Discover Nature NotesMore posts

Water Off a Duck's Back

Mar 28, 2021

“Like water off a duck’s back”.  It’s a common saying meaning something has no effect on a person or situation. Ducks have a complex system of feathers that keep them warm and waterproof.  And airborne on those cross-country and inter-continental flights during migrations.

Down feathers next to the skin keep ducks warm. Contour feathers with vanes that function like zippers aid flight and keep ducks insulated from the water and cold. A gland near their tail, known as the uropygial or preen gland, has a wax-like, oily substance. Ducks dip their bills into it and spread it over their feathers from head to tail.  This makes water literally roll off their backs, keeping them dry, warm, and afloat. Ducks are constantly preening to repair feathers and keep them waterproof.

This oily sheen also helps males look and function their best to attract females during mating season. It makes the blue-winged teal's white crescent pop in spring plumage.  The sunbirds of the duck world, blue-winged teals are last to arrive in the spring, and first to leave in fall during migrations. Teals are dabbling ducks and dip tail-up on lakes and marshes in open country to feed. See them in action in the video below.

Watching ducks dabbling, diving, and moving about is entertaining.  And recalls another saying about natural ability, “takes to water like a duck”.

Duck Skills

Ducks have fascinating functions that help with everyday survival.

  • Like many other bird species, ducks possess hollow bones, which helps them fly. The bones are strong, yet incredibly light, allowing them to easily take off. The bones also help with floating.
  • Duck feathers also trap air, which helps in floating. The feathers are interlocked with a system of barbs that hold air in. 
  • If they need to dive underwater for food, ducks just squeeze the air out of their feathers by pressing in their feathers. They trap the air again soon after resurfacing and shaking off. (How Stuff Works)

Discover more about Blue-winged Teals in our Field Guide.

042110 wood duck-40.jpg

Wood Duck
Wood Duck taking flight

MO DOC-2021-Apr Wk 1 Ducks-MDOC2104-LF01.mp3

Discover Nature Notes Radio
Hear how ducks stay warm and waterproof

Water Off a Duck's Back

Watch water roll off Blue-winged Teals
Watch water roll off Blue-winged Teals

Post new comment

Recent Posts

freshwater mussels

Mussel Mania

Apr 11, 2021

Mussels are a powerhouse for cleaning our waters. See them in action and learn how you can help protect them in this week's Discover Nature Note

 

Selfie on the trail

National Walking Day and Spring Hiking

Apr 04, 2021

Wednesday is National Walking Day.  Celebrate with a spring hike for health and happiness. Discover tips to get out and explore in this week's Discover Nature Note.

Morel Madness

Mar 21, 2021

MOREL MADNESS: They can be harder to find than an Easter egg, but morel mushrooms are worth the time and effort. Learn more about morels and get expert tips in this week's Discover Nature Note. Remember to properly identify morels, like any wild edible, before consuming.

Field Guide

Discovering nature from A-Z is one click away

Recipes

You had fun hunting, catching or gathering your quarry—now have more fun cooking and eating it.
Check out the recipes