What Makes a Duck a Duck and Other Fun Facts

Bright Vivid Color Male Duck
Stunning feather display on male duck

“Duck” is actually a wide category of different types of waterfowl; there is no one duck species. All ducks do, though, share similar characteristics, although their feather colors and patterns differ. For one thing, all ducks are smaller than their close relatives, geese and swans. They also have shorter necks and stouter bodies, which you may notice the next time you have a chance to see them side-by-side. All ducks have waterproof feathers, which they must coat in oil from their “preen-gland” to keep them so. This keeps their bodies warm, even in cold water, because the water cannot get under their feathers. Ducks do not have feathers on their legs, though, and, even in very cold waters, they still don’t get cold. The blood vessels are arranged closely together in the ducks’ legs, allowing for the quick exchange of the warm and cold blood. This system cools the blood headed to the feet enough that the cold water doesn’t bother them.

Female ducks are called hens, and usually have brown feathers. This helps her to blend into water-side plants in order to protect herself and her young. The male ducks are called drakes, and usually have brightly colored feathers on their heads or bodies to attract mates. If you hear a duck making the characteristic quacking sound, that’s the female. The males make a lower sound instead.

Ducks are one of the species of birds who migrate during the winter. They do this to be able to fish in waters that don’t freeze, and to raise their young, who are more susceptible to the cold. In order to get to the warmer areas, they sometimes have to be able to fly thousands of miles. Directly before migration, ducks undergo molting, which leaves them temporarily flightless and vulnerable, and so they seek out hidden and secluded areas in which to wait it out. Ducks live all over the world, on all continents except Antarctica.

Female Duck in Water with Babies
Female duck swims with her babies.

The duck breeding ground is typically the place where the female was hatched. In the winter she will select a mate, who displays his vibrant feathers to attract her, and then lead him to their breeding ground in the spring. The male duck is very territorial and will chase away other ducks. While the female benefits from his protection while she build the nest, she shoos him away once she lays the eggs. The male ducks band together at this time.

Ducklings are very resilient and strong for their age. They are born usually a month after their egg is laid, and they are precocial, meaning that their eyes are open when they hatch. They also have a thick layer of down feathers which won’t allow them to swim, but luckily ducks are omnivores and the ducklings can feed themselves with food found along the bank and near the nest. They are ready to get out and do that just hours after hatching. Within 8 weeks, the ducklings’ feathers have fully grown in and they are ready to fly. While they are still flightless, though, they are in danger from predators along the waterside, and so their mothers will keep them all close together to protect them.

I hope you enjoyed this interesting look at ducks. Thank you for reading and until next time, goodbye!

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