Or—how we nursed our seriously injured duck back from the brink of death.
*Warning, graphic descriptions of injuries, treatments, and photos. This is the story of how we nursed a seriously injured duck back to full health:
Shortly after moving into our new home, we bought six chickens and two ducks. We had purchased them all from a hatchery and had ordered two females from a duck breed called harlequin. We received two yellow ducklings that turned into white ducks. Not what we ordered, but no problem. We had owned white ducks in the past and while I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to try a new breed; I was happy to have ducks again. You can read HERE for why we decided to switch our flock from chickens to ducks.
Everything was going swimmingly. Before we knew it, they had grown enough, and we moved the little flock outside. The chickens roosted in the little raised coop we had, and the ducks slept underneath it. Everything went well for a while… until disaster struck!
We awoke one fine morning and my husband got up, as he always did, to let the birds out of the coop. A few minutes later, he comes rushing back inside. He wants me to look at an injured bird. Not knowing what to expect, I put my shoes on and headed out to the enclosure. One duck was gone, and the other looked odd. He fished the little duckling out from under the coop and we looked it over.
Poor little ducky.
Overnight, something attacked the coop. It pried back the fencing around the gate and entered the enclosure. The chickens were secure in their coop, but the ducks were… well… sitting ducks.
Our survivor must have cowered at the far end of the enclosure while its sister fell prey to the predator. But the creature wasn’t working alone. Something was on the outside of the enclosure and when the little duck pressed up against the fence, it reached in and snagged its wing.
The Injured Duck
Our fluffy white duck was now missing a wing and looked as though it were in shock. (Can a duck go into shock? I don’t actually know, but since none of the vets I called would give me advice, that’s what I’m going to call it). Luckily for all of us involved, the dismemberment was done cleanly with the wing removed at the joint, as one would do if processing a chicken for dinner.
Since our injured duck wasn’t actively bleeding, I didn’t have to worry about it bleeding out on me, but it was still hurt and looked in bad shape. I hurried back to the house and gathered some basic supplies. I’m not a doctor, but I have taken a few first aid classes. Since I injure myself frequently, the classes were mostly to teach me better ways to provide personal first line care. But now I’m the one with the most advanced first aid skills in our house.
My medicine cabinet—of course—was missing some vital supplies. I had to improvise a wound wash and dig through my backup supplies for bandages. I made a quick wound wash from a bottle of water and a little salt and then poked a spray hole in the cap. Nitrile gloves, a roll of non-stick dressing wrap, a bath towel, and paper towels rounded out my initial supplies.
Taking my things, I headed back outside. The poor duck wasn’t even struggling in my husband’s hands. It just looked listless and dazed. We sat down and I got to work. With hubby holding the bird, I rinsed the injury, gently washing away dirt and blood. Once cleaned, I could see what we were working with.
The growing feeling that I was out of my depth kept me on edge. I’d never treated an injury this severe. Thankfully, the bleeding had stopped long before we found the bird, so I wasn’t dealing with ongoing blood loss. Even so, I’ve never dreamed of helping something that’s had a limb torn off.
We set up the duck in a dog crate in our bathroom until we could figure out what more we could do for it.
Now What do I do with an Injured Duck?
I spent some time calling around to local veterinary offices explaining our situation. Nobody would look at the duck, nor would they give me any treatment advice. Out of luck and on my own, hubby and I assessed the full situation and discussed our options.
The injury was severe. It not only would require multiple bandages changes a day, but would also require regular monitoring and bedding changes. I worked full time, so that meant my husband had to be willing to take on the care of this bird as well. It would be a full team effort.
Sure, we could perform a mercy killing, but this was a fellow living creature. One who may grow up to give us eggs. It deserved a chance at life as much as anyone. Looking at the small duck, we wanted to give it a chance. Even if it meant inexperienced nursing at the hands of novices. We were determined to do what we could to give this duck a chance to live.
