Do ducks need a pond? No.
Do you need a pond to enjoy your ducks? Yes.
Let me explain.
Why do ducks need water?
Unlike chickens who only need water for drinking, ducks need water for other purposes.
1. Drinking. Just like all animals and plants, ducks need water for hydration.
2. Eating. After grabbing food, ducks will immediately drink water so they don't choke.
3. Bathing. Unlike chickens who take dust baths, ducks use water to eliminate bugs and clean their dirty feathers. Ducks also love to dig in the mud with their bills and because of this, they need water to clean out their sinuses.
4. Oil Distribution. Ducks have an oil gland at the base of their tail. They use water to distribute the oil all over their feathers so as to waterproof themselves.
5. Mating. If you plan to hatch your own ducklings, ducks prefer to mate in the water.
So yes, ducks need water at least to a depth they can dip their whole bills in and splash water upon themselves. You can provide this water source for ducks in a number of ways including large bowls or the commonly used kiddie pool.
Do you need a pond to enjoy your ducks?
From my personal experience, I believe that for your sanity and the true happiness of the ducks, you need to have a naturally fed pond or stream for your ducks. Why?
1. Ducks will muck up, in a matter of seconds, any bowl or pool leading to a maintenance nightmare. Everyday, and perhaps multiple times a day depending on the size of the water source, you will need to change the water. This means dumping out the water and filling it back up; a messy and time consuming process. Personally, my least favorite chore required to take care of our animals is changing the water, especially in the winter months and thus, I can't imagine having to do this daily in the size of a kiddie pool.
2. Ducks like to party it up in the water meaning it is splashed everywhere. This unfortunately leads to a wet and stinky run. It can be downright gross. We have enough of this problem with the few bowls of water we have in the run.
3. If you ever watch ducks in a pond, you know that it is where they are at their happiest. They are built to be in water and honestly, as an animal lover, I try to insure that my animals get to act in their most instinctual manner. I believe it is important for their health that ducks get to engage in the behaviors that are at their essence of being a duck. Water is simply their happy place.
4. I recognize that many people are in the business of producing duck eggs and thus this reason might not be as important, but to truly enjoy watching your ducks, you need to see them in water. Yes they are super cute on land, but in the water they are mesmerizing. My favorite outdoor relaxing place is the lounge chair right next to our pond where I can watch our ducks.
So yes, I do love my ducks. They are a wonderful addition to our homestead. However, would I love them as much if we didn't build our pond? Honestly, I don't think so.