CLOSE

10 Quacking Facts About Ducks

by Jenny Morrill, Mental Floss UK

“From troubles of the world I turn to ducks,

Beautiful comical things”

Ducks by Frank W. Harvey

From Jemima to Donald, ducks have permeated popular culture due to their friendly and entertaining nature. But far from just being waddling bundles of feathers, ducks are actually very complex creatures...

1. They follow the first animal they see


Image: Cute Overload

This is a phenomenon known as imprinting (nothing to do with the werewolf stuff in Twilight). The basic thought behind imprinting is as follows: a newly hatched duckling will adopt characteristics of the first animal they see. This is usually a mother duck, but could be anything from a dog to a human (which I assume is what happened to Donald Duck). There is even a known case of a group of ducklings imprinting on a cardboard box.

Imprinting takes place due to the duckling's instinct to follow the first thing that passes by, because more often than not this is their mother. To prevent this it is common practice, when hand rearing ducklings, to feed them using a hand puppet of a duck, so that later on the duckling can integrate with its own species.

2. Puzzling parts


Image: Neatorama

Duck romance isn't exactly moonlight and roses. While ducks pair off every mating season, this doesn't stop rival males from forcing themselves on the female. The males of many duck breeds have developed spiky, corkscrew shaped penises, which give them an advantage over rivals when it comes to depositing sperm. This video, charmingly titled Explosive eversion of a duck penis, shows the extent of the weirdness.

However, female ducks do not take this lying down. Over time they have developed vaginas comparable to Hampton Court Maze, with dead ends, and parts that spiral in the opposite direction to the male's penis.

It doesn't end there. Some breeds of duck have penises so long they are able to use them as lassos (see picture above). Researches at the University of Alaska theorise that the Argentinian lake duck will sometimes lasso escaping females in order to mate with them.

Ducks have also been known to have sex with dead ducks. I think it's fair to say that ducks are sex mad.

3. Not all ducks can fly 


Image: Karen Barclay

There is a breed of duck that has more in common with a penguin than with its anatine cousins. The Indian Runner is becoming increasingly popular with UK duck owners, thanks to its inability to fly and comical appearance; the most frequently used description among Indian Runner owners is “a wine bottle on legs”.

Even though the Indian Runner can't fly, it can outrun many predators, and also its owner. Because of this, Indian Runners are occasionally used to train sheepdogs.

4. They're not supposed to eat bread


Image: Down To Earth Mother

At some point in our lives, we've all been to the park to feed the ducks, usually clutching half a bag of stale Warburtons. However, feeding bread to a duck actually does the duck more harm than good.

While ducks are largely omnivorous, and have even been known to eat sand and grit for its mineral content, bread is actually one of the worst things they can eat. Apart from having no nutritional value, regularly eating bread can cause obesity, malnutrition, and a condition known as angel wing, which impedes the duck's ability to fly. On top of this, rotting, uneaten bread will attract pests and predators to the duck's environment.

Corn, oats and chopped vegetables are all good alternatives to try when feeding the ducks.

5. They have have 3 eyelids


Image: Flickr

This is the case with most birds. As well as the standard top and bottom eyelids, ducks also have a third, sideways lid, known as a nictitating membrane. The membrane acts like goggles do on humans, so the ducks can see while their heads are underwater. The membrane also removes things like grit and dust from the eyes.

6. You can tell a male from a female by the tail


Image: Flickr

While many breeds of duck are distinguishable by their colouring (for example, with the mallard), some have identical colouring regardless of sex. With these breeds, the most common way to tell the male from the female is to look at the tail feathers. In many breeds, the male will have curly tail feathers, in contrast to the female's straight, stubby feathers.

7. Not all ducks quack


Image: Notes From The Wild Side

In fact, hardly any ducks produce the characteristic 'quacking' sound we've come to associate with them. The most common UK duck, the mallard, does quack, but other breeds croak, squeak, whistle, or remain mute. You can listen to a few different duck calls here.

And while we're on the subject, duck quacks do echo.