The closest thing I got to medical advice was from a new neighbor down the street—a former vet tech—who recommended using chlorhexidine as a wound wash. From there we scrolled through the chicken forums and gleaned advice from posts about treating bird injuries. A post from years prior discussed someone else’s injured duck and recommended using Vetericyn Plus, an antibacterial wound spray. I also knew we would need antibiotics to guard against infections.
To the Store!
So, with our little duck resting as comfortably as possible, we headed to the local feed store for our supplies. Unfortunately for us, the Covid panic caused a huge spike in prices. Previously, we had purchased bird antibiotics for a few dollars; now one bottle was over thirty bucks! The chlorhexidine only came in a gallon jug, but the Vetericyn Plus was affordable and came in a spray that gelled on contact—pretty neat! We also grabbed more gauze pads and non-stick wound wraps. Over a hundred dollars later, we headed home.
What should have been a relatively inexpensive duck was turning into a costly little quacker.
Scrubbing the Wound
Back at the house, we unwrapped the injury—this took some doing because the bandage was stuck to the wound. However, we knew it was more important to do a proper cleaning and disinfecting than leave the bandage intact. After an agonizing bandage removal, which required repeatedly soaking the bandage and working a little at a time to pry it off, we finally re-exposed the injury. I mixed up the chlorhexidine according to the directions and thoroughly washed the wound, making sure to soak the feathers around the edges and then gently scrubbed everything with a gauze pad soaked in the solution. Once that was done, I sprayed down the wound with the Vetericyn Plus, placed a large gauze pad on top, and then wrapped the bird in the non-stick wrap.
Our feathered friend didn’t show much interest in eating or drinking, but we mixed a little of the antibiotic into some water and coerced the duck into drinking it.
We had reached the end of the first day and now stood at one of the dangerous nexus points. Would the bird survive the night, or would it give up and die? We went to bed with a little prayer for our injured duck. There wasn’t anything more we could do at this point.
In the morning we checked on our bird. It was alive, but still looking shell-shocked and listless. My husband thought it looked lonely and traumatized and suggested going to the feed store to buy some friends to encourage it’s will to live. I, of course, was against this plan. Ducks are messy, poopy birds. I immediately imagined the new birds fouling the cage and causing a massive infection in our injured bird. Yet, he had a point. The duck wasn’t responding much or showing interest in eating or drinking, and with an injury that bad, the bird needed to drink.
I tried forcing water, but like horses, you can lead a duck to water, but you can’t make it drink. Toward the end of the second day—after multiple bandage and bedding changes—our injured duck was alive, but it didn’t look like it was doing too well.
Everybody Needs Friends
In the morning, ducky was still alive. Following bandage and bedding changes, hubby headed to the feed store, and came home a while later with two little brown ducklings. I heaved a sigh and pursed my lips, certain this was a bad idea, but this was day three with no significant change in activity. If we couldn’t perk this duck up, it will not make it.
He set up the crate divider and put the babies on the other side. White ducky looked at them, cocked it’s head slightly and blinked; the first sign of proper activity thus far. After a few minutes, the white duck started moving around more. A little more time passed, and our duck was eating and drinking.
Hubby for the win!
I was still concerned about cleanliness, but there’s no denying that the baby ducklings brought our white duck out of the shock/depression/lack-of-will-to-live it was suffering from.
Longer Term Care for our Injured Duck
By the end of the first week, our white duck looked like it found its will to live. Now all we had to do was keep any infection from setting in. But it didn’t want to take its antibiotic. I fought with that bird for almost the entire recovery to get doses of antibiotics down its throat. In the end, after endless internet searches, I found someone’s suggestion of sprinkling antibiotics onto peas. Sure enough, the duck loved it! No more fighting to dose it with antibiotics. White duck gobbled up every antibiotic coated pea I offered.
