Why Do Ducks Wag Their Tails?

If you’ve ever seen your pet duck wagging its tail, you probably wonder if this is a good or bad sign. 

What is going through the little bird’s head to cause this behavior?

Key Takeaway:

Domestic ducks wag their tails for many different reasons, including mating behavior, shaking off water, and showing excitement. It is natural for ducks to wag their tails, but it is sometimes a sign something is wrong.

Keep reading to learn more about the different reasons ducks wag their tails and when this behavior should cause worry.

why do ducks wag their tails

Explanations for Tail-Wagging Ducks

Ducks will naturally wag their tails for many reasons. 

This includes keeping their balance while walking, showing potential mates they are available, and showing signs something is wrong. 


The clumsy way ducks walk is called waddling, and their tails are important for keeping their balance. 

Their semi-aquatic bird bodies are great for looking graceful while swimming, but their walking is anything but.

Ducks’ legs are toward the back of their bodies, which makes them off balance. 

Flat webbed feet do nothing to help with this. 

Ducks wag their tails to counteract how much they move side to side while walking.

The tail movement helps them keep their balance as they lurch to each side.

One notable exception to this is the runner duck. 

These ducks don’t waddle because they are positioned upright and have better balance. 

If you have runner ducks, you’ll notice they don’t waddle their tails as much as they run around.

Shaking Off Water

Ducks spend considerable time in the water, whether it’s a pond or a kiddie pool. 

No one likes being wet all day, so ducks wag their tails to shake off excess water. 

This helps them dry off faster. 

You’ve likely seen a dog shake off after being in the water, and it’s the same thing.

Mostly, water droplets will roll off the ducks’ feathers because of a special oil they produce to make themselves waterproof. 

However, sometimes water will pool in their tail feathers, creating excess moisture. 

Waterlogged feathers are uncomfortable and can cause illness, so ducks will wag their tails to get rid of the water.

Further Reading: Why Ducks Have Feathers

Dealing with Illness

If the ducks don’t get rid of the excess water droplets, they can develop into wet feathers. 

If a duck’s tail feathers retain moisture for too long, the feathers can lose their waterproofing abilities because the gland-producing waterproofing oil stops working.

This causes a lot of health issues. 

First, having a wet tail will make the ducks cold and uncomfortable. 

Second, they will avoid water, which only worsens the problem. 

They need to use water to stay clean, so avoiding water will lead to dirt and bacteria buildup.

A dirty duck invites parasites in, and the bird will over-preen its feather while trying to get rid of them. 

Now you have a dirty, cold duck with missing feather spots. 

When you see this sign of illness, you need to take action.

Wash your duck with warm water and Dawn dish soap. 

Rinse well and blow dry the duck off. 

Once the duck is clean, it has a chance to start over. 

Keep an eye on your bird to ensure the oil preen gland is working properly.

Mating Season

Tail wagging is more commonly seen in male ducks than female ducks. 

This is because it is used in mating behavior. 

Male ducks bob their heads and flap their wings, hoping their show will attract a mate.

A healthy male will be more attractive and more likely to secure a mate. 

A duck with missing tail feathers due to wet feathers, fighting, or another reason is less attractive.

Further Reading: Do ducks bite when fighting?

Female ducks might also wag their tails to signal interest, but this isn’t always the case. 

For the most part, tail wagging will only be part of the male duck’s courtship ritual.

Being Excited

We all know dogs wag their tails when they see their owner because they are excited. 

Domesticated ducks might also exhibit the same behavior when excited, although this is more anecdotal than scientific.

Reasons for excitement-induced tail wagging include food and attention. 

Many duck owners say their excited ducks wag their tails more intensively during meal time. 

Some say their ducks are just excited to see their human.

Related Post: Why do ducks bob their heads?

Calming Down

This potential reason is related to the last one we discussed. 

In addition to tail wagging because of excitement, ducks sometimes wag their tails to calm down after being excited or stressed.

This isn’t a super common reason, but it explains if none of the other reasons seem to apply.

The theory is tail wagging is calming to the ducks. 

Duck owners report seeing their ducks displaying this after seeing predators or fighting with other ducks.

If your duck seems to be wagging its tail in response to a threat, figure out what is causing your bird stress.

Do All Ducks Have Tails?

Different breeds of ducks have different shapes, lengths, and appearances of tails. 

However, they all have some form of a tail.

There is also variation between male and female ducks of the same breed. 

For example, female mallards do not have the upward curl of male mallards’ tails.

Some ducks have long, straight tails, like northern pintails and long-tailed ducks. 

Other breeds have stiff and spiky tails, such as the ruddy and blue-billed duck breeds.

Domestic and wild ducks will wag their tails, commonly seen in pet ducks. 

Part of this is the fact pet ducks are easier to observe due to all the time they spend around humans.

Wild ducks will wag their tails during their mating ritual and after stressful situations. 

Pet ducks will do these things, but they will also wag their tails in apparent excitement at seeing humans. 

Wild ducks don’t exhibit this same behavior.