DUCKS, GEESE, AND SWANS – Anatidae

DUCKS, GEESE, AND SWANS

DUCKS, GEESE, AND SWANS FACTS

Anatids (members of the family Anatidae) are medium to extra-large birds with stocky bodies, webbed feet, and a flat bill. Coloring varies but is primarily brown with white, black, and metallic green accents. The smallest species stands 13 inches (33 centimeters) and weighs no more than 0.5 pounds (0.2 kilograms) while the largest grows up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in length and weighs up to 49 pounds (22.5 kilograms).

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Found on all continents except Antarctica.

DUCKS, GEESE, AND SWANS HABITAT

Anatids need water. Some require fast-flowing streams; others prefer rainforests, tundra, or even the lava fields of volcanoes. Marshland is another common habitat for these birds.

DUCKS, GEESE, AND SWANS DIET

Despite the fact that most geese, ducks, and swans require water bodies for survival, not all species eat aquatic food. Some species are vegetarian and eat primarily seeds, roots, leaves, and stems. Others eat insects, and still others thrive almost exclusively on aquatic invertebrates (water animals without backbones). Some anatids favor plankton and algae (AL-jee).

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Nearly half of all anatids migrate (move from region to region, seasonally), and most of those that don’t tend to wander over a wide area to remain near a plentiful water supply.

Anatids are known for their flock formations, which experts believe may help them in locating food as well as protect them from predators, animals that hunt them for food.  Aside from humans, primary predators include red foxes, badgers, raccoons, coyotes, skunks, weasels, minks, owls, skuas, American crows, and black-billed magpies.

Anatids use their ritualized displays to help keep family groups close, convey information about reproductive status, defend territory or mates, and establish pair bonds. They communicate via sounds as well, with whistles, quacks, and honks. They spend a great deal of time in the water, preening themselves. Anatids use their bills to waterproof their feathers with oil secreted from a gland near their eyes. Waterfowl are social and live in flocks of up to several hundred thousand birds.

Although most anatids are monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus; have only one mate), some have several mating partners each season. Those species that are monogamous stay paired for one season, several seasons, or even for life. Breeding season varies depending on region. Courtship displays include vocalization as well as specific swimming patterns and movements. Almost all anatids mate on the water. Nests are then built on land in areas with dense vegetation. Nests are often lined with feathers. Usually the female builds the nest while the male defends her and their territory.

Eggs are laid over a twenty-four-hour period, and average clutch sizes range from four to thirteen eggs. Incubation (warming sufficiently for hatching) lasts from twenty-two to forty days and is done by the female. With a few species exceptions, males also don’t help care for their young. Some anatid species lay their eggs in other females’ nests. Within hours of hatching, chicks follow their mother on food outings and are often accompanied by their father, who protects his brood from predators. Chicks stay with mothers for five to ten weeks and are ready to mate around the age of one to three years.

DUCKS, GEESE, SWANS, AND PEOPLE

Anatids and humans have a long history of interaction. Humans have domesticated (tamed) a number of species and have hunted waterfowl almost since the beginning of humankind. Waterfowl hunting is a huge source of revenue in the United States, with outdoor stores selling millions of dollars worth of hunting gear. Also, waterfowl play an important role in keeping the balance of wetland ecosystems.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Six species are Extinct, died out. Four are Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction; nine are Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction; and twelve species are listed as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction. The greatest threats to these birds are overhunting and wetland drainage. When wetlands are drained, waterfowl can no longer breed there. Pollution from industry also threatens birds in rivers and streams.