9 Reasons Why Ducks Shiver And Vibrate


You may have noticed your duck or several of your ducks are shaking, shivering, or vibrating. Most people would not think much of this but whether they’re wet, excited, sick or just shaking a tail feather for the hens, there is a reason.  So why is it that ducks shiver and vibrate?

Ducks may shiver and vibrate after a swim to get excess water out of their plumage. Another reason they do this is that they are happy and excited. It may also be a component of mating behavior in male ducks. Or it could be a sign of a serious health issue such as duck viral hepatitis. 

There can be various reasons why a duck behaves in a certain way, and what we are interested in is the particular phenomenon that is the ducks’ shivering and vibrating. It is important as a duck owner to know why this may be happening as you may need to take action. So let us see why ducks may shiver and vibrate.

Ducks strolling in a domestic courtyard environment
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Ducks Shiver And Vibrate As Mating Behavior

The male duck, a drake, may shake its body quite vigorously, particularly its wings and tail. This may seem disconcerting; however, you will also note that there is typically a female duck close by. The male does this seemingly obscure and excessive behavior to gain the female’s attention.

Call it a flirtatious gesture, if you will. The drake will shake its body to attract the female’s attention, and if she notices him and accepts his proposal to mate, she will respond affirmatively.   

If they are in the water, the drake may use his wings and head to splash the hen (female duck) to get her attention. You will also witness him shaking his wings as he swims circles around her to show that he is interested in her. 

This behavior is not typical all year round, though, and will only be witnessed during the mating season, usually during spring migrations. So if it is seen during other times of the year, it may suggest one of the other reasons mentioned. 

If you live in a colder climate it’s important to Stop Your Duck’s Water From Freezing. All the details and tips are in my recent article.

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Ducks Shiver And Shake Out Of Excitement

Again, this is one of those times when you will be pleased that your duck is shivering or vibrating. And that is that they are happy or excited; usually, this shaking will be accompanied by the wagging of their tails and the flapping of their wings. You may also see them hopping joyfully from spot to spot. 

Ducks, particularly domesticated ones, wag their tails in a manner that very closely resembles that of a dog when they are excited. You will usually notice that they initially do this when they see you. After a short while, the excitement may wear off, and they will simply waddle around happily. 

Another thing to look for if you believe it is out of excitement that they are shivering is whether they are nodding or tilting their heads from side to side. 

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Issues With A Duck’s Preen Gland

It is highly unlikely that your duck will be shivering from the cold. This is because their bodies are designed to resist cooler temperatures. They are naturally insulated against the cold, with thick plumage, layers of fat and an oil gland, known as the preen gland.

Their plumage and fat layers are there to aid in insulation and regulate their body temperature, even when the weather is too cold for our liking. The preen gland is incredibly important as well in that it is responsible for the production of an oil that keeps the feathers both waterproof and flexible. 

However, it can happen that the feathers do not dry properly due to the preen gland having issues. If their feathers remain wet, ducks can thus become susceptible to the cold or other extreme temperatures. The preen gland can become infected, blocked, or stop working altogether.

Don’t overlook how important it is to make sure your ducks are getting a proper diet when the weather turns cold. My recent article on What To Feed Ducks in The Winter has more details.

The oil production can become excessive or even stop completely. In this case, you should look out for if there is a visible change in the appearance of their feathers. The feathers will likely appear misaligned, and if an infection has taken hold, you will likely note a yellow coloration near the tail.

If the gland becomes overactive, it can also be a problem and affect the feather quality. The main reason this will occur is if the duck is suffering from parasites. You will notice that the feathers are not drying properly and are in disarray. This will leave the duck without proper insulation and thus cause them to shiver.

Apart from infections, parasites, and blockages, the preen gland may also experience poor functionality if the duck is not receiving the correct nutrients in its diet. The two key vitamins that a duck needs for its preen gland to function properly are Vitamin B and Vitamin E.  

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Duck Viral Hepatitis

This is another undesirable reason why your duck may be shivering or vibrating. And that is that they have the disease known as duck viral hepatitis, which adversely affects the liver, causing hepatomegaly, which is an enlargement of the liver. The virus is highly contagious, and thankfully the onset of symptoms is quick. 

Viral hepatitis is more common and especially lethal among ducklings, particularly those less than one month old. It is often fatal and can kill within a matter of hours. Therefore, if you are able to notice it soon enough, be sure to separate the affected bird from the others to prevent any possible transmission. 

After that, it is highly advisable to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. The chief symptoms to look out for are tremors (shaking and shivering) and leg contractions. Other things you may notice are diarrhea, loss of appetite and nasal discharge. 

Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection In Ducks

Also referred to as Infectious Serositis or New Duck Disease is an infection that comes about due to a bacterium that is transmitted either through open wounds on the ducks’ feet or can even be contracted through inhalation. One plus side to this disease is that your ducks can be vaccinated against it. 

The primary symptom to look out for here is a shivering or vibrating neck and head. This trembling may affect other body parts, but is usually localized. Other symptoms to watch for are a twisted neck, excessive sneezing, weight loss and discharge from the nasal and ocular regions. 

The disease can affect multiple parts of your duck’s anatomy, including its joints, oviduct, brain, meninges, and respiratory system. In severe cases, ducks are known to lie on their backs and paddle their feet in the air. Contact your veterinarian if you see this or any other symptoms, as the infection can be treated with antibiotics. 

