These amazing duck facts will help you realize that ducks are smart, highly sociable creatures capable of mind-boggling feats of athleticism. And in the case of domesticated ducks, they also produce tasty eggs coveted by gourmet chefs and poultry enthusiasts alike.
Years ago when we decided to get backyard ducks to produce our own eggs, we had no idea how profoundly that decision would change our perception of these animals’ intelligence and emotional capacity. After all, being told you have a “bird brain” isn’t intended to be a compliment!
Since then, our flock of Welsh Harlequin ducks has been an ongoing source of entertainment and education. Admittedly, they can occasionally be a source of extreme irritation when they break into one of our strawberry patches or garden green beds to feast.
Nine amazing duck facts
Even if you don’t raise ducks, we hope these nine duck facts will help you better appreciate these amazing creatures!
1. Ducks can close one eye and put half their brain to sleep while keeping watch with the other half.
Alligators, ospreys, bald eagles… there are a lot of critters out there that would like to make a meal out of a duck.
One way ducks have adapted to get some good shut-eye while still keeping a look out for potential danger is to close one eye in order to put half their brain to sleep while keeping the other eye open and the other half of their brain awake and alert.
When a flock of ducks are together, that means every duck can take half-brain naps and keep one eye open looking for trouble. Interestingly, the researchers from Indiana State University who initially discovered this phenomenon, noted that half-napping ducks positioned on the outside of a group would keep their outside eye open and the eye facing towards the group of ducks closed. Meanwhile, ducks in the center of the flock would go fully to sleep, closing both eyes. Synchronized sleeping!
Yes, our ducks do the one-eye nap trick too, even though their greatest “threat” is whether we’re going to bring them tomatoes or lettuce for a treat.
2. Ducks are causing scientists to rethink abstract intelligence.
Are ducks smart?
Abstract intelligence is defined as “the capacity to understand and manage abstract ideas and symbols.” In humans, abstract intelligence is essential for such things as creative problem solving, humor, and novel ideas and inventions.
Conventional scientific wisdom has held that abstract thinking was only possible in a handful of super-intelligent animals such as apes, crows, and dolphins. It was also thought that abstract intelligence required experiential learning and possibly teaching/instructing from an adult in combination with punishments/rewards.
Then along came a 2016 study where scientists performed a range of intelligence tests on ducklings…
Researchers found that as soon as ducklings hatch, they have a remarkable degree of abstract intelligence. The study’s co-author, Alex Kacelnik, of Oxford University’s zoology department, said: “To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a non-human organism learning to discriminate between abstract relational concepts without any reinforcement training.”
Next time somebody calls you a “bird brain,” just respond with a thank you quack.
3. Ducks can produce more eggs than chickens (and their eggs taste better and are more nutritious).
If you know a really good chef or baker, ask them whether they prefer duck or chicken eggs. We’ll bet you they’ll say “duck eggs” 9 out of 10 times.
Why? Ducks eggs aren’t just larger than chicken eggs, they also taste better and creamier, primarily due to their larger yolk-to-white ratio and higher nutrient density. Chicken eggs also tend to have a more sulfury flavor than duck eggs. (Take a deeper dive into duck eggs vs chicken eggs.)
And as we’ve written about in backyard ducks vs chickens, some duck breeds can lay more eggs per year than the highest performing chicken breed (52 lbs of eggs versus 34 lbs). Of course, we advise all poultry caretakers to balance their animals’ wellbeing against the needs for egg production.
It takes a lot of energy to produce an egg, so if you push your girls too hard for high egg production, you’ll have a greater likelihood of health problems. Animal health and happiness first, egg production second is the philosophy we recommend for our fellow poultry enthusiasts!
4. Ducks have one of the longest penises in the animal kingdom.
Yes, we’ll keep this section “safe for work.”
In 97% of bird species, males don’t have penises. That’s not the case with ducks, however. In fact, drakes (male ducks) have extraordinarily long corkscrew-shaped penises.
Although the average length of a duck penis is about 8″, one species of ducks, the Argentine Lack Duck (Oxyura vittata), has a 17″ long penis, one of the longest in the animal kingdom.
If you want to learn more about duck reproductive organs and their odd mating behaviors, read Understanding duck mating and courtship.
5. Ducks perform insane aerial feats.
Like a duck out of water? Sure, ducks might not be great at walking on land, but they’re remarkably good flyers, especially when migrating.
