| Duck is the common name for a number of species in the Anatidae family of birds. The ducks are divided between several subfamilies. Ducks are mostly aquatic birds, mostly smaller than their relatives the swans and geese, and may be found in both fresh water and sea water. Most ducks have a wide flat beak adapted for dredging. They exploit a variety of food sources such as grasses, aquatic plants, fish, insects, small amphibians, worms, and small molluscs. Diving ducks and sea ducks forage deep underwater; Dabbling ducks feed on the surface of water or on land.|
Dabbling ducks have in their beaks special plates called lamellae similar to a whale's baleen. These tiny rows of plates along the inside of the beak let them filter water out of the side of their beaks and keep food inside. To be able to submerge more easily, the diving ducks are heavier than dabbling ducks, and therefore have more difficulty taking off to fly. A few specialized species such as the Smew, Goosander, and the mergansers are adapted to catch large fish.
The males (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. Many species of ducks are temporarily flightless while moulting; they seek out protected habitat with good food supplies during this period. This moult typically precedes migration.
Some duck species, mainly those breeding in the temperate and arctic Northern Hemisphere, are migratory, but others, particularly in the tropics, are 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. Some people use "duck" specifically for adult females and "drake" for adult males, for the species described here; others use "hen" and "drake", respectively. Ducks are sometimes confused with several types of unrelated water birds with similar forms, such as loons or divers, grebes, gallinules, and coots.
A worldwide group like the ducks has 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. Nests may also be raided by land-based predators, and brooding females may sometimes be caught unaware on the nest by mammals.
Adult ducks are fast fliers, but may be caught on the water by large aquatic predators. This can occasionally include fish such as the muskie in North America or the pike in Europe. 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. 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.
Ducks have many economic uses, being farmed for their meat, eggs, feathers and down feathers. 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 Muscovy Ducks. Many domestic breeds have become much larger than their wild ancestor.
In a wildlife pond, the bottom over most of the area should be too deep for dabbling wild ducks to reach the bottom, to protect bottom-living life from being constantly disturbed and eaten by wild ducks dredging, and domestic ducks should not be allowed in. Despite widespread misconceptions, most ducks other than female Mallards and domestic ducks do not "quack". 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.
Spring and early summer months find ducks influencing human activity through their nesting. It is not uncommon for a duck pair to nest well away from water needing a long trek to water for the hatchlings: this sometimes causes an urgent wildlife rescue operation if the duck nested somewhere unsuitable like in a small enclosed courtyard.
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