Duck Pneumonia

Duck pneumonia, also known as Aspergillosis, brooders pneumonia, fungal pneumonia, or mycotic pneumonia, is a non-contagious respiratory disease caused by a species of fungi known as Aspergillus.  The disease affects various bird species, from ducks to chickens to game birds. 

The main symptom, in this case, is that the duck will continuously shiver. Due to the fungal spores infecting the lungs and causing plaques to form, you are likely to notice your duck gasping for air as well as them losing their appetite, becoming dehydrated, isolating themselves and becoming noticeably lethargic.  

The spores which cause this disease are typically formed on bedding and feed that becomes moldy. The likelihood of this occurring is drastically increased if either of these become and then remain wet or damp. 

Keeping your duck’s food fresh is very important to their overall health. My latest article on How Often To Feed Your Ducks is packed with the do’s and dont’s of duck feeding.

Although not transmissible from one bird to another, it is best to isolate the infected bird from the healthy ones in extreme cases. Thankfully there is a treatment for it in the form of antifungal medications. Unfortunately, the treatment period can span over weeks, if not months. 

Although your other ducks are not at risk, young, old, or immunocompromised people should not handle the infected fowl as they can become infected

To prevent Aspergillosis, ensure that your ducks’ living and foraging spaces are hygienic and well ventilated. Their housing should be cleaned regularly and should not be allowed to get wet or humid, especially for extended periods.

Duck Plague

Duck plague, also referred to as viral enteritis, is another reason that your duck may be shivering and vibrating. The herpes virus causes this disease. It is a nasty illness for your ducks to get, particularly due to how long it can stick around.

Like in the other possibilities mentioned, the main sign here is constant tremors or shivering. Along with that could also be disheveled plumage, a reduction in egg production, photophobia, nasal discharge, and constant thirst. 

There is, unfortunately, no cure for duck plague; however, if you are lucky, your duck may survive it. If this is the case, you need to be aware that the infected duck can still be infectious for up to an entire year, even after they have recovered from their symptoms. 

It is, therefore, a great idea to have your ducks vaccinated against this before it has the chance to strike. If you did not vaccinate your ducks prior to one or more of them falling ill, be sure to get the rest vaccinated as soon as possible and separate the infected from the healthy. 

As another precaution, you also want to disinfect your duck house since the virus can survive within the environment and can spread infection, even if the sick duck has been removed. 

Duck Newcastle Disease

It is a viral infection that is more commonly found in chickens; however, it can affect ducks and other poultry. The disease primarily affects the birds’ respiratory system, and thus you will usually first notice sneezing, nasal discharge, and difficulty breathing. 

However, it can also affect the nervous system, and this is when you will note shivering, depression, and even paralysis. The only way to truly combat Newcastle disease is through having your ducks vaccinated before they can contract it. This is because there is no treatment or cure for this illness. 

To help ease the duck’s suffering, antibiotics can be administered to help combat any secondary bacterial infections they may contract.   

Botulism In Ducks

It is caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which cultivates toxins that ultimately affect a duck’s neurons and their movement. The source of this infection is usually contaminated water or if your duck eats or drinks in an area near an infected dead animal. 

The initial signs of this having been contracted will be your duck shivering and having tremors. The disease may also present itself by causing your duck difficulty breathing. If you suspect your duck has been infected, you need to act fast as it can kill your duck within 24 to 48 hours.

Thankfully this disease does have something to combat it, and that is antitoxin treatment. It is also usually highly effective, but you need to get your duck to a veterinarian as soon as possible. 

What To Do If Your Duck Is Shivering And Vibrating 

If it is mating season and you notice that it is only the drakes shaking and shivering, then this is no reason to be alarmed at all. You will also see that once they have the female’s attention, or if she declines him, he will soon stop with his antics and continue as usual. 

If your duck is domesticated and a real pet, then you have likely witnessed it shiver and wag its tail when it sees you in the morning or when you come home from work. This is purely out of happiness and excitement. Again, in this case, the shaking and shivering will last for a limited time, and the duck will soon stop doing so. 

If your duck is seemingly shivering and vibrating uncontrollably, take note of the weather. If it is cold, then it may well be that your duck is shivering due to wet feathers, and you can examine it for this. The likely culprit is that there is something wrong with its preen gland.

Be sure to look for a yellow coloration near the tail area and also see whether the preen gland is swollen or not. This will indicate that the gland is likely infected, and you need to have a veterinarian check the gland to confirm this suspicion. 

If the weather is warm and you note that your duck is shivering, it could very well be a sign that the duck has contracted an infection or disease of some kind. Immediately isolate the shivering duck in a clean, dry, and comfortable space, then contact your veterinarian as they will need to examine the bird. 

Conclusion

Ducks are incredibly fascinating creatures when they are both on land and in the water, and sometimes their behavior can be a tad eccentric. Therefore it is a good idea to be aware of the good and bad reasons why your duck may be shivering and vibrating.

Shivering in ducks is a non-specific sign; however, if it persists, then it could signify wet feathers or the worse alternative, which is a potentially lethal disease. As mentioned, if you notice this behavior, rather be safe and isolate the duck immediately and contact your veterinarian. 

Dane McManis

Dane started learning about farming while volunteering on a farm. Now he and his wife raise chickens, pigs, and ducks on their small farm with their two little girls.

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