Five Little Ducks-Lyrics, History, Video, Lesson Plans & More

Five Little Ducks is a traditional nursery rhyme about five little ducks and their mother. It is one of the oldest rhymes and is an excellent way to teach children to count.

It has been translated into many languages, including French and German.

What Are the Lyrics of Five Little Ducks?

Lyrics As Sung Today

The song lyrics have remained the same over the years. There are, however, instances where the animals are changed to include others. For example, instead of five little ducks, its five little elephants, chicks, or calves.

Here are the lyrics as I learned them growing up:

Five little ducks went out one day,
Over the hills and far away,
Mother duck said,
“Quack, quack, quack,”
But only four little ducks came back.

Four little ducks went out one day,
Over the hills and far away,
Mother duck said,
“Quack, quack, quack,”
But only three little ducks came back.

Three little ducks went out one day,
Over the hills and far away,
Mother duck said,
“Quack, quack, quack,”
But only two little ducks came back.

Two little ducks went out one day,
Over the hills and far away,
Mother duck said,
“Quack, quack, quack,”
But only one little duck came back.

One little duck went out one day,
Over the hills and far away,
Mother duck said,
“Quack, quack, quack,”
But none of the little ducks came back.

So Mother Duck went out one day
Over the hills and far away,
Mother duck said
“QUACK, QUACK, QUACK!” (Use louder voice)
And all of the five little ducks came back.

Differences in The Lyrics

There are some versions with a different final stanza to the one above.

1. Father Duck Calling for the Little Ducks at the End

Instead of mother duck, the stanza has father duck calling for the chicks and them returning.

Some people, somewhat tongue in cheek, see this as sexist since the ducklings only return after their father calls for them. That depicts the mother duck as a lousy mom who doesn’t bother looking for the lost duckling, only getting alarmed when none returns.

It thus isn’t as popular as the original versions where it’s the mother calling for her little ducks.

Here it is the first of several nursery rhymes. Wait till the end to see daddy duck finally call for the little ducks and them showing up.

2. Changing Mother Duck for Father Duck (or teacher, Uncle, Aunty etc…)

There is a song variation where singers replace the mother duck part with the father duck. It is only a simple interchange you can try if you want to break from the monotony of mother duck calling for the little ducks all the time.

But again, you need to remember that no rule stops you from playing around with the lyrics after all!

The Different Variations of the Five Little Ducks Nursery Song

Although the original lyrics are about five little ducks, different variations include other animals. They, however, follow the same rhyme as the original lyrics although the tune can sometimes be slightly different.

Below are the lyrics to some of them.

Five Little Snowmen

Five little snowmen, all made of snow,
Five little snowmen standing in a row,
Out came the sun and stayed all day,
And one little snowman melted away.

(Repeat until no snowmen are left.)

Five Brown Bunnies

Five brown buns in the baker’s shop
Five brown buns with sugar on the top
Along came a man
With a penny in his hand
He took one bun, and off he ran!


Who Came Up with Five Little Ducks?

Although the Five Little Ducks song has been around for a long time, the author’s identity is unknown. Only the names of authors who have made reimagined versions of the song are known.

Since the original author is unknown, there is little to nothing about the song’s history. We know that the song is one of the most popular songs used to teach children how to count.

It introduces to the children the concept of counting in descending order. That’s from the disappearance of the ducks from 5 to zero. That’s what makes it such a popular song.

What’s most notable for most of the 80’s and 90s kids is the song’s adaptation by one of the world’s beloved children’s entertainers, Ralf. He included the song in his Album, Rise and Shine. That further popularized the song to the masses of children that loved his music.

In 2016, Denise Fleming wrote a picture book of the song that teaches children to count the ducks and the days of the week. She reworded most of the words in the poem and included funny illustrations that children can relate to.

The Five Little Ducks song has different versions in different world languages from Spanish (Cinco patitos), French (Cinq petits canards), Italian (Cinque paperelle), German (Fünf kleine Enten) to Portuguese (Cinco patinhos).

All that serves to show the popularity of the song.


What Are Little Ducks?

Little ducks are the children of a duck that we typically call ducklings. In this case, the word ‘little” shows us they are ducklings and not adult ducks. Only little ducks would fail to find their way home after a day of playing out over the hills.

Does it make you wonder why their mother didn’t look for them immediately after noticing they had begun disappearing?

What Is Mother Duck

Ducks are just like humans in that they also have a mother and a father. The ducks, in this case, have a mother duck. Although there is a name for the male duck(drake), the female only goes by duck or hen.

So, in this case, the mother hen is the female duck, the mother to the five ducklings.

Where Did the Ducks Disappear to?

As the song progresses, the ducks stop returning one by one whenever they go out over the hills and far away to play.

We can’t tell what held the little ducks from returning the first time they disappeared. When you start singing the song and aren’t familiar with how it goes, you might worry about the little ducks

However, the happy ending where all the little ducks’ return allays your fears of them having lost their way. That also means nothing terrible happens to the little ducks when they disappear one by one.

