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External parasites which affect ducks

Poultry can suffer from a variety of insects and mites but fortunately ducks, kept in good conditions, are prone to only two of these parasites (which live on the outside of the bird). A healthy bird will carry a low parasite load because efficient washing and preening will remove them. Birds housed with poultry, and with insufficient water, are most at risk. If a bird is ill, it may also become infested.

In Call ducks, the head and neck region are more difficult to clean than in longer-necked birds. Closely-packed feathers in the short neck are more likely to harbour parasites. So, if a bird is scratching unduly, and especially if its eyes do not look clear and bright, then an inspection for parasites is recommended.

Mites are related to spiders and have eight legs. There are four different kinds of mites which are important to poultry keepers—northern fowl mite, red poultry mite, depluming mite and scaly leg mite. If ducks are not kept in close association with poultry, then only northern mite affects them. This mite looks very like red mite which spends a lot of its time in the woodwork of the poultry house. Both of these mites are blood suckers, and the northern mites lives on the bird all the time. They seem to need the warmth of the host because when the bird dies, then the mites die too. This does not apply to the red mites which live in the structure of the poultry house

Mites are the same shape as ticks, which are also a type of mite. They are easiest to see on white birds, and seem to infest only the head and neck region of ducks and geese. They are most frequently seen when birds get warm at bird shows, or whilst travelling to a show. Then, the mites come out to the surface. The bird owners are frequently unaware of the parasites’ presence until this happens. On coloured birds, it is very difficult to see the mites at all.

Lice are six-legged insects. The ones which affect the waterfowl are quite long-bodied, and are greyish. They do not have wings, cannot jump, and evade removal by living in the feathers and hiding. They are most frequently seen on the white wing feathers of Call ducks—particularly on the axillars under the wing. The lice do not suck blood, but chew skin scales and fine feather. They have flattened bodies and clawed legs which make them very difficult to remove—by finger mail or beak. Size: 2 mm in length.

If the ducks are in good condition, they will control the parasites. But if a duck is sitting, or if the birds are infested and scratching, they will probably need help. Powders containing insecticide are the traditional treatment for external parasites. Pyrethrum is very effective against mites and lice. Johnson’s pigeon spray contains biodegradable pyrethrum and works well. It is obtainable from agricultural suppliers and trade stands at bird shows. It is also available from pet stores as Johnson’s ‘Anti-mite and Insect Spray for Cage Birds. Avoid getting powder or spray in the eyes of the bird on treatment. Two treatments are needed, spaced at 8-10 days. This is because pyrethrum does not kill the eggs of the mites and lice. So when these hatch, a second treatment is needed. Observe withdrawal times; read the product label. 

In recent years, ivermectin has become popular as a systemic agent to control both internal and external parasites. Small 10 ml packs are available through your vet (for treating pigeons). So when you obtain the product this way, check the dose with your vet too. This product is retailed at 0.8% w/v by Vetrepharm (now Alpharma). Be very careful with this product. It can be absorbed through your skin too. 

Ivermectin pour-on is applied to the skin. Skin is difficult to find on ducks, due the abundant down. The back of the duck’s neck can be used, but also look under the wing where it joins the body; sometimes the fluff is thinner there. Recently, the vent area of a chicken has been recommended for application of ivermectin in that species, because of the absence of feather. I would be wary of this in ducks; they may ingest the product, and they would have to be housed after the application so as not to remove the product. As with the pyrethrum powder, ivermectin has to be applied at least twice, and preferably three times, at weekly intervals, to kill all the parasites.

In the unlikely event that your Call ducks or their eggs are to be eaten, observe the appropriate withdrawal times as stated on the labels of the above products. 


For further information on the use of veterinary medicines please contact your Vet or visit the website of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate who are the regulatory authority for veterinary medicines in the UK.