Their average flight speed is 50 mph (for reference, Usain Bolt can barely top 23 mph), and some ducks can achieve much greater speeds. A red-breasted merganser was recorded flying at 100 mph, which is about 40 mph faster than a cheetah, the world’s fastest land animal.
Ducks are also capable of traveling enormous, non-stop distances at crazy altitudes. With a good tailwind, Mallards can travel a distance of 800 miles in an 8 hour flight (that’s a distance longer than the entire state of California). Yes, that sort of travel consumes quite a bit of energy, which is why they’ll rest and feed for up to a week between flights.
How high can a duck fly? Usually, they stay in an altitude range between 200-4,000 feet, but the record is 21,000 feet. Unfortunately, the current record holder was struck by a jet plane!
6. Ducks can live longer than dogs.
Desi the Duck, a female Mallard duck who lived in the United Kingdom, was 20 years old when she died, making her the world’s oldest duck ever.
A duck’s average lifespan in the wild is between 5-10 years, but a domesticated house or backyard duck who is well taken care of can easily live into their teens. Female ducks can continue to produce eggs for up to 10 years as well, although their egg production will significantly taper off by that age.
(Take a deeper dive into ducks’ lifespan and how to have the longest-lived domesticated ducks possible.)
7. Ducks can see 360 degrees around them, 3x better than humans, and in 4-D color.
Ducks’ eyes are nothing short of amazing…
Their visual field is 2x larger than humans and they can see distant objects 2.5-3x more clearly than us. Oh, they also have three eyelids and 4-dimensional color vision.
Curious to learn more about how ducks see the world? Make sure to read 9 amazing duck eyesight facts once you’re done with this article!
8. Ducks’ feet are virtually impossible to freeze.
Have you ever wondered why ducks (or other waterfowl) sometimes stand on one foot? It’s the same answer to the question: “How do ducks keep their feet from freezing or making the rest of their bodies too cold?”
After all, you (human) couldn’t stand outside barefoot on a freezing day, even if you had on a heavy jacket.
Answer: “rete mirabile” a biology term that means “wonderful net” in Latin. Ducks have a specialized arterial network in their legs that:
- utilizes the warm blood flowing from their heart to heat the cold blood circulating back up from their legs (the returning blood has already been warmed by the time it reaches their heart), and
- allows their feet to stay much colder than their core body temperature without cooling the rest of their body/blood.
Also, by standing on one leg while they rest, ducks cut heat loss through their legs by ~50%, which means less energy expenditure. Every calorie an animal expends is a calorie it has to consume, so these adaptations and behaviors are seriously advantageous in the wild.
9. Ducks in flight are like a feathered bagpipe because of their amazing respiratory systems.
Ever wonder how a duck can go from sea level to the altitude of Mount Kilimanjaro in a short period of time without a problem (this would cause hypoxia in humans)? Or quack in mid-flight? Or fly 800 miles in a day? Or fly at all?
The key ingredient that makes this magic possible is their extraordinarily complex respiratory system, which works completely differently than mammal or insect respiration. Check out this brilliant visualization from TableTopWhale to see it in action:
A bird’s lungs are only about half the size of a mammal’s lungs, proportionally. They also don’t change in size, or inflate and deflate, like our lungs do while breathing. Air is drawn through their lungs uni-directionally via a series of air sacs, some of which extend into their bones.
Human lungs are inflated and deflated by our diaphragm. However, birds don’t have diaphragms. Instead, their air sacs are ultimately controlled by their muscles – that means the more they move, the more air comes into their air sacs. When they are taking off for flight or flying, they’re essentially filling themselves up like a balloon. This allows for greater oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange, but it also makes them much lighter relative to their body size than they are when they’re not flying. Pretty cool!
Ducks in flight are like feathered bagpipes – their specialized air sacs and vocal organs allow them to quack whether they’re inhaling or exhaling. (Try inhaling and singing at the same time to see how amazing this is.)
If you want to geek out on duck/bird respiration, here’s an interesting article from University of Illinois.
We hope these amazing duck facts will help you better appreciate ducks and other wildlife around you! It’s an amazing world out there.
Want to watch a quick summary of this article? Check out our Google Web Story about amazing duck facts!
Fly on over to these other duck articles:
- Duck eggs vs chicken eggs: how do they compare?
- Do ducks have teeth? Take a trip inside a duck’s mouth and digestive system
- What should you feed to wild ducks?
- Understanding duck mating and courtship
- How to hatch duck eggs
and more duck articles from Tyrant Farms.