8. Egg laying is affected by daylight


Image: Bebe Styles

Both ducks and chickens slow down their egg production when there is a shortage of daylight, due to the light levels affecting their hormones. This is why most breeds of duck and chicken don't lay many, if any eggs during the winter months.

Ducks aren't as affected by the dark as chickens however, and some breeds do lay all year round (the current record holder producing 364 eggs in one year).

Because of this, farmers and duck keepers are advised to introduce artificial light into the duck house in order to boost egg production.

9. Females are louder than males


Image: Pichost

Sorry ladies, our duck counterparts are giving us a bad name. With most breeds of duck, the female is considerably louder and more talkative than the male. In fact, some male breeds are virtually silent (desperately tries not do do a joke about being hen-pecked). People wanting to keep domestic ducks are often advised to keep only males if they have neighbours, as this will reduce the risk of annoying them with the noise.

10. They can be very indecisive

As this hilarious and adorable video shows -

Main image: Backyard Duck
nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
travel
Pig Island: Sun, Sand, and Swine Await You in the Bahamas
iStock
iStock

When most people visit the Bahamas, they’re thinking about a vacation filled with sun, sand, and swimming—not swine. But you can get all four of those things if you visit Big Major Cay.

Big Major Cay, also now known as “Pig Island” for obvious reasons, is part of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Exuma includes private islands owned by Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and David Copperfield. Despite all of the local star power, the real attraction seems to be the family of feral pigs that has established Big Major Cay as their own. It’s hard to say how many are there—some reports say it’s a family of eight, while others say the numbers are up to 40. However big the band of roaming pigs is, none of them are shy: Their chief means of survival seems to be to swim right up to boats and beg for food, which the charmed tourists are happy to provide (although there are guidelines about the best way of feeding the pigs).

No one knows exactly how the pigs got there, but there are plenty of theories. Among them: 1) A nearby resort purposely released them more than a decade ago, hoping to attract tourists. 2) Sailors dropped them off on the island, intending to dine on pork once they were able to dock for a longer of period of time. For one reason or another, the sailors never returned. 3) They’re descendants of domesticated pigs from a nearby island. When residents complained about the original domesticated pigs, their owners solved the problem by dropping them off at Big Major Cay, which was uninhabited. 4) The pigs survived a shipwreck. The ship’s passengers did not.

The purposeful tourist trap theory is probably the least likely—VICE reports that the James Bond movie Thunderball was shot on a neighboring island in the 1960s, and the swimming swine were there then.

Though multiple articles reference how “adorable” the pigs are, don’t be fooled. One captain warns, “They’ll eat anything and everything—including fingers.”

Here they are in action in a video from National Geographic:

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Christine Colby
arrow
job secrets
13 Secrets From the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London
Christine Colby
Christine Colby

Christopher Skaife is a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, an ancient fortress that has been used as a jail, royal residence, and more. There are 37 Yeoman Warders, popularly known as Beefeaters, but Skaife has what might be the coolest title of them all: He is the Ravenmaster. His job is to maintain the health and safety of the flock of ravens (also called an “unkindness” or a “conspiracy”) that live within the Tower walls. According to a foreboding legend with many variations, if there aren’t at least six ravens living within the Tower, both the Tower and the monarchy will fall. (No pressure, Chris!)

Skaife has worked at the Tower for 11 years, and has many stories to tell. Recently, Mental Floss visited him to learn more about his life in service of the ravens.

1. MILITARY SERVICE IS REQUIRED.

All Yeoman Warders must have at least 22 years of military service to qualify for the position and have earned a good-conduct medal. Skaife served for 24 years—he was a machine-gun specialist and is an expert in survival and interrogation resistance. He is also a qualified falconer.

Skaife started out as a regular Yeoman Warder who had no particular experience with birds. The Ravenmaster at the time "saw something in him," Skaife says, and introduced him to the ravens, who apparently liked him—and the rest is history. He did, however, have to complete a five-year apprenticeship with the previous Ravenmaster.

