What Actually Makes Water Roll Off a Duck’s Back? | Deep Look


From Deep Look.

Ducks and geese spend *a lot* of time preening their all-weather feathers. This obsessive grooming – and a little styling wax from a hidden spot on their back side – maintains the microscopic feather structure that keeps them warm and dry in frigid waters.

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Summer is a great time to be a bird watcher in California. Ducks, geese, and many other species of aquatic birds come to California to breed, build nests and raise broods. If you go to your local pond right now, chances are good that you will see a mallard or Canada goose paddling along with a gaggle of its offspring in tow.

But watch for too long and you might find yourself wondering “how do these birds stay warm and dry in the water?”

It’s a question that Jack Dumbacher, curator of ornithology and mammalogy at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco has been asked many times.

The secret to waterproof waterfowl, it turns out, lies in their feathers.

“Aquatic bird feathers are really different than those of other birds,” Dumbacher said.

What do ducks eat?
Ducks eat a lot of different things, from snails and tadpoles to grass and fruit. Some ducks specialize in a certain food like fish, while others are more general in their appetites.

Is it OK to feed bread to ducks?
Bread is like junk food to ducks and geese because it doesn’t contain the nutrition they need from their typical diet in the wild. Foods like insects and aquatic plants contain more nutrients than carbohydrate-rich bread.

How do ducks float?
In addition to keeping them warm and helping them fly, ducks rely on their feathers to make them buoyant in water. Soft fuzzy down feathers keep a layer of warm air next to the bird’s skin. The larger vaned feathers create the contour of the duck and keep water out.

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—+ For more information:

This 2016 study by scientists at the University of Debrecen in Hungary, shows that aquatic birds like ducks and geese not only have feathers with denser, more tightly knit microstructures than their terrestrial counterparts, but they also have more of them.

—+ More Great Deep Look episodes:

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—+ Shoutout!

🏆Congratulations🏆 to the following fans on our Deep Look Community Tab for being the first five to correctly identify the the tiny hooks that keep feathers from splitting apart – barbicels!

Avi Harris
Mariana C
Pinkeu Panda0914
geraete 01

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