Ducks are one of the world’s most loved animals. Hundreds of different species are as colorful and charismatic as the last.
But did you know that ducks have some pretty impressive evolutionary features that have allowed them to adapt to living in the water and some pretty extreme weather conditions?
Here, we’re going to take an in-depth look at ducks feet.
You’ll find some fantastic facts and accompanying pictures to help you discover more about these beautiful water birds.
They Walk on Their Toes
Unlike humans and most other mammals, ducks walk on their toes rather than using the soles of their feet.
This is something that most birds do, and it’s known as “digitigrade.” But how do they manage to do this without falling all the time?
Well, it’s all down to evolution. Some of the lower bones in a duck’s foot are fused together.
This forms an entire segment of their leg called the “tarsometatarsus”.
This sits just above the section we consider to be their toes and keeps them strong and stable as they walk.
Their Legs and Feet Can Change Color
It’s not just the famous chameleon that can change color!
A Mallard’s feet go from a pale orange to a bright orange during the breeding season, and it’s believed that this is a way for them to attract a mate.
Hormones cause this change of color, and the brighter orange their feet go, the better chance they have of attracting female mallards.
As soon as the mating season is over, their feet go back to their usual pale orange. It’s not just orange-footed ducks that can do this either.
Ducks with blue or gray feet can also intensify their colorings with hormones to attract a mate during mating season.
Their Feet Act as Shock Absorbers
If you’ve ever dived foot-first into water you’ll know that the soles of your feet can start stinging with the impact shock.
Ducks don’t have this problem. When a duck lands on water, its feet act like water skis, absorbing the shock of the landing and “skiing” along the surface of the water.
This also allows them to slow down before coming to a complete stop.
They Have Four Toes
Just like many other birds, ducks only have four toes.
These are arranged with three toes pointing forward and one smaller toe pointing backward.
This arrangement is called “Anisodactyl.”
Ducks also have claws on each end to help them steady their grip in muddy conditions and navigate through waters with lots of plant growth beneath the surface.
Their Webbed Feet Have a Name
We all know that ducks have webbed feet. But did you know that they actually have a name?
When two or more toes are fused, this is known as “Syndactyly.”
This is common in all aquatic birds and mammals, as the webbing helps them easily swim through the water.
They Can Run on Water
Unlike many non-aquatic birds, ducks can’t simply take off from a stationary position.
Instead, they rely on their webbed feet to help them run across the water and give them the momentum they need to start flying.
Their wings play a role here, too. A duck’s wings are generally smaller than average, and this gives them the ability to dive under the surface of the water in search of food.
The downside to this, however, is increased difficulty with getting into the air. But, thanks to their webbed feet, it’s much easier for them to get up to speed.
They Use Their Feet to Steer Themselves
Ducks have extra skin on their back toes, providing them with more webbing.
As such, they can swim and steer themselves through the water efficiently.
They also padded their feet constantly when feeding to counteract the buoyancy, allowing them to stay afloat and, when diving, get back up to the surface.
Their Feet Don’t Freeze
Amazingly, ducks use their feet to regulate their temperature.
This means that they can retain a lot of heat in their feet and, as such, can stand on snow-laden and frozen surfaces without their feet freezing.
They also have many arteries and veins in their feet that are intertwined.
This allows any heat that is retained in their bodies to be passed back down to the feet through the bloodstream and, again, will enable them to stand on frozen surfaces without freezing.
They Push Their Feet Downwards and Backwards While Swimming
A duck’s webbed feet are great for helping them glide through the water, but ducks also know how to use this webbing to their best advantage.
By pushing downwards and backward at the same time, they can stretch the webbing further.
This gives them the maximum forward motion, and on the forward stroke, they close the webbing to minimize water resistance. Clever stuff!
Their Feet and Legs Are Set in Different Positions Depending on Habitat
One evolutionary trick that ducks adapted is the placement of their feet and legs depending on where they live and feed.
Diving ducks have legs and feet that are set quite far back along their bodies. This gives them the most efficient swimming performance possible.
Ducks that spend more time on land than in the water have legs and feet that are more centralized to their body.
This allows them to keep a better balance as they walk.
As you can see, ducks have evolved some pretty remarkable feet and legs over thousands of years.
So, next time you see a duck bobbing on the surface of the water, take a moment to think about what you can’t see – its remarkable legs that help it stay afloat, keep it warm, and allow it to hunt with maximum efficiency!