Ducks, contrary to famous cartoons, are not necessarily foul-tempered. They are wonderful birds and come in a large number of breeds. Along with waterbirds like geese, they can be seen on most waterways in the world.
Ducks have even become somewhat intertwined with human domestic living. Some ducks are associated with farm living. Others are farmed for meat and eggs. They also range considerably in size, from as small as 2 lbs (the Call Duck) to as large as 15 lbs (the Muscovy Duck).
There are some interesting facts about ducks that most people might not know. Here are 37 interesting facts about ducks that will astound, puzzle, and even enamor you.
37 Interesting Facts About Ducks
1. Dancing Duck Fever
In the wild, a mating ritual includes “dancing” calls and feather displays meant to attract females. A male duck’s ability to dance gives it a better chance of finding a mate. Females seem to prefer the best dancers. More accurately, a mating performance ultimately convinces a female which is the better mate. To some degree, plumage also comes into it.
2. Ducks Together Strong
Aside from sticking together to combat predators, ducks are very social. They will share feeding grounds, happily swim together in groups called paddlings, and generally seem happy to chatter amongst themselves.
3. Some Ducks Like Nuts
A strange and not-that-well-known fact about the duck diet—some ducks eat acorns! Ducks that live in the woods have been seen to consume willow acorns, which is not what you’d expect from these water birds. Usually, ducks will eat grasses, worms, bugs, amphibians, and fish.
4. Duck Bills Can Feel
Did you know that duck bills may feel hard, but they are sensitive, allowing ducks to “feel” through them? Think of them as hands—ducks are able to feel textures and various other sensory things through them.
Duck bills are different from chicken beaks. Bills tend to feel leathery to the touch. On the other hand, domestic chickens have beaks that are hard and always pointed, useful for scratching about in the soil.
5. Ducks Have Accents
Different ducks, even those of the same breed, vary their sound from region to region. For example, you may find that ducks that live in the country quack slightly differently from ducks closer to the city. One common trait is that country ducks are typically softer than city ducks. But ducks from region to region also sound their quack differently, suggesting “accents”.
6. Where Are the Ducks?
Ducks are found all around the world except in Antarctica. They live in fresh and saltwater. As mentioned, domesticated ducks can also be found on farms, and some live in or near cities, usually near water sources.
7. Ducks Can Crossbreed
Ducks are rare in that some breeds actually crossbreed with other breeds of duck and even with other species of waterbird. Mallards and Wood Ducks are known for this.
Sometimes, this results in mule ducks. This means that the duck possesses a genetic mutation, carrying more chromosomes than standard ducks. Usually, this means that it will not be able to breed.
8. Ducks Steal Nests
Ducks are somewhat opportunistic, and it seems they will avoid going to the trouble of building a nest if they can help it. Some ducks will effectively hijack a nest that another duck has built, and lay their eggs in it instead. Cheeky.
9. Ducks are Muscle Bound
Ducks are very muscular. Once you know that they have up to 12,000 muscles to draw on to control all their body parts and feathers, you won’t want to mess with one. Bear in mind that they also have to be very strong in order to dive underwater, fly, and do all the other things ducks do.
10. Duck Communication Starts Early
Ducks can actually communicate before they are hatched. Studies show that ducklings still in their eggs can actually “talk” to each other. Scientists believe that this assists with the ability to hatch at the same time. “Are you ready? I’m ready!”
11. Long Lives
Ducks can be hardy and can live surprisingly long lives for such small animals. One of the oldest ducks on record (that was hunted) was aged 29 years old. It was a Canvasback in Tennessee. The oldest domestic ducks on record were said to be about 49 years old in 1966, from Grahamstown, South Africa.
12. Sharp Eyes
Ducks have superb eyesight, and yes, it’s usually better than humans. They can see further and with much greater detail. More than that, their eyes can move independently, which means that their brains can process visual information from each eye separately.
13. High Flyers
Ducks may not be the first birds that come to mind when you think about impressive flyers. After all, they seem to spend most of their time lounging about on lakes and rivers. But of course, ducks do fly, and some have been seen flying at an altitude of 21,000 feet! That is not average, but it is impressive.
14. Smart Birds
Humans often wonder whether other animals are “intelligent”. They usually define this intelligence as the ability to construct abstract thoughts. Studies show that ducks are fully capable of recognizing objects and relationships between objects, making them capable of this abstract thought.
Ducks also show more affection for their siblings, ducklings, and parents. So, yes, ducks are extremely intelligent, by those standards.
15. Raining Ducks
In 1973, weather conditions were so severe, that it started raining ducks. Sadly, it is thought that the ducks had been killed in one of two ways: Either they were killed by hail, or their wings froze as they flew, causing them to plummet to their deaths.
16. The Early Duck Survives
In a duck’s life cycle, those that hatch earlier will likely survive longer. Nearly 40% of early hatchlings survive to breeding age. The rate is much lower for late hatchlings.
