might call ‘old age’.
Three Pekin Ducks
In their first month or two, ducklings are extremely vulnerable to predation from practically anything from large fish such as largemouth bass and northern pike, various large amphibians like bullfrogs, reptiles including snakes, lizards and turtles, birds such as hawks, eagles and owls and mammals such as foxes, raccoons, cats, mink, weasels, stoats and ferrets.
Hypothermia is also a major threat to baby ducks, as is extreme weather like hailstorms, snow and rainfall causing flooding. In 1953, hailstorms in Alberta, USA, killed some 150,000 waterfowl over one summer in what’s known as a catastrophic mortality event.
Female mallard with her ducklings
Ducks are social and gregarious birds that often flock together in large groups, which also provides some protection from predators. Even so, ducks face threats from a huge array of predators on both land, sea and air:
A large flock of mallards - Ducks flock together to help avoid predation
Many birds have been observed mourning and grieving, including powerful displays of penguins mourning dead chicks to swans, who can lament the death of their mate for many years. Corvids, including magpies, crows and ravens, have also been observed mourning their dead using bizarre rituals.
There is evidence that birds experience grief in a similar emotional way to humans and other intelligent animals, but often, grief is confused for other unemotional or instinctive behaviours.
Ducks have been observed to grieve for their mates, chicks or members of their flocks. Anecdotes of ducks becoming depressed when a member of their flock or their mate dies are not uncommon at all.
After all, ducks are highly gregarious birds and whilst few species mate for life, they still form close social bonds with one other.
Wood Duck or Carolina Duck (Aix sponsa), in the water
There are many candidates for the longest living duck. In the wild, some ducks have been recorded living until they’re 30 or so, but the official candidates for the ‘oldest duck’ are mostly in their 20s. The Guinness Book of World Records does list a pair of ducks that potentially lived until they were 49.
One popular candidate for the longest-lived duck is a female mallard called Desi, from Maidenhead in the United Kingdom, which allegedly lived for 20 years 3 months, dying in 2002. But, a 21-year-old duck called Ernie was in the news in 2019 for overtaking that spot.
The plot thickens, however, as the British Trust for Ornithology has an Eider on record which potentially lived until it was 35 years, 6 months and 26 days old. It was ringed in 1958 on the Ythan Estuary in Aberdeenshire and found dead in 1994. There are numerous accounts of wild ducks living until they’re at least 20, which begs the question, why do many domestic ducks only live until they’re 20 or so?!
Further confusing things is the official entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, which cites two ducks in South Africa who lived until they were 49, dying in 1966. These 49-year-old ducks were allegedly in good health bar their failing eyesight. Despite this being entered into the Guinness Book of World Records, there is almost no other evidence to support it.
The jury is certainly still out on who the longest living duck is!
Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) on the lake
Ducks kept in captivity can potentially live more than double what their average lifespan is in the wild. Mallards, Muscovy ducks and Pekin ducks can all live for at least 15 years when kept as pets. Some of the oldest domesticated ducks have lived until they’re at least 20.
Mallards have an average lifespan of 5 to 10 years. Most adult Mallards will live until they’re at least 5. In captivity, Mallards can live for up to 15 years or even longer.
Muscovy ducks are quite long-lived in the wild with an average lifespan of 8 to 12 years. In captivity, Muscovy ducks can live until they’re 18 to 20.
White ducks, or Pekin ducks, live for around 12 years which makes them one of the longer-lived breeds of domesticated ducks.
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