Now we were in business. The wound was healing. We got to where we could leave bandages on for most of a day, only changing it once or twice a day depending on how fouled the bandages got. The ducklings grew and the large dog crate started getting crowded with three ducks. I was changing the bedding multiple times per day, and they were making a mess of my bathroom.
Have I mentioned that ducks are messy and poopy? Well, I had duck poo up the sides of my walls. It got to the point where we taped black trash bags all over the walls to keep the mess contained. But by this juncture, the three ducks had become inseparable. We couldn’t just take the two brown ducks away, not while the white duck was still in the middle of recovery. So we endured the stink and mess, and kept everything as clean as possible under the circumstances.
This Takes How Long?
The duck was recovering, but I wasn’t sure how long it was supposed to take. Are we talking about months to grow skin over the gaping wound, or mere weeks? I reached out to a bird rescue for some advice. They don’t take domestic ducks (of course) but they have seen similar injuries. I ran them through what I’d been doing as far as caring for our white duck, and they seemed satisfied with my routine. They said that after six weeks, the duck should be healed up enough to return outside.
We kept it up. Washing, bandaging, and antibiotics every day. For weeks. I learned this about myself years ago—I am not a long-term caregiver. I’ve got ADD, and typically have the attention span of a gnat. By the end of the recovery period, I was tired of nursing this duck back to health. I’d spent hours washing and bandaging that wing socket. I was ready for the duck to go outside with the chickens. The little brown ducks weren’t little anymore. They had grown a lot in their weeks with the white duck. I needed them out!
And then the day finally came. Skin now covered the once gaping injury; our duck had survived!
Recovery of an Injured Duck
We were out of the woods…sort of. Somewhere along the way, the duck got a cut on its leg. I don’t know if it was from the initial attack or a scratch from the dog crate. Regardless of when and where it happened, I didn’t notice it; my attention had been solely fixed on the wing joint. We stopped the antibiotics and put our newly mended duck outside. That’s when it happened. The poor duck’s leg got weak and swollen. It looked to me like bumble-foot AKA staph infection.
Another round of antibiotics, along with daily wound washing, did the trick.
Another month or two passed without incident and we caught our recovered duck to do a final inspection of the wound site. Interestingly, the healed skin was now covered in feathers!
A few weeks after our duck was all healed up, my husband realized the girl duck I’d been calling “Mama” that we so lovingly nursed back to health was actually a BOY! Male ducks have a distinctive, quiet grunting frog-like quack, quite different from the loud honking quacks of the females.
Would that have changed our approach to the care and effort we gave to this duck? Probably. One of the major decision factors in trying to keep it alive was that we would get eggs in the future—a quid pro quo set up. I don’t think we would have spent that much money, time, and effort (not to mention tolerating the mess in my nice new-house bathroom) if we’d known it was a male duck.
Looking back, I’m not sure what exactly we would have done had we known he was a boy. In farm life, the boys are usually not the desired gender. There are a lot of issues with keeping a drake (male duck). But those issues are for other posts.
Overall, it was a learning experience. I learned I can do hard, gross, icky things when it comes to first aid. Was it worth it? I’m still not sure. I guess if the zombie apocalypse happens, and I need to manage bad injuries, then I’ll give a resounding yes! Otherwise, I still make a face when I think about all the time I spent nursing what became a feisty boy duck.
Here is a video of him over a year after his recovery, showing his now healed wing nub and his willingness leap into the air still trying to fly. He was only about a month old when he lost his wing yet he still launches out of the coop into the air flapping his one wing, landing sideways on the ground quite confused as to why it didn’t work out how he expected. We suppose instinct overwhelms brains in his case. 🤣
*I am not a medical professional. All treatments done by me were based on internet research and random advice from near strangers. What I describe does not constitute medical advice. I never found a vet who would look at the duck or give me advice. I have taken some first aid classes and I’ve patched myself up a few times, so I figured it was worth the risk of trying to treat the injury because if I had left it alone, the duck would have died.