It is morning in Hialmar's studio. Hialmar sits retouching a photograph and Gina enters with a covered basket. She reports that Gregers has made a mess of his room. He started a fire with the stove and left the floor a filthy puddle in his attempt to put it out. Hialmar has invited Gregers to lunch. Relling and Molvik, the tenants downstairs, will probably come as well. Gina sighs that she will find something to feed them with and urges her husband to finish his work.

Gina moves to the kitchen, and Hialmar listlessly returns to his photograph. Ekdal pokes in to ask if his son would like to join him in the garret. Eyeing Gina, Hialmar reluctantly stays at his desk. Hedvig enters from the kitchen and an exasperated Hialmar asks if Gina has sent her to spy on him. Seeing that her father yearns to join Ekdal in the garret, Hedvig offers to do his work. Despite the risk to her vision, Hialmar readily agrees. Hialmar and Ekdal are heard disputing inside.

Gregers appears at the door. He asks Hedvig if the wild duck slept well last night and remarks how it looks different in the day. Hedvig enthusiastically tells Gregers of the garret. Having left school to protect her eyes, she spends much of her time there with the duck. The garret is filled with books, an old bureau, and a broken clock. "[Time] has come to a standstill in there—in the wild duck's domain" remarks Gregers.

Hedvig continues, explaining that the treasures once belonged to a former tenant, an old sea captain dubbed "The Flying Dutchman." Though Hedvig spends hours looking at his pictures of distant lands, she has no desire to travel; she wants only to stay and work with her parents. Gregers asks what her father and grandfather do with the wild duck, since it seems, "by far the most distinguished inhabitant" of the garret. She is certainly pitiable—bereft of her family, no one knows her or from whence she comes. When Gregers jests that she has been "down in the depths of the sea," an embarrassed Hedvig confesses she has always considered the garret in such terms. Gregers assures her that her conviction is hardly stupid, and asks how she can be sure the garret is only a garret.

Gina appears. Gregers pointedly notes how convenient it is that Gina learned to retouch photographs long ago. He asks if she carries on the business and a suspicious Gina replies that a man as important as Hialmar cannot be expected to bother with such petty labors.

Suddenly a shot rings out from the garret. Hedvig annouces that the men are "out shooting." Hialmar emerges, and Gina chastises him for endangering themselves with his "pigstol" (pistol). Men must always have something to "pervert themselves" with, their perversion generally being what they choose for "diversion." Hialmar replaces the gun on the bookcase. Hedvig invites Gregers to examine the duck more closely. Gina and Hedvig then retire to the kitchen to prepare lunch.