Ducks: The Familiar Swimmer

Ducks diving in water.

Ducks are one of society’s everyday creatures. They are in parks, on lakes, and even all over small, suburban towns waiting for passerby’s to drop break crumbs for them to eat. Ducks, to us, are something simple with little interest revolving around them. But are they that simple?

Ducks have evolved to the point that they have the ability to not only fly in the air, but swim and float on the water. Although ducks aren’t especially heavy creatures, without a few key characteristics they would probably be resting on the lake bottom rather than bobbing on top of it.

Ducks are basically perfectly designed for the water. Their web feet allow ducks to glide effortlessly through the water. Only three toes of the duck are webbed, with a unwebbed hind toe, which is raised, helping them walk on land. This is actually what gives them their famous waddle (Source 3).

Ducks possess an important gland called the uropygial gland that is a key physical trait that keeps them afloat. This gland produces an oily substance that is spread over the body of the duck in order to make their feathers water-repellent. Because their feathers resist the water they float on, they do not weigh as much as they would if their feathers absorbed that


Even without this special gland, duck feathers have yet another quality that allows them to float. Their feathers actually have the ability to trap air. Ducks are have a system of barbs tightly interlocked within their feathers that allow them to hold in these air bubbles. If a duck needed to dive underwater for food or other necessities, they simply push the air out.

Finally, ducks, like many other bird types, have a system of hollow bones. It is common knowledge that hollow bones help birds to keep up their flight, but this hollowness also helps birds, like the duck, to swim on water.