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Why do ducks quack?

Asked By

Braeleigh Durkot

School: Port Dickinson Elementary School
Grade: 2
Teacher: Mrs. Shelepak
Hobbies/Interests: Irish dance
Career Interest: Teacher

Answered By

Rebecca Pearce

Doctoral Candidate and Teaching Assistant, Department of Biology
Rebecca's research area is animal behavior, and her interests and hobbies include writing, spending time with her dog, watching movies and doing yoga. 

Braeleigh, I loved your question because even though I think about how animals act all the time, this was honestly something I had never thought about before! In general, I can tell you that ducks quack to communicate with each other and give each other important information. This is similar to how a dog might bark to tell you that it’s just seen a squirrel, or even to how we use speech. One thing I will admit I didn’t know, though, was when a duck might quack rather than make some other kind of sound, and unfortunately a duck wouldn’t be able to tell me. So, I checked to see what other scientists who study ducks have discovered after spending time watching them in different situations.

I found out that the familiar "quack" you’re probably thinking of is made by female mallard ducks. Those are the brown, speckled ones you usually see together with adult mallard males, which have a shiny green head and yellow beak. Female ducks, as it turns out, quack for many different reasons. For example, they have been known to quack when they are alone, and particularly if they are separated from their partner. Other birds usually join a female quacking by herself, which suggests they could be using the sound to tell other ducks, including the male, where they are. A female will make a quacking noise just before she starts laying her eggs, which scientists believe could be to tell other ducks she has found a mate and is claiming that spot for her nest. Mother ducks also use quacks to "talk" to their ducklings, who will come over to her once they hear the sound. You can probably imagine this is very important for keeping them safe if she sees a predator.

If you listen carefully next time you hear a duck, you might notice that they usually quack more than once, beginning loudly and then getting quieter. You might hear other sounds made by ducks as well. Male mallard ducks make a quieter, raspy sound, and ducklings will whistle softly when they are scared. Who knew ducks were so chatty?

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