Ducks! We love them thanks to Donald Duck. An umbrella term, “duck” is a common name which includes geese, swans. and other species of the waterfowl family Anatidae. But when we talk about “ducks” in everyday life, we refer to small aquatic birds that are found both in fresh water and seawater. The word “duck” comes from the Old English “duce” which means to dive because of the way the ducks feed by upending. How much do you know about them? These wacky facts about ducks will tell you something you might not have heard about the cute creatures.
1. Ducks have bones in their tongue.
Avian tongues are different from the tongues of mammals. Mammal tongues are all muscle, no bone but avian tongues have bones in them. Ducks have bones that run down the middle of their two-inch-long tongue. These bones are called the “hyoid apparatus” and support the larynx. There is one more difference in avian tongues. They do not have taste buds on the surface but tiny papillae that protrude on either side of their tongues. The papillae help the ducks hold their food and direct it towards the esophagus, helping them swallow the food. (1, 2)
2. Ducks’ quacks are influenced by the environment. They quack in their own regional accents.
Just as the language English is spoken in different accents by people from different regions, ducks do the same. They quack differently. “Cockney” ducks make a rough sound so that the other “Cockney” ducks can hear them above all other sounds. Their sound was “vocally excitable” and like a “shout and a laugh.” But “Cornish” ducks have a different sound to their quack which is softer and more relaxed. It sounds like they are “giggling.”
Dr. Victoria De Rijke who has been fondly called “Dr. Quack” observed that ducks are influenced by the environment. Her team recorded quacks at different locations to come to the conclusion. The ducks who lived in the city had louder, high-pitched quacks to compete with the other sounds in the environment like the honking and the sirens. Those who lived in the countryside didn’t have those noises to compete with. (source)
3. Ducks have supremely waterproof feathers. Even when they dive underwater, the underlayer of the feathers stays completely dry.
Waterbirds with waterproof feathers—that is something. When ducks preen (rub their feathers with their beaks), they spread a waxy coating as a protective layer on their feathers which aids in making the feathers waterproof. This waxy oil is produced by the uropygial gland at the base of their tails which helps them coat their feathers well. Their feather structure is very intricate and not as simple as it looks from the outside. Underneath the surface feather layer lies a downy underlayer which can stay completely dry even when ducks are fully submerged in the water. Apart from this, the waxy coating also insulates them from extremely cold temperatures. The next time you see a duck rubbing its beak on its feathers, don’t think they are grooming. It is a vital survival technique. (source)
4. The voices of the male ducks are “whispery” compared to that of a female duck’s. Now you know why Disney’s Donal Duck cannot speak but Daisy Duck can.
In the duck kingdom, females have a better voice. The males are known as “drakes” and the females are known as “ducks.” Their sex can be determined by their quacks. A female duck would go, “Quack!” or “Uht-uht,” and a male duck would barely whisper softly. Young male ducks make sounds that resemble a whistle. Once they reach maturity, the whistle vanishes. By the time they are 10 weeks old, their voices have taken shape and their gender can be determined from their voices alone. Another difference between a female and male duck is in the shape of their tail feathers. The feathers of the male are curled; the females have straight feathers. If you see a duck with a beak that has freckles, it is most definitely a female who has begun egg-laying. This is why Donal Duck in the Disney world cannot speak (he whispers maybe, but we cannot hear it), and Daisy Duck can. (source)
5. Newborn ducks take on the characteristics of the first creature they see. If they first see a human, their natural instinct will tell them to follow them, and they will grow up thinking they are human.
They may not look it, but ducks are smart. Their ability of “imprinting” an animal or a human has fascinated researchers for a really long time. We are familiar with the pictures of seeing ducklings follow their mother across a road into the pond. They can imitate the behavior of their mother without much training. They have cognitive abilities and demonstrate abstract thought.
When the ducklings are born and for the short period after that, they practice a behavior known as “imprinting” where the behavior of the parent is followed like a “metaphorical stamp.” If a duckling is separated from their mother right after birth, they will follow the steps of whatever they see around them. An Austrian biologist, Konrad Lorenz, described this “abnormal imprinting behavior” which won him the Nobel Prize in 1973. Ducklings could follow a non-living thing too that moved—like a moving ball. His study found that the ducklings used sight primarily to follow their mother. This behavior has been noticed in other birds as well. (source)
6. While sleeping in a row, the ducks who sleep on the outside sleep with one eye open and only half their brain asleep. The ones on lookout duty get some rest too.
