Have you ever made a paper boat float by rubbing wax on its bottom? Waterfowl do the same thing! They keep themselves afloat by preening, or rubbing oil from a gland at the base of their tail all over their feathers. Water really does roll off a duck's back, because it's all coated with waterproof oil!
Waterfowl group together in flocks and migrate together in the spring and fall. Think of the last time you saw geese flying south in the fall, or back in the spring. What shape did they form?
Waterfowl also build their nest on the ground. Mom will sit on the eggs for 25 days before the babies hatch from their eggs. The babies will remember the first thing they see as Mom, which is known as imprinting. Usually, the babies will be right, but some times, they will be confused, imprinting on people, or even things like boots!
What is the difference between ducks, geese, and swans? Taxonomists (scientists who study how living things are related to each other) classify them by the number of neck vertebrae, or bones in their neck.
Ducks have 16 or fewer bones in their necks. They tend to be smaller then geese or swans. Male ducks, called drakes, often are very brightly colored.
The duck with baby ducks, or ducklings, is called a Mallard. You've probably seen ducks that look like them near ponds and rivers. The males are very easy to spot: they have shiny green heads and necks, with a yellow bill and pale body.
Fun fact: Almost all domestic, or tame, ducks are bred from wild Mallards. The next time you see the Aflac duck on TV, look closely. He might be all white, but he still looks like a Mallard, doesn't he?
Geese are larger than ducks, although they are usually smaller than swans. They are mostly vegetarian, meaning that they eat only plants and grasses.
Look at the picture on the left. Does it look familiar? If you go out to a lake or a park, you should see lots of these black and white geese! They are known as Canada Geese, and their favorite foods are grass and other plants.
Fun fact: It's hard to believe now, but did you know that Canada Geese were once almost extinct from North America? It's true! In fact, many bird and wildlife sanctuaries across the U.S. and Canada worked together to bring these great birds back to the wild.
Swans are the largest birds of ducks, swans and geese.
The swans on the left are known as Mute Swans. Mute means not being able to speak, and it's almost true with these swans. While Mute Swans can't honk or call, they can hiss pretty well! Mute Swans are not native to Michigan, but they are one of the most common swans around here, because they are pretty and they don't need as much territory as native birds, such as the Trumpeter Swan.
Fun fact: The swans of the Northern hemisphere are all white, but swans from the Southern hemisphere, such as the Australian Black Swan, are black and white.
How do you tell which swan is which?
Click here to find out!
© 2007 by Angel Chen