Can Ducks Drown? The Myth Of The “Waterproof” Duck

Ducks belong to the Anatidae family and are divided into two broad categories; diving and dabbling ducks. As their names point, diving ducks are adapted to staying underwater where they hunt for food. On the other hand, dabbling ducks feed from the water surface and land.

Several adaptations allow ducks to forage and live on the water. However, these adaptations will not make a duck waterproof. This is not a truly aquatic animal but rather a bird that cannot breathe underwater and can become waterlogged. As such, a duck can drown. Read on to debunk the myth of a waterproof duck that cannot drown.

Anatomy Of A Duck: How It Is Adapted To Water

Below are the anatomical adaptations of ducks that enable them to live in water:

  • They have an oily coating on their feathers that keeps the feathers from getting waterlogged and increasing their weight to push them into water. The coating also protects ducks from heat and helps them to stay dry.
  • Duck feathers have minuscule barbs that interlock and trap air to enable the bird to float.
  • Their webbed toes are designed like paddles, giving them extra floor space that pushes in opposition to water so they can swim.
  • Ducks have lightweight skeletons with hollow bones that make them lighter than water and enable them to float.
  • The beaks of most duck species have comb-shaped membranes that allow the birds to sift small prey and other foods from water.

How Ducks Swim: Understanding Their Technique

A duck’s feet are primarily designed for paddling, so they are set back on their bodies and webbed. The webbed feet help ducks dive more efficiently and swim. When swimming, the birds will push downward and backward with their feet and legs.

The webbing between their toes will spread out during a downstroke to generate more surface area to push more water. The toes will then turn inward and fold together during a forward strike to reduce water resistance. This gives a duck the thrust and lift that propels it efficiently and quickly through the water.

Ducks can move as fast as six miles per hour through the water when swimming. Their hollow bones, interlocking feathers, and buoyant bodies keep them afloat, while their oiled feathers keep them dry.

Can Ducks Actually Drown? Exploring The Risks

Ducks can drown. Remember that there is no duck species that can breathe underwater. Even diving ducks that can stay underwater for a few minutes store enough air in their bodies for a dive and then slowly release it before returning to the surface for more air. Therefore, when a duck is submerged in water for some time, it runs out of air and drowns. Here are a few risks of duck drowning.

  • Aggressive mating: Ducks often mate on water. When mounting, the male usually pushes a female’s head underwater. It can get too aggressive at this time. Ducks are well-equipped to hold their breaths, but in some cases, many males take turns to mount the female continuously, so she runs out of air and drowns as the head is underwater for an extended time.
  • Exhaustion: Though it does not take effort to stay afloat, ducks need to paddle to move forward and backward in the water. When a duck is too young, too old, injured, or sick, its muscles are too weak to sustain the movement needed to swim. It might thus drown when it gets too exhausted.
  • Waterlogging: A duckling’s preen gland has not fully developed, so it gets the oil needed to keep its feather waterproof from the mother. If you let a duckling swim without the mother, its feathers might become waterlogged and make it too heavy, thus drowning it.
  • Dirty water or strong currents. When a duck swims in contaminated water, the debris can get stuck in its feathers and weigh it down, thus drowning it. The duck might also get stuck in the debris and not come up for air. Similarly, if a water body has strong currents, the duck can be swept away or under by these currents and drown.

ducklings start swimming

Factors That Increase The Drowning Risk For Ducks

The following are the elements that increase the risk of drowning for your duck:

  • Extreme ages because very young and very old ducks are not as strong to keep swimming. Moreover, ducklings’ feathers are not waterproof to keep them afloat.
  • Swimming In Dirty Waters And Water Bodies With Strong Currents.
  • Being Injured By A Predator On The Water.
  • Swimming When Sick And Thus Weak.
  • Malnourishment that makes a duck too weak to oil its feathers.
  • Excessively cold water that induces a stroke or seizure in a duck.

How To Help A Drowning Duck

Despite your best efforts at protecting the bird, your duck might drown. Most duck species can remain underwater for 10-15 minutes. If you notice your duck has been submerged for longer than this, it is best to intervene. A drowning duck might lose consciousness and sometimes look dead. However, below are the steps for helping the duck.

  • Get the duck out of the water and use a soft cloth to dry it.
  • Place the duck in a warm environment (90-95 degrees Fahrenheit). You can use a heat lamp to get the desired temperature but be careful not to burn the bird.
  • When the bird regains consciousness, give it lukewarm water and warm foods like soup if necessary.
  • Keep the duck isolated to monitor it and ensure it is ok.

When keeping a duck, its drowning might be your last fear because the bird spends a lot of time in the water. After all, the bird has light hollow bones and interlocking feathers to keep it afloat, in addition to oily feathers that keep it dry.

Though ducks are waterfowl, they risk drowning when left in freezing water, swimming when injured or sick, exhausted, or swimming in dirty water or water bodies with strong currents. When you save a drowning duck, place it in a warm place and feed it warm food and drinks when it regains consciousness.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *