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© EB 2002

The Duck

She goes a-sailing to and fro,
Just like a
fishing boat,
And steers and paddles all herself,
And never wets her coat.
And best of all, her children are
The ducklings, bright as gold,
Who swim about the pond with her
And do as they are told.

- E.L.M. King

Duck Facts.

A duck is a wild or domesticated waterfowl, or a bird that swims. It belongs to the family Anatidae. It is related to the goose and swan but is smaller. Wild ducks are the leading game birds. On the North American continent there are over 40 different species of wild duck. There are many varieties of ducks, including River ducks (such as the Mallard), Mergansers (or sawbills, long-bodied ducks with rough-edged bills who feed on fish), Wild ducks, Wood ducks, Black ducks, the Scaup (a diving duck), and Domesticated ducks (the white Aylesbury and the white Pekin are the most popular table ducks, and the Eider duck, valuable for its down which is used in pillows and bedding). Some ducks live near the sea or some large body of fresh water. A female is called a duck, a male is called a drake, and a young duck is called a duckling. Many ducks have colorful feathers. The drake is usually brighter in color while the female is drab for protective coloration. Ducks have heavy bodies, short legs, webbed feet and broad, flattened beaks.

Ducks have thick feathers with an undercoat of down to protect their bodies from becoming wet or losing heat. They continually groom (preen) and restore the oil to their feathers from a gland right in front of the tail. This also protects them from the water and cold.

Ducks eat water plants, insects, crustaceans, shellfish, frogs, and fish, depending upon the species. When feeding in the water, a sifting device in the bill separates food from water and mud.

Ducks live in large flocks and migrate south in the fall. Most ducks are good swimmers and divers. In the spring females grow special down feathers which they pull out from the breast to insulate the nest and cover the eggs. As soon as the hatched ducklings can walk, the mother duck leads them to the water. They can swim immediately but cannot fly until they are 6 weeks old or more, when their wings are stronger.