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Duck is the common name for a number of species in the Anatidae family of birds. The ducks are divided between several subfamilies listed in full in the Anatidae article; they do not represent a monophyletic group but a form taxon, being the Anatidae not considered swans and geese. Ducks are mostly aquatic birds, mostly smaller than the swans and geese, and may be found in both fresh water and sea water.
Etymology[edit | edit source]
The word duck (from Anglo-Saxon dūce), meaning the bird, came from the verb "to duck" (from Anglo-Saxon supposed *dūcan) meaning "to bend down low as if to get under something" or "to dive", because of the way many species in the dabbling duck group feed by upending (compare Dutch duiken, German tauchen = "to dive").
This happened because the older Anglo-Saxon words ened (= "duck") and ende (= "end") came to be pronounced the same: other Germanic languages still have similar words for "duck" and "end": for example, Dutch eend = "duck", eind = "end", German Ente = "duck", Ende = "end"; this similarity goes back to Proto-Indo-European: compare Latin anas (stem anat-) = "duck", Lithuanian antis = "duck", Ancient Greek νησσα, νηττα (nēssa, nētta) = "duck"; Sanskrit anta = "end".
Some people use "duck" specifically for adult females and "drake" for adult males, for the species described here; others use "hen" and "drake", respectively.
Morphology[edit | edit source]
The overall body plan of ducks is elongated and broad, and the ducks are also relatively long-necked, albeit not as long-necked as the geese and swans. The body shape of diving ducks varies somewhat from this in being more rounded. The bill is usually broad and contains serrated lamellae which are particularly well defined in the filter-feeding species. In the case of some fishing species the bill is long and strongly serrated. The scaled legs are strong and well developed, and generally set far back on the body, more so in the highly aquatic species. The wings are very strong and are generally short and pointed, and the flight of ducks requires fast continuous strokes, requiring in turn strong wing muscles. Three species of steamer duck are almost flightless however. Many species of duck are temporarily flightless while moulting; they seek out protected habitat with good food supplies during this period. This moult typically precedes migration.
The drakes of northern species often have extravagant plumage, but that is moulted in summer to give a more female-like appearance, the "eclipse" plumage. Southern resident species typically show less sexual dimorphism, although there are exceptions like the Paradise Shelduck of New Zealand which is both strikingly sexually dimorphic and where the female's plumage is brighter than that of the male. The plumage of juvenile birds generally resembles that of the female.
Behaviour[edit | edit source]
Feeding[edit | edit source]
Dabbling ducks feed on the surface of water or on land, or as deep as they can reach by up-ending without completely submerging.  Along the inside of the beak they have tiny rows of plates called lamellae like a whale's baleen. These let them filter water out of the side of their beaks and keep food inside.
Breeding[edit | edit source]
The ducks are generally monogamous, although these bonds generally last a single year only. Larger species and the more sedentary species (like fast river specialists) tend to have pair-bonds that last numerous years. Most duck species breed once a year, choosing to do so in favourable conditions (spring/summer or wet seasons).
Communication[edit | edit source]
Despite widespread misconceptions, only the females of most dabbling ducks "quack". For example, the scaup – which are diving ducks – make a noise like "scaup" (hence their name), and even among the dabbling ducks, the males never quack. In general, ducks make a wide range of calls, ranging from whistles cooing, yodels and grunts. Calls may be loud displaying calls or quieter contact calls.
A common urban legend claims that duck quacks do not echo; however, this has been shown to be false. This myth was first debunked by the Acoustics Research Centre at the University of Salford in 2003 as part of the British Association's Festival of Science. It was also debunked in one of the earlier episodes of the popular Discovery Channel television show MythBusters.
Ecology[edit | edit source]
Distribution and habitat[edit | edit source]
The ducks have a cosmopolitan distribution occurring across most of the world except for Antarctica. A number of species manage to live on sub-Antarctic islands like South Georgia and the Auckland Islands. Numerous ducks have managed to establish themselves on oceanic islands such as Hawaii, New Zealand and Kerguelen, although many of these species and populations are threatened or have become extinct.
Some duck species, mainly those breeding in the temperate and Arctic Northern Hemisphere, are migratory; those in the tropics, however, are generally not. Some ducks, particularly in Australia where rainfall is patchy and erratic, are nomadic, seeking out the temporary lakes and pools that form after localised heavy rain. [How to reference and link to summary or text]
Ducks have become an accepted presence in populated areas. Migration patterns have changed such that many species remain in an area during the winter months. In spring and early summer ducks sometimes influence human activity through their nesting; sometimes a duck pair nests well away from water, needing a long trek to water for the hatchlings: this sometimes causes an urgent wildlife rescue operation (e.g. by the RSPCA) if the duck nested somewhere unsuitable like in a small enclosed courtyard.
Predators[edit | edit source]
Worldwide, ducks have many predators. Ducklings are particularly vulnerable, since their inability to fly makes them easy prey not only for avian hunters but also large fish like pike, crocodilians, and other aquatic hunters, including fish-eating birds such as herons. Ducks' nests are raided by land-based predators, and brooding females may be caught unaware on the nest by mammals such as foxes, or large birds, such as hawks or eagles.
Adult ducks are fast fliers, but may be caught on the water by large aquatic predators. This can include fish such as the North American muskie and the European pike. In flight, ducks are safe from all but a few predators such as humans and the Peregrine Falcon, which regularly uses its speed and strength to catch ducks.
Relationship with humans[edit | edit source]
Domestication[edit | edit source]
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Ducks have many economic uses, being farmed for their meat, eggs, feathers, (particularly their down). They are also kept and bred by aviculturists and often displayed in zoos. All domestic ducks are descended from the wild Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, except the Muscovy Duck . Many domestic breeds have become much larger than their wild ancestor, with a "hull length" (from base of neck to base of tail) of 30 cm (12 inches) or more and routinely able to swallow an adult British Common Frog Rana temporaria whole; the wild mallard's "hull length" is about 6 inches.
In many areas, wild ducks of various species (including ducks farmed and released into the wild) are hunted for food or sport, by shooting, or formerly by decoys. Because an idle, floating duck or a duck squatted on land cannot react to fly or to move quickly, "a sitting duck" has come to mean "an easy target".
Wild ducks of many species and domesticated breeds are widely consumed around the world.
A duck test is a form of inductive reasoning, which can be phrased as follows: "If a bird looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck." The test implies that a person can figure out the true nature of an unknown subject by observing this subject's readily identifiable traits. It is sometimes used to counter abstruse arguments that something is not what it appears to be. This is used in the computer science term of Duck typing.
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- "Duckling". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Republished by dictionary.com, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/duckling, Accessed 05-01-2008.
- "Duckling". Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary (Beta Version), 2000-2006 K Dictionaries Ltd., Republished by dictionary.com, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/duckling, Accessed 05-01-2008.
- Photo of a duck eating a frog
- Ogden, Evans Dabbling Ducks. CWE. URL accessed on 2006-11-02.
- Amos, Jonathan Sound science is quackers. BBC News. URL accessed on 2006-11-02.
- Mybusters Episode 8.
- Mallard - Nature Notes. Ducks Unlimited Canada. URL accessed on 2006-11-02.
[edit | edit source]
- Wild Ducks Info – More info regarding the wild ducks.
- Duck videos on the Internet Bird Collection
- list of books (useful looking abstracts)
- Ducks at a Distance, by Rob Hines, available freely at Project Gutenberg - A modern illustrated guide to identification of US waterfowl.
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