17. Ducks Are Clean and Tidy
It may surprise you to learn that ducks are surprisingly clean, and like to keep themselves so. They can be regularly seen preening and cleaning their feathers, and their nests are relatively pristine—clean from debris or duck poop.
18. Ducks Helped Spark the Gold Rush
It seems bizarre to say, but the great Gold Rush in the US was partly triggered by ducks. People found traces of gold in the gizzards of ducks that they had hunted. With the knowledge that ducks often eat small rocks and soil to help digest food, it was assumed that the ground in Nebraska contained gold.
19. Huge Gatherings
Large duck gatherings are not uncommon. But the biggest groups can defy belief. One flock observed in 1940 in Catahoula Lake, Louisiana estimated nearly 8 million ducks gathered in one place. Fortunately, they decided not to riot.
20. Ducks Sometimes Cannot Fly
Many bird species lose feathers one by one, allowing them to fly all year round. Like some other waterfowl, ducks lose their primary feathers all at once. This means that for 20-40 days around spring, they cannot fly.
21. The Eyes Have It
More about the eyes: Ducks are able to sleep with one eye open. This makes them very difficult to approach. You never know whether they are watching you.
22. Some Ducks Lay Huge Eggs
One bizarre fact relating to duck eggs is ascribed to the Ruddy duck. These ducks lay the largest eggs in proportion to the body. In fact, the egg can weigh more than the hen.
23. Possible Multiple Fathers
One brood may actually be the offspring of several male ducks. That is to say, a clutch of eggs in a nest may chrome from one female duck, but several mallards. Biologically speaking, this is a positive thing for genetic diversity.
24. Ducks Love Cool Colors
One more fact about eyes: A study has shown that ducks like certain colors, specifically colors that slant towards blue or green. It’s not immediately clear why, other than an assumption that they may associate it with “greener” environments.
25. Mass Migration Trouble
On rare occasions, when weather patterns are extreme, the mass migration of birds and ducks can cause problems for human technology. In 1995, for example, so many ducks and geese migrated from the Prairie Pothole Wetlands that they jammed radar installations and grounded flights across two states.
26. The Eyes Can Deceive
Some duck eyes are camouflaged. Female and young ducks, especially, show colors and patterns on their head that obscure the placement of their eyes. Presumably, this helps to discourage predators and other ducks from approaching.
27. No Cold Feet
The blood vessel structure in a duck’s feet allows it to swim in extraordinarily cold water. They can swim in much colder water than humans since they do not lose as much heat because of these blood vessels.
28. Ducks Group Together Instinctively
The cutest thing in the world is watching little ducklings walk in a row and generally stick together in everything that they do. This behavior most likely has to do with trying to combat predators—safety in numbers and all that.
But even adult ducks love to stick together, probably for the same reasons. More eyes looking out for threats equals a smaller chance of something sneaking up on them.
29. Bill Form Follows Function
The shape of the bill tells a lot about a duck’s life habits. Flat bills mean that the species eat lots of plants, while sharper bills allow a duck to dig for grubs or fish.
30. The Disappearing Duck
The Spectacled Elder duck was a mystery when it came to where it spent its winters. When scientists managed to tag a few of them and track them via satellite, they found that several had settled in fissured ice around the Bering Sea.
31. The Need For Flight Speed
When it comes to flying, ducks are no slouches, as you’ll see in some of the other entries in this list. The fastest duck in flight was measured at 100 mph airspeed. That’s about the speed of an average commercial helicopter going at full throttle. It’s also much faster than Usain Bolt.
32. Deep Divers
When you take a deep dive into ducks, you discover that they can dive deep. The Longtailed or oldsquaw sea duck can dive down to 240 feet, and several other ducks do a comparable job of jetting into the depths for food. The Longtailed duck’s ability is even more impressive since it lives in arctic waters.
33. Disposable Junk
A drake’s penis may actually fall off and regrow over time. Ducks are the only bird species with external reproductive male organs.
34. Mating Can Be Violent
Duck mating can be violent and sometimes results in injury or even death for a female. Also interesting is the ability of the female to actually reject sperm from an undesirable mate. She technically has the ability to only produce offspring from a mate of her choosing. This does not protect her from unwanted male attention, though.
35. Terms of Enduckment
Time for some technical terms, in case you’re having a dinner party and need to impress some family members:
- Hen or duck – a female
- Drake – a male
- Duckling – a baby duck
- Raft – a group of ducks
- Team or paddling – also a group, though usually on the water
36. Swopping Genders
Ducks can change genders. When the gender balance threatens the successful survival of the flock, a duck can switch gender. It is a very rare occurrence—about 1 in 10,000 by scientists’ estimates. There is a long scientific theory for why and how this happens, but it has been observed to a degree of scientific confirmation.
37. Old Ducks Go “Gray”
Obviously, white ducks are always white. Some ducks are born yellow but will turn white as they mature. As most other ducks age, they turn white. Dark-feathered ducks will eventually develop white patches and turn completely white if they get old enough. In some cases, observers have also identified albinism in ducks.