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Wet Feather

Wet feather is a condition that occurs when a duck's feathers become water-logged, and lose their ability to repel water. Loss of waterproofing on their feathers also affects a duck's ability to float. This is because their feathers are made up of tiny barbs which latch together similar to Velcro. This creates a balloon-like effect which traps air between the feathers and the skin, resulting in the formation of air bubbles. The air bubbles are what add to a duck's natural buoyancy. Therefore, a duck with wet feather has an increased risk of drowning because of the affect it has on their ability to float in the water. Wet feather also affects a duck's ability to dry off when wet and can cause them to get chilled and get sick.

What Wet Feather Looks Like

Ducks with wet feather may be seen excessively preening---obsessively cleaning their feathers with their bills. Their feathers (plumage) may appear very dirty, thrifty, and broken.

What Causes Wet Feather?

Ducks can get wet feather due to a number of reasons. It is most commonly seen in ducks which are kept in an unsanitary, excessively muddy environment without access to fresh water to bathe in. If a duck is unable to get the mud off their feathers before it dries, it will absorb all of the moisture in their feathers, including the coating of oil that ducks distribute onto their feathers as they preen. Ducks can also get wet feather from lice, sooty black mold, and/or contamination of their feathers with oil-based products or detergents. Ducks with a preen gland infection may develop wet feather as a secondary result, by inability to produce the oil they need to maintain their feather properly.


Unthrifty appearance
Frayed, dirty feathers
Lack of or excessively preening feathers


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam


MethodMethod Summary
BathingGently bathe duck with a mild dish soap (Dawn works well) in lukewarm water.
Rinse them thoroughly.
Dry the duck with a clean towel or blow dryer, ensuring not to burn them by keeping it a good distance from the duck, and not staying in one place for too long.
Also keep on a lower heat setting if possible.
Control of liceIf lice is the cause, treat by dusting their feathers with a topical louse dust powder containing malathion or carbamate. Requires two applications, 2 weeks apart. Care should be taken not to leave excess powder on their feathers to reduce the chance of ingestion and toxicity as a result of the chemicals.
Management changesKeep ducks in a dry environment for a couple of days.
Provide shelter for them to go in to dry off and provide a fresh, clean water source for them to bathe in daily.


  • Provide regular access to clean, fresh water to bathe or swim in
  • Maintain a clean and dry living environment
  • Don't apply any oil-based products to their feathers



Risk Factors

  • Keeping ducks in continuously wet or muddy living conditions
  • Not providing them with enough water to bathe or swim in
  • Getting oil or other topical products on their feathers
  • Living in unsanitary conditions
  • Exposure to osier willows Salix viminalis, for they are known for carrying a sooty mold known as Cladosporium herbarum.