Lucky Ducks in Winter

Lucky Ducks In Winter

Ducks sure have it tough. On top of the biting cold mallard_icewinds, ducks spend their winter days floating around in icy water. Keeping warm is no small feat for wintering ducks. While most of us enjoy the warmth of a fire, a duck has little to do but seek shelter and wait out the cold. So, how do they survive?


Duck down is arguably the best insulation in the world. Down feathers are the small, fluffy feathers directly below the tough outer feathers. The down feathers help trap the duck’s body heat and also help keep the bird buoyant enough to float across the water. Ducks spend a generous amount of time preening or grooming their feathers. Preening helps maintain the waterproofing of the outer feathers, which in turn protects the down feathers. Ducks also carry a thick layer of fat that keeps them warm and provides them with energy to keep generating heat.

Keeping their core temperature up is one thing, but how do ducks protect their feet? A duck’s feet are directly exposed to the cold water. Ducks have evolved a heat sharing mechanism in their feet called countercurrent heat exchange. The veins and arteries in a ducks legs wrap around one another. As warm blood from the heart enters the legs, the cold blood leaving the legs is warmed to preserve the core body temperature. Other cold weather species such as penguins have similar mechanisms.

It is not easy being a duck in winter, but they have evolved survival techniques to navigate the cold, icy waters. Wildlife refuges, such as those mentioned above, provide important wintering habitat for ducks to rest and “chill out” until it is time to migrate back north.

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