Ducks are birds. Ducks are also called ‘Waterfowl’ because they are normally found in places where there is water like ponds, streams and rivers. Ducks are related to Geese and Swans. Ducks are sometimes confused with several types of unrelated water birds with similar forms, such as loons (an aquatic bird found in many parts of North America and northern Europe) or grebes (freshwater diving birds) and coots (medium-sized water birds which are members of the Rail Bird family).

Duck Characteristics

Ducks are smaller than than their relatives (swans and geese). Ducks also have shorter necks and wings and a stout body.

A female duck is called a ‘hen’, they are identified by their very-dull, brown feathers. The females have dull-brown feathers so that they can hide from enemies and predators. They can also camouflage themselves in their nests and also protect their young.

A male duck is called a ‘drake’, you can identify the male duck by its brightly coloured feathers. They use these coloured feathers to attract the female ducks for mating. Here is a beautifully coloured Drake with a purple plumage, shiny green head colouring, silvery white body and grey wings with blue markings.

The males use their colourful plumage to attract females. However, they will lose or molt their colourful feathers when the females are busy hatching the eggs. The males will now look like the female in colour and will be unable to fly temporarily. They will molt again in early Autumn and get back their colourful feathers and be able to fly again. The females also molt. They replace all their feathers and get new ones after their ducklings are hatched.

Ducks have webbed feet, which are designed for swimming. Their webbed feet act like paddles for the ducks. Because their feet are webbed, they tend to ‘waddle’ instead of walking straight. Ducks cannot feel the cold in their feet even when swimming in icy cold water.

The reason for this is because their feet have no nerves or blood vessels in them. The webbed feet are powerful and allows the duck to swim rather fast.

A duck has water-proof feathers. There is a special gland called the ‘Preen Gland’ near the ducks tail. This tiny gland produces oil which the duck uses to coat its feathers.

The duck picks up the oil with its head and beak, and then smears it all over its body to make the outer feathers waterproof. Without this protective barrier, a ducks feathers would become water-logged and because they spend their whole lives around and in water, this water-proof barrier is extremely important. Beneath the water-proof coat are fluffy and soft feathers which keep the duck warm.

The ducks mouth is called a beak or bill. It is usually broad and flat and has rows of fine notches along the edge called ‘lamellae’. The lamellae helps the duck to grip its food so that it will not slip off.

However, ducks beak comes in different shapes and sizes. The shape of the beak and body determines how the duck will hunt for its food.

Duck Behaviour

Ducks keep clean by preening themselves. Ducks do this by putting their heads in funny positions and putting their beaks into their body. Ducks preen themselves very often. Preening also removes parasites, removes scales which cover newly sprouting feathers and also involves the removal of spreading oil over clean feathers.

Duck Habitats

Many species of duck are temporarily flightless while moulting. Ducks seek out protected habitats with a good food supply during this period. They usually moult before migrating.

Ducks are found in wetlands, marshes, ponds, rivers, lakes and oceans. This is because ducks love the water. Some species of ducks migrate or travel longs distances every year to breed. Ducks usually travel to warmer areas or where the water does not freeze so that they can rest and raise their young. The distance may be thousands of miles away. Ducks are found everywhere in the world except the Antartica which is too cold for them.

Duck Life Span

Ducks can live from 2 – 20 years, depending on species and whether they are wild ducks or ducks in captivity. Its a fact that a wild duck can live 20 years or more. Domestic ducks typically live 10 – 15 years in captivity. The world record is a Mallard Drake that lived to a ripe old age of 27 years.

Ducks and their feeding habits

Shovelers – these ducks have broad beaks and sift their food for insects, nails and seed from the mud.

Diving ducks and Sea ducks forage deep underwater. To be able to submerge more easily, the diving ducks are heavier than dabbling ducks and therefore have more difficulty taking off to fly. These ducks have long and narrow beaks. Their narrow beaks are also covered will saw-like edges which help them to grab fish.

Dabbling ducks feed on the surface of water or on land, or as deep as they can reach by up-ending without completely submerging. Their beaks are broad and short. Dabbling ducks have tiny rows of plates along the inside of the beak called ‘lamellae’ like a whales baleen. These let them filter water out of the side of their beaks and keep food inside. Dabbling ducks eat plants, seeds, grasses and other small insects and animals that they find on or under the water. Usually they stick their tails in the air and stretch their heads into the water to reach their food.

Dabblers usually have shiny coloured patches on their wings. The domestic ducks are dabblers too. They are descendents of the Mallards. Dabbling ducks take off from the water in quick jumps. Ducks with longer necks dive with their head down into the shallow water and pick up their food.

Duck Reproduction

Ducks usually look for a mate or partner in winter. Male ducks will attract the female ducks with their colourful plumage or feathers. The female ducks will then lead the male ducks to their breeding ground in spring. The breeding ground will usually be the place where the female duck was hatched. The female duck builds her nest with grass or reeds or even in a hole in a tree.

The male duck will guard their territory by chasing away other couples. Once the female lays 5 – 12 eggs, she will sit on her eggs to keep them warm so that they can hatch into ducklings. The male ducks on the other hand, will be with the other male ducks.


The eggs will hatch within 28 days normally, except for the Muscovy duck which takes about 35 days to hatch.The mother duck will keep her brood of ducklings together to protect them from predators. Animals like the racoon, turtles, hawks, large fish and snakes are a ducks main predators and they will eat the ducklings. Ducklings are able to fly within 5 – 8 weeks. Their feathers develop very fast.

When the young are ready to fly, all the ducks will gather in flocks on large lakes, marshes or the ocean to migrate to their wintering home. When the ducks fly, they usually do so in a ‘V-shaped’ or a long line.

Interesting Duck Facts

  • A hen makes a loud QUACK sound while the drake has a raspy, muffled call.

  • Touching a duckling does not prevent the mother duck from taking care of it. It is however best to leave ducklings alone so as not to scare the mother duck away or accidentally injure them.

  • Ducks sleep with half their brains awake. Ducks are more likely to sleep with one eye open when they are located on the edge of sleeping groups. Ducks can detect predators in less than a second.

  • Duck eggshells have tiny holes (pores) that allow it to breathe. A hen’s eggs can have 7500 pores, most found at the blunt end of the egg. Respiratory gasses as well as water vapour travel through these pores allowing the egg to breathe.

  • Baby ducks are precocial meaning they are born with their eyes wide open, with a warm layer of down and are not fully dependant on their parents for food. Ducklings are ready to leave the nest within hours of hatching.

  • A ‘clutch’ is the total number of eggs laid by one bird during one nesting session. Clutch size affected by hereditary and environmental factors. When food is abundant, birds lay more eggs.

  • A brood is the total number of hatchlings, or ducklings in a clutch.

  • Ducks have very good vision and they see in colour.