So, Do Ducks Get Cold in Water?

Everyone knows that ducks love the water, but it’s easy to question that love when you see ducks out in the middle of a lake or pond during freezing cold weather.

Pekin duck in pond
Pekin duck in pond

Much of the time they’ll just be sitting out there like there isn’t a thing in the world wrong, even when it is cold enough to freeze us, and other animals, solid. How is this possible? Do ducks get cold in the water or not?

No, ducks generally don’t get cold in the water thanks to their natural waterproofing, great insulation, and a high internal body temperature.

It’s true that most ducks are just not bothered by cold weather that is intolerable for other animals, and even other birds.

That being said, they aren’t truly invulnerable to the cold but if you have ducks that are taking a little dip on a chilly winter day you really don’t need to worry about them so long as they have somewhere warm to go at the end of the day.

Keep reading and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about how ducks are able to resist cold water.

Ducks Have Many Advantages for Beating the Cold

As I mentioned above, ducks have quite a few advantages when it comes to keeping warm when the mercury starts plummeting.

Ducks, unsurprisingly, or naturally quite waterproof while benefiting from excellent insulation in the form of their feathers.

They have a high internal body temperature supplemented by near-constant activity. It might look like they are just bobbing on the surface, but below the surface most ducks are paddling furiously to maintain their position.

Lastly and perhaps most fascinatingly, ducks have a specialized circulatory system that can help keep their feet and legs from freezing and also helps to stabilize their overall body temperature.

They are truly amazing creatures. We will talk more about each of these special adaptations and behaviors in the following sections.

Ducks Stay Dry Even in the Water

As most readers already know, being cold is one thing, but being cold and wet is a recipe for disaster and death. This naturally seems pretty perilous for relatively small birds that spend much of their lives on and near the water.

However, it really isn’t a problem for ducks. Like the old aphorism correctly says, water rolls right off their backs.

But how? Ducks have a two-pronged advantage in this regard: the first is that their outermost feathers are specially designed to repel water and to keep from absorbing it.

Compared to the feathers of other birds and non-waterfowl in particular, water tends to bead and literally roll right off of a duck’s back and elsewhere on their body.

The second part of this waterproofing advantage is in the form of sebum. Sebum is a special oil that ducks secrete from their preen gland and distribute all across their body, and all of their feathers, with their bills.

The sebum, as you probably guessed, acts as another layer of waterproofing on already waterproof feathers.

Together, these features keep the water from even touching the duck’s body in most places and helps them float.

Feathers are Excellent Insulation

The next element in a duck’s natural cold resistance is the inner layer of feathers, specifically the down.

If the outer layer is a sort of waterproof barrier, the inner layer, which is lighter and fluffier, helps to trap a duck’s body heat and keep it close to them in a warm layer of air.

This is what helps ducks maintain their body temperature even when you see them swimming along in freezing cold waters during a raging snowstorm.

Most birds have a downy layer of feathers, but ducks have many more of them for their body size which helps them cope with cold weather even better.

If it helps, think of a duck’s feathers as working very much like a winter parka that you or I would wear: the outer layer repels the snow and rain, keeping us dry, while the inner, fluffy layer keeps us warm.

Ducks, Like Most Birds, Run Hot

Another factor that helps ducks stay warm, and certainly not the least, is their typically high internal body temperature.

More heat always means more warmth, no matter how cold it is outside!

A duck’s typical internal body temperature is about 105-108° F, and this combined with their superb insulation and natural waterproofing means that ducks stay toasty warm in all but the most bitterly cold conditions.

This body heat is generated by their metabolism, which is quite high like most birds. Accordingly, ducks have to eat a lot to fuel it even if they aren’t being particularly active, because they’re metabolism is always running hot, literally!

So while this works in the duck’s favor during cold weather, it also means they have high-calorie requirements, calorie requirements that must be met.

If they start to run out of energy they will start to freeze! More on that in a minute.

Ducks Stay on the Move

Another interesting but entirely mundane adaptation that ducks employ to stay warm is a natural consequence of living on the water, at least part-time.

If you ever look at a duck sitting out on a pond or lake, they probably look like they are just sitting there, bobbing on the water, assuming they aren’t diving for food.

But as it turns out they aren’t just floating: just beneath the surface of the water, ducks will probably be paddling rapidly with their feet.

They do this to maintain position when in a group, resist a current or just to help stay warm in the kind of cold weather we are talking about.

This level of activity, naturally, generates even more body heat which then heats the air trapped by the down feathers which we discussed above.

The result is, yep, that the duck stays perfectly warm even when “sitting” in frigid waters.

How Do Ducks’ Legs Keep from Freezing?

Now, you might have been wondering how a duck’s legs keep from freezing in cold waters. Yes, they keep moving, and yes, the duck has a high body temperature, but the legs aren’t protected by those wondrous feathers we have talked about.

And they are actually in the water, all the time, not bobbing above the surface like the duck’s body. So what gives?

It turns out that the amazing physiology of the duck has an answer for that too in the form of a specially adapted circulatory system.

Check this out: ducks have arteries and veins just like other warm-blooded animals, but in a duck’s legs the arteries carrying warm blood down to the legs and feet basically shield the veins which are returning the rapidly cooling blood from the same limb.

In effect, this fascinating arrangement minimizes the net heat loss that would otherwise occur due to the lack of insulation in and on the duck’s legs.

Although ducks cannot stay in the water forever, even with this marvelous adaptation, they can stay in all but the most frigid waters for a very long time with relative comfort.

You Should Still Take Steps to Protect Your Ducks from Cold Weather

If you have ducks of your own, don’t take any of this information as an endorsement that you can just leave your ducks outside with absolutely no protection from the elements.

Ducks, like all domestic birds, need a warm place to go during frigid weather and very especially at night.

Make Sure Your Ducks Have High-Calorie Feed When it is Cold

Another thing you’ll need to take care of for your own ducks is ensuring that they have plenty of food to eat at all times in the winter.

Usually called warming feed, this is a high-quality food that contains plenty of nutrients and extra calories that can help ducks generate and maintain their body heat through metabolism as described above.

When you should start or stop warming feed varies depending on who you are asking, but as a general rule of thumb you should start adding warming feed to the rotation when the temperature starts to close in on freezing and below.

When temperatures start to rise above and stay above freezing, you can discontinue warming feed.

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