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ducks eating underwater

Duck Diets: What Do Ducks Eat?

Duck feed? Citrus fruits? Leafy greens? Ever wondered what wild ducks eat when they dunk their faces into the water or completely dive under the surface? Beyond chunks of bread thrown out at the local park (read here why this is actually dangerous), a good majority of us probably don’t give much thought to what a duck’s diet actually is.

However, understanding duck habitat and what wild birds eat can help you become a better waterfowl hunter. Forget the bread, popcorn, and other junk food with little nutritional value. Let’s talk about what ducks really like to eat!


Ducks don’t spend all their time in the water. If you live near agricultural property, you’ve undoubtedly seen a flock of mallards and other wild ducks out amongst the geese in the corn stubble. These are usually dabbling ducks.

Unlike “diving ducks,” dabbling ducks feed on land and in the water. Wheat, barley, brown rice, white rice, and millet are good examples of grains that this group of ducks likes to eat.

You won’t find diving ducks foraging for grains on land too often as they have a different feeding strategy.

Aquatic Plants

Aquatic plants are a food source that dabbling and diving ducks can agree on. Dabblers like mallards, pintails, and teals don’t always feed in the water. But when they do, duckweed, pondweed, milfoil, and primrose are popular choices during the non-breeding season.

As there is a lot of overlap in food, divers like ring-necks, ruddys, scaups, and redheads feed on similar aquatic plant types. Other plants diving ducks feed on include wild celery, bulrush seeds, wigeon grass, and the tubers and rhizomes of sago pondweed.


Both dabbling and diving ducks eat aquatic animals. During the breeding season, dabbling ducks like mallards will feed primarily on animal foods like midge and caddis fly larvae, snails, freshwater shrimp, and even fish eggs.

People are familiar with the “tipping up” style of feeding that dabblers exhibit. But they also skim the surface with their necks outstretched. Skimming enables this group of ducks to efficiently feed on algae, aquatic insects, and other high nutritional value food floating on the surface.

Diving ducks are expert divers with the ability to reduce their oxygen consumption. The ability to hold their breath for several minutes allows them to forage in deeper water (up to 65 feet for sea ducks) for small fish, aquatic invertebrates, eggs, and small crustaceans.

Divers and dabblers both spend their lives eating a wide range of food. Availability, season, and region are big factors in determining what ducks eat. Getting to know their habits and how they “make their living” will make you better prepared come waterfowling season.

Now that you know all about what ducks eat, contact us to schedule your own guided duck hunt with HD Guide Service at Reelfoot Lake! But before you go on your hunt, be sure to check out this blog about duck calling mistakes to avoid!