It is most likely each little duck became preoccupied with something along their way and was distracted playing or observing something new, just as toddlers and preschoolers do on a walk – who have to be reminded by their adult to keep up, or to keep walking!

What Does Quack Mean?

The word quack can refer to a fake professional, especially in the medical field. However, in this context, the mother duck makes the sound to call the ducklings. Quacking is a harsh sound you hear ducks make for various reasons.

We all know the expression if it walks and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.


Is Five Little Ducks in the Public Domain?

Since the song’s original author is unknown, anyone can use the song. With no known author, you can’t get into trouble using the song for anything you like.

The only thing you need to remember is that other people’s versions of the song aren’t in the public domain. For instance, the version by a Canadian folk songs singer isn’t available in the public domain.

You can’t use it for your profit without their permission as it will get you in trouble because of copyright laws.

Does the Five Little Ducks Song Have Any Hidden Meanings?

Many nursery rhymes have hidden meanings that naturally will horrify many a parent. However, Five Little Ducks doesn’t have any hidden meaning besides the direct meaning when singing it.

It is only a fun song about five little ducks. The ducks not returning has no ulterior meaning but was a good tool to help children create a story in their minds and to visualize the counting from five to zero. We all learn better through stories!

Can a Mother Duck Be that Careless?

It is just a song!!! It is not a statement made about mothering or a careless mother. You can change the adult duck to any really – Father, Teacher, aunty, uncle.

But still people do question – Why didn’t she look for the first duck that disappeared??? There are so many answers to this – maybe it wasn’t the first time this has happened, maybe faraway is just on the other side of the pond where she can see them, maybe she knows the track well and she knew where they likely would have stopped to play, maybe this all happened in only five minutes, maybe there was another duck over the hill and faraway such as father duck???

After all if they could hear her when she quaked they really couldn’t have been that far away.

Honestly, it is a bit like myself calling my kids in from the backyard for dinner! There is one out there and so the other three all want to go out to get that one, then I call out again, two return, I ask where the others are and they run out but then one returns and this goes on and on until I have to go out myself and tell them all to get inside!!!

Why did she only go out looking when all of them failed to return? Another question people ask but seriously it is just a song…… but if she is anything like me – she was probably busy making dinner and had asked the other kids (ducklings) to tell the others to come inside, but each time another just wanted to play a little longer on the trampoline!!!

What Does the Five Little Ducks Song Teach?

While lacking in any real moral lessons that you might find in other nursery rhymes, the Five Little Ducks Song teaches children to count backward from 5-0 and about the concept of subtraction.

This song can also help children learn about telling a story with a beginning, middle, and ending of events.

It can also help to develop motor skills as each line has specific actions that can accompany it as it is sung. The hand movements accompanying the singing make it easier for children to grasp the descending order of numbers as they visualize the concept of subtraction that is occurring.

Hand Actions for the song

Here are the lyrics together with the hand actions that you can use while singing.

Five little ducks went out one day (Hold up five fingers)

Over the hills and far away (Wave hand as if going up and down a hill)

Mother duck said, “quack quack quack quack,” (Open and close your hand like a quaking duck)

But only four little ducks came back. (Hold up four fingers)

(Repeat actions, using the corresponding number of fingers as you count down the numbers in descending order.)

Are There Any Other Songs That Share the Same Melody as Five Little Ducks?

Most of the songs sung the same way as five little ducks are derivatives of the song itself. The nursery rhyme Five Little birds comes to mind here. It has the same connotation as the Five Little Ducks Song, only that in this case, it is little birds leaving the nest to fly instead.

You can also sing the variations we mentioned earlier like you’d sing the Five Little Ducks.

Can You Sing Five Little Ducks in Sign Language?

Yes, you can. The following is an excellent video from YouTube that can teach you how to sing the song with sign language.


The following are a selection of Lesson Plans that I have found inspired by the Five Little Ducks Nursery Rhyme. All of the lessons are hosted by other websites, so you will need to click on the images to learn more and download their resources.


What time signature Is Five Little Ducks?

Five Little Ducks can have a time signature of either ¾ or 6/8. that tells you how much of an easy time any experienced musician would have with the song. Although it has six quavers on each bar, the logical way would be to sing it in threes to make it easier for them.


It is possible to play Five Little Ducks on most instruments. Below are some instructional videos from YouTube that will help you learn how to play the nursery rhyme on different instruments.

  1. The Piano
  • The Xylophone
  • Guitar
  • Violin
  • Ukulele


Samantha Bellerose has a Bachelor of Education as well as a Diploma in Performing Arts. She is a mom to four children and is passionate about education and learning. Samantha created Nursery Rhyme Central as the go to place for parents, teachers and carers about all things to do with Nursery Rhymes. She is also the Main Author and creator for websites Dance Parent 101 and Move Dance Learn, where she shares her knowledge and expertise for dance and learning through movement.

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