2. HE LIVES ON-SITE.

The Tower of London photographed at night
Christine Colby

As tradition going back 700 years, all Yeoman Warders and their families live within the Tower walls. Right now about 150 people, including a doctor and a chaplain, claim the Tower of London as their home address.

3. BUT HE’S HAD TO MOVE.

Skaife used to live next to the Bloody Tower, but had to move to a different apartment within the grounds because his first one was “too haunted.” He doesn’t really believe in ghosts, he says, but does put stock in “echoes of the past.” He once spoke to a little girl who was sitting near the raven cages, and when he turned around, she had disappeared. He also claims that things in his apartment inexplicably move around, particularly Christmas-related items.

4. THE RAVENS ENJOY SOME UNUSUAL SNACKS.

The Ravenmaster at the Tower of London bending down to feed one of his ravens
Christine Colby

The birds are fed nuts, berries, fruit, mice, rats, chicken, and blood-soaked biscuits. (“And what they nick off the tourists,” Skaife says.) He has also seen a raven attack and kill a pigeon in three minutes.

5. THEY GET A LULLABY.

Each evening, Skaife whistles a special tone to call the ravens to bed—they’re tucked into spacious, airy cages to protect them from predators such as foxes.

6. THERE’S A DIVA.

One of the ravens doesn’t join the others in their nighttime lodgings. Merlina, the star raven, is a bit friendlier to humans but doesn’t get on with the rest of the birds. She has her own private box inside the Queen’s House, which she reaches by climbing a tiny ladder.

7. ONE OF THEM HAS EARNED THE NICKNAME “THE BLACK WIDOW.”

Ravens normally pair off for life, but one of the birds at the Tower, Munin, has managed to get her first two mates killed. With both, she lured them high atop the White Tower, higher than they were capable of flying down from, since their wings are kept trimmed. Husband #1 fell to his death. The second one had better luck coasting down on his wings, but went too far and fell into the Thames, where he drowned. Munin is now partnered with a much younger male.

8. THERE IS A SECRET PUB INSIDE THE TOWER.

Only the Yeoman Warders, their families, and invited guests can go inside a secret pub on the Tower grounds. Naturally, the Yeoman Warder’s Club offers Beefeater Bitter beer and Beefeater gin. It’s lavishly decorated in police and military memorabilia, such as patches from U.S. police departments. There is also an area by the bar where a section of the wall has been dug into and encased in glass, showing items found in an archaeological excavation of the moat, such as soldiers’ discarded clay pipes, a cannonball, and some mouse skeletons.

9. … AND A SECRET HAND.

The Byward Tower, which was built in the 13th century by King Henry III, is now used as the main entrance to the Tower for visitors. It has a secret glass brick set into the wall that most people don’t notice. When you peer inside, you’ll see it contains a human hand (presumably fake). It was put in there at some point as a bit of a joke to scare children, but ended up being walled in from the other side, so is now in there permanently.

10. HE HAS A SIDE PROJECT.

Skaife considers himself primarily a storyteller, and loves sharing tales of what he calls “Victorian melodrama.” In addition to his work at the Tower, he also runs Grave Matters, a Facebook page and a blog, as a collaboration with medical historian and writer Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. Together they post about the history of executions, torture, and punishment.

11. THE TOWER IS MUPPET-FAMOUS.

2013’s Muppets Most Wanted was the first major film to shoot inside the Tower walls. At the Yeoman Warder’s Club, you can still sit in the same booth the Muppets occupied while they were in the pub.

12. IF YOU VISIT, KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR MONEY.

Ravens are very clever and known for stealing things from tourists, especially coins. They will strut around with the coin in their beak and then bury it, while trying to hide the site from the other birds.

13. … AND ON YOUR EYES.

Skaife, who’s covered in scars from raven bites, says, “They don’t like humans at all unless they’re dying or dead. Although they do love eyes.” He once had a Twitter follower, who is an organ donor, offer his eyes to the ravens after his death. Skaife declined.

This story first ran in 2015.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios