The word duck (from Anglo-Saxon dūce), meaning the bird, came from the verb "to duck" (from Anglo-Saxon supposed *dūcan) meaning "to bend down low as if to get under something" or "to dive", because of the way many species in the dabbling duck group feed by upending (compare Dutch duiken, German tauchen = "to dive").
This happened because the older Anglo-Saxon words ened (= "duck") and ende (= "end") came to be pronounced the same: other Germanic languages still have similar words for "duck" and "end": for example, Dutch eend = "duck", eind = "end", German Ente = "duck", Ende = "end"; this similarity goes back to Indo-European: compare Latin anas (stem anat-) = "duck", Lithuanian antis = "duck", Ancient Greek νησσα, νηττα (nēssa, nētta) = "duck"; Sanskrit anta = "end".
Some people use "duck" specifically for adult females and "drake" for adult males, for the species described here; others use "hen" and "drake", respectively.
A duckling is a young duck in downy plumage or baby duck.; but in the food trade young adult ducks ready for roasting are sometimes labelled "duckling".
The drakes of northern species often have extravagant plumage, but that is moulted in summer to give a more female-like appearance, the "eclipse" plumage. Southern resident species typically show less sexual dimorphism, although there are exceptions like the Paradise Shelduck of New Zealand which is both strikingly sexually dimorphic and where the female's plumage is brighter than that of the male. The plumage of juvenile birds generally resembles that of the female.
Dabbling ducks feed on the surface of water or on land, or as deep as they can reach by up-ending without completely submerging. Along the inside of the beak they have tiny rows of plates called lamellae like a whale's baleen. These let them filter water out of the side of their beaks and keep food inside.
A common urban legend claims that duck quacks do not echo; however, this has been shown to be false. This myth was first debunked by the Acoustics Research Centre at the University of Salford in 2003 as part of the British Association's Festival of Science. It was also debunked in one of the earlier episodes of the popular Discovery Channel television show MythBusters.
Some duck species, mainly those breeding in the temperate and Arctic Northern Hemisphere, are migratory; those in the tropics, however, are generally not. Some ducks, particularly in Australia where rainfall is patchy and erratic, are nomadic, seeking out the temporary lakes and pools that form after localised heavy rain.
Ducks have become an accepted presence in populated areas. Migration patterns have changed such that many species remain in an area during the winter months. In spring and early summer ducks sometimes influence human activity through their nesting; sometimes a duck pair nests well away from water, needing a long trek to water for the hatchlings: this sometimes causes an urgent wildlife rescue operation (e.g. by the RSPCA) if the duck nested somewhere unsuitable like in a small enclosed courtyard.
Adult ducks are fast fliers, but may be caught on the water by large aquatic predators. This can includes fish such as the North American muskie and the European pike. In flight, ducks are safe from all but a few predators such as humans and the Peregrine Falcon, which regularly uses its speed and strength to catch ducks.
Ducks have many economic uses, being farmed for their meat, eggs, feathers, (particularly their down). They are also kept and bred by aviculturists and often displayed in zoos. All domestic ducks are descended from the wild Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, except the Muscovy Duck . Many domestic breeds have become much larger than their wild ancestor, with a "hull length" (from base of neck to base of tail) of 30 cm (12 inches) or more and routinely able to swallow an adult British Common Frog Rana temporaria whole.
A duck test is a form of inductive reasoning, which can be phrased as follows: "If a bird looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck." The test implies that a person can figure out the true nature of an unknown subject by observing this subject's readily identifiable traits. It is sometimes used to counter abstruse arguments that something is not what it appears to be.
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