Ducks, also called water birds, are a delight of nature. Ducks live near or on water; you can find them close to fresh water and seawater on every continent of the world except Antarctica. You may be an avid duck watcher, but how much do you know about these cute birds? We have compiled 13 interesting duck facts for notching up your duck knowledge.
Before we begin, let’s deal with the confusion around which water bird is a duck and which is not. A lot of people mistake coots, loons, grebes, swans, and geese as ducks. However, ducks are much smaller than geese and swans but larger than loons, coots, and grebes.
Ducks have stout bodies, short necks, broad beaks, and legs placed rearwards. Unlike swans and geese, male and female ducks have different plumage and sounds. Male ducks molt twice a year and are incapable of flight during the molting period. The male ducks look like the females when going through molting.
Related: Read our duck quotes for more appreciation of these fine feathered fowls.
General duck facts
1. There are about 100 species of ducks.
Ducks belong to the subfamily Anatinae in the waterfowl family Anatidae1. The wild mallard duck, first domesticated around 2,000-3,000 years ago in China, is believed to be the ancestor of all domestic ducks.
We can find these aquatic birds in fresh and seawater on every continent except Antarctica.
In all species of duck, it is easy to tell the male duck, called a drake, apart from the female duck, called a hen. You can tell the difference right away from the colorful plumage of the drakes. The extravagant plumage is essential for a drake to attract a potential mate.
The hen has a dull and plain look, which provides a life-saving quality. It helps them blend into the environment and protect their baby ducks, called ducklings, from predators like hawks and big fish.
Read more in our deeper dive into the different types of ducks.
2. Ducks perch, dabble or dive.
Ducks are classified into dabbling, diving, and perching ducks according to their feeding and living habits.
The mallard duck, along with wigeons, teals, pintails, black ducks, and gadwalls, are dabbling ducks. They are so-called because they forage for food near the water surface or on land. To pick up food not too deep underwater, they immerse themselves headfirst into the water without completely submerging it. Dabbling ducks feed on seeds, surface water plants, and insects.
Perching ducks include the mandarin duck, the whistling duck, the muscovy duck, and the wood duck. As the category implies, these ducks often nest in trees where their long-clawed toes enable them to perch comfortably. They have similar feeding habits to dabbling ducks.
A diving duck dives underwater to grab fish for its meals. These diving ducks include the eider, scooters, and mergansers. Scaups, the ring-necked duck, and the pochards. These birds have more body weight than their dabbling counterparts, which helps them remain stable deep underwater. The canvasback, redhead, goldeneye, bufflehead, and ruddy ducks are also diving ducks.
3. Ducks don’t just quack; they also whistle, coo, scaup, grunt, and yodel.
The quack sound has come to be associated with all ducks, but the truth is that the female duck quacks the most. Especially the female dabbling ducks. Most duck species make a variety of sounds, including whistles, coos, scaup, grunts, and yodels.
In all species, the male ducks do not make a lot of sounds; they are mostly silent.
Researchers at the acoustics research center, University of Salford, UK, have proven the common urban legend that ducks quack don't echo as false.
Can ducks fly?
4. Some ducks can fly.
People often wonder, “Can ducks fly?” Well, yes, some ducks fly. Ducks are not famous for their flying prowess but have strong, short wings that allow them to fly.
Not every duck that is capable of flight flies. Since migration or extreme danger usually prompts ducks to fly, ducks in captivity or domestic ducks have no reason to fly. They are protected from danger and extreme cold in winter.
We know wild ducks for their impressive flying feats. When ducks migrate, they fly long distances to warmer areas during their yearly winter migration. Not every wild duck is capable of flight. The Falkland steamer duck has wings so short it is unfit for flying.
Furthermore, popular species of ducks, such as Mallard Ducks, go through a molting season each year, which prevents them from flying. This period of time, usually about a month, can also make ducks vulnerable to predators.
How long do ducks live?
5. Ducks can live for up to 20 years.
Ducks can live to a ripe old age, depending on their living conditions, breed, and diet. Wild ducks can live for twenty years, but ducks in zoos, parks, or farms usually live for ten to fifteen years.
The answer to “How long do ducks live?” will always vary. The oldest duck recorded by the Guinness World Records lived to be 49 years old. There are also reports of a female mallard duck having lived for over 20 years.