The ducks look out for each other even when they are asleep, and that is where we get the old saying about sleeping with one eye open in case of danger. Researchers from Indiana State University filmed a row of mallard ducks sleeping. The ones at the end of the row kept their eye which faced towards the outside open for one-third of the night. The ducks who slept in the middle had both their eyes closed. This is what the scientists term as “single-hemisphere” sleep. The ducks controlled which side of their brain fell asleep and which was awake. If their right eye was open, their right hemisphere was active, same goes with the left side. The side that was awake had activity levels of an awake bird and the one asleep showed waves characteristics of sleep according to the electroencephalogram recordings. These “lookout” ducks kept their group out of harm’s way. Even with only one of their eyes open, they can react to a predator in one-fifth of a second. (1, 2)
7. Ducks can sometimes become cannibalistic when they are bored or when they fall prey to lack of ventilation or faulty nutrition.
Ducks can begin to attack and consume the creatures around them in situations associated with boredom or when they are in suffocating and living in overcrowded spaces, or when they are not fed well. This can begin in ducks of any age, but those that are older than four weeks are more vulnerable. The only way to stop them from doing so and causing damage is removing the rim at the front of their upper bill which is performed by a beak-trimming professional.
In 1926, 10 newly hatched ducklings had to be moved from their pen in Washington park because their mother had begun her cannibalistic onslaught on them along with a few other ducks. Their caretaker said these Muscovy ducks were fed corn but they crave meat, and when they do not get that, they can go against their own kind to obtain it. (1, 2)
8. There used to be a real horse-sized duck – the Dromornis stirtoni.
Prehistoric ducks that looked like a giant emu but were closely related to fowls (ducks) lived from eight million years ago until less than 30,000 years ago in the sub-tropical landmass of Australia. Known as Dromornis stirtoni, the bird had a height of 9.8 feet and weighed up to 730 kilograms. They are sometimes referred to as “Stirton’s thunderbirds” even though they did not run very fast and were flightless. They had a long neck and stub-like wings with a large beak. They were suspected to be carnivores because of their large beaks, but researchers dismissed that hypothesis and classified the duck as a herbivore when they discovered that the beaks lacked specializations for carnivory. (source)
9. Feeding bread, crisps, doughnuts, popcorn etc., to the ducks is potentially dangerous for them. They no longer feel hungry but get no nutrients causing malnutrition.
It is common practice to find people feeding breadcrumbs and popcorn to the ducks. Food items like that are good sources of carbohydrates and satiate the duck’s hunger, but they get no nutrients from it. It also causes excessive weight gain among the duck population and other issues caused by a carb-rich diet. Feeding a little bread is not harmful, but often there is no one to moderate the amount of bread the ducks are fed.
Feeding bread creates the problem of pollution as the uneaten and soggy crumbs of bread rots creating repelling odors and the formation of algae on its surface. These algae can clog the growth of the other plants in the water having a negative impact on the aquatic life, even going to the extent of eradicating it. Ducks have a tendency to lay more eggs when an abundant food source is available resulting in overcrowding. We know that overcrowding and malnutrition can lead ducks towards cannibalism. A few other problems that can surface are spread of diseases, the attraction of unwanted pests, aggression towards humans due to loss of natural behavior, and a habitual feeding of bread and other food items. (source)
10. Some farmers in Bangladesh have begun raising ducks instead of chickens because during the catastrophic floods that are frequent in the region, ducks can float and survive.
Many areas in the country of Bangladesh flood every year, and these floods are disastrous for the farmers, especially. Those poultry farmers who raise chickens for meat and eggs lose all of them as chickens can be blown away by powerful winds in case of a cyclone. They cannot swim in case of a flood and do not survive. But ducks can swim and fly. Ducks were also found to be more disease resistant than chickens and lay larger and more nutritious eggs. Now, the families in Bangladesh raise ducks instead to eat and sell their meat and eggs. They are the preferred farm animals. They are reared more for domestic consumption and less for commercial motives. Ducks are known to play a significant role in the lives of 80% of the rural population in Bangladesh. (source)