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Digital Subscriptions > Chickens > Ducks 101 > MEET THE DUCK

MEET THE DUCK

Before you dive in, find out all the essential facts about your ducks.

All birds — including the captivating duck — possess adaptations that set them apart from most other backboned animals, or vertebrates. Of course, the unique avian characteristic that attracts and delights us most of all must surely be feathers! What else gives these animals their eyepopping range of colors and contributes so much to their enviable power of flight? But birds have more going for them than just feathers; they’ve evolved some other interesting and useful features you should know about, too.

HOW BIRDS ARE BUILT

The wild ducks from which our domestic duck breeds descend can fly fast, far and high, thanks to a number of specialized adaptations. A flying bird’s skeleton is light and strong, consisting of thin, often air-filled, or pneumatic, bones. The bones that make up the wings evolved from the forelimbs of the birds’ dinosaur ancestor (some bones being fused and some eliminated down through the ages). The breastbone has a large protrusion called a keel, to which the highly developed wing muscles attach. Most birds have more cervical vertebrae than other vertebrates do. If you’ve ever seen a duck preen or a swan arch its graceful neck, you know that most birds also have neck bones more flexible than ours.

Unlike us, birds have no teeth; the avian jaw is narrow and elongated, forming a horncovered, toothless beak. Birds’ beaks vary in shape and size, each type adapted to handling the specific foods in the species’ diet. In most birds, food travels down the esophagus and enters an expandable storage chamber called a crop. From there, it moves into a stomach consisting of two chambers: the proventriculus, which secretes gastric juice as does the human stomach, and the muscular gizzard. Standing in for teeth, the gizzard grinds seeds, grains, insects and other foods with the help of ingested stone particles called grit, which the bird picks up as it forages. Avian digestive, urinary and reproductive systems all terminate in one chamber, known as the cloaca, where urine and fecal material mix together and then exit the body via the vent. As we all know, birds reproduce by laying eggs, a characteristic they share with reptiles and their dinosaur ancestors.

In general, birds have terrific eyesight. The duck, for example, sees colors, and each of its eyes has a visual field of more than 180 degrees, giving it binocular vision to the front, to the rear and even overhead — a huge plus for spotting sneaky predators. Birds’ hearing is also well developed, but their sense of taste is poor, and with the exception of some species, such as vultures, so is their sense of smell.

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