The female duck's long life is also affected by how many eggs she lays per season. The more eggs laid, the shorter her lifespan. Since daylight exposure will cause a female duck to lay more eggs, duck farmers use artificial lighting to expose the mother duck to about 17 hours of light so that she can live long and produce eggs efficiently.
6. Most duck breeds are ready to have baby ducks after one year of living.
The female duck lays between 5 -12 eggs, depending on the amount of daylight it is exposed to. The more daylight exposure, the more duck eggs are laid. The eggs will hatch within 28 days, except for the muscovy duck, which takes 35 days to hatch. The female duck builds the nest where she lays her smooth, shelled eggs.
The male ducks don't do much to care for the baby duck, and it is up to the mother duck to protect them and teach them to forage for food. However, a male duck cooperates with other male ducks to protect the territory from predators.
Most ducks, except for the Mergini and Somateriini sea ducks and the shelduck, become mature in one year. Ducks mate for a season; the mating bond between male and female ducks doesn't last beyond a mating season. Come the following season, they choose a different partner.
What do ducks eat?
7. Ducks are omnivores.
A lot of bread feeding goes on in duck ponds, and it seems ducks only eat bread. On the contrary, ducks are omnivores like humans and can eat plants and other animals.
Wild ducks are foragers, and they go in search of their food. They like to feed on fish eggs, small fish, grubs, worms, mollusks, insects, salamanders, and aquatic plants.
Domesticated ducks shouldn't be fed bread alone or even allowed to overeat bread. Experts suggest that such an unvaried, high-calorie diet can cause malnutrition in ducks. It can also pollute the ponds and cause disturbing changes in duck habits like reluctance to forage and delayed migration.
If you must feed ducks, offer them a mix of corn, peas, oats, lettuce, and bird seeds instead.
8. Ducks have bristles instead of teeth.
Incredibly, ducks don’t have teeth for an aquatic bird that consumes a varied diet of fish and vegetables. All duck species do not have teeth but instead sport a row of bristles that act as a scoop and filter.
With their bristles, ducks can separate nutrient particles and keep bits of food in their mouths. It is also noteworthy to mention that a duck's bill is very sensitive, much like human fingers. Ducks use it to feel around for safe edibles.
9. Duck feet are never cold.
We know ducks to be excellent swimmers, able to swim fast and comfortably even in extremely cold waters. Apart from their webbed feet, which act as paddles, they have a little secret: their webbed feet hardly contain any blood vessels or nerves. That way, cold temperatures don’t register, and their feet never get cold.
Because of how closely their blood vessels are laid out, warm blood can pass on some heat to cold blood coming up from the legs. So, the duck keeps pretty warm even in frosty weather.
10. They have highly waterproof feathers.
Another feature that makes ducks such excellent swimmers is that ducks have highly waterproof feathers. Near a duck’s tail is an oil-producing gland called the preen gland. They use their bills to spread this oil all over their bodies while preening. This provides them with an oily waterproofing layer that keeps them dry and warm.
11. They have excellent vision.
Ducks can control their eyes independently and can sleep with one eye open. Ducks have three eyelids and can see objects up to 3 times farther away than humans can. With their excellent vision, Ducks can also see ultraviolet light better than humans.
Due to the location of their eyes at the sides of their heads, ducks have panoramic vision, which enables them to see at almost 340 degrees. To combat the lack of depth perception that comes with panoramic vision, ducks move their head from side to side really quickly to observe any object with both eyes and create a 3-dimensional perception.
12. Ducks are important to our economies.
Duck facts show that domestic ducks go back about 3,000 years ago. Today, people in many countries practice duck farming, but it is not very popular.
In America, the white Pekin duck is the most popular domestic duck breed. They also value the Pekin duck for its fast growth, meaty flesh, and abundant egg production.
Apart from food, other ducks are also valued for their soft feathers and down. You can find a duck’s feathers and down in the most luxurious clothing, bedding, and pillows.
13. Daffy duck is the more famous duck
Warner Brothers first featured Daffy Duck way back in 1937 in a cartoon called Porky’s Duck Hunt, which arguably makes him the most famous duck since ducks have become regular features in cartoons and popular culture.
Not all ducks are created equal, from Daisy to Donald to Scrooge McDuck, and these characters have become widely loved and loathed across our TV and movie screens.
Final thoughts on our compilation of fun duck facts
Ducks are lovable social animals. People raise them alone or with other farm animals. They are also great pets as they are friendly. We hope that these 12 duck facts give you more reasons to find them lovable.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Duck