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Location: most bodies of water
One of the most common sights on any body of water, be it lake, pond, river or canal is a duck. They are a lucky bird, seemingly at home in air, land and water. On our canals we have many different sorts of duck.
I was looking through a guide to British birds and was surprised to see that it had 21 different types of duck listed, and I know still more varieties (although that is not surprising as the book was published in 1990 and there have been more releases of ornamental ducks since then (e.g. the mandarin duck) which have prospered on our shores. Another good bird book is the RSPB Handbook of British Birds (both a paperback copy and on kindle). It has 23 different types of ducks found in the UK.
When looking through the duck section of the book I only recognised seeing four of the 23 varieties. This is probably because I have not always looked closely at the ducks and tried to name the variety that they are. The ones that I recognise (although I didn’t always know the name of them are the Ruddy Duck (OXYURA JAMAICENSIS), Mallard (ANAS PLATYRHYNCHOS), Mandarin (AIX GALERICULATA) and the Gadwall (ANAS STREPERA). Of those four the only two that I knew by name were the mallard and the mandarin.
A male mandarin duck
I remember the first time that I saw a mandarin duck, it was on a school trip to Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. It is a wonderful bird sanctuary and is well worth a visit. I thought that the mandarin ducks were so pretty. The males do have the most wonderful plumage. You will not be surprised to know that they are not a native species but have been imported from the Far East, but a very long time ago (before the 1750’s) and they seem to be thriving in this country. In this country they seem to be a non-migratory bird, but in Asia they do migrate north to south depending on the season. In the Far East they seem to be declining in numbers, but no-one knows why.
A male mallard duck
The mallards are your usual native duck, complete with camouflage colouring. It is the most widespread duck in the world with populations in Europe, Asia, North America and has been successfully introduced to Australia and New Zealand.
The ‘quack’ sound that we associate with ducks is actually the female mallard, she can say it many times very quickly if she wants. The male has a low, quieter rasping ‘crrrib’ sound.
Some of the types of ducks mentioned in the bird books you are unlikely to see on the canals, like the Eider (SOMATERIA MOLLISSIMA) as it is found mainly around the Scottish and North Sea coast. Others, like the mallard are ubiquitous, being seen everywhere around the country or large parts of it.
All ducks are omnivorous, eating plants and insects. The best things to feed ducks are; sweetcorn, lettuce, frozen peas (defrosted first), oats (like porridge oats), seeds (like bird seed, they are birds after all) and cooked rice. This is much better than feeding them bread. Feeding ducks bread is like feeding us chocolate, it is nice and they will eat a lot of it but it makes them overweight and if they eat a lot can give them health problems.
I have two interesting facts about ducks (at least I find them interesting) one is that there are two types of duck, dabbling ducks and diving ducks. Dabbling ducks only ever dive to avoid predators and they are happy walking on land. Diving ducks dive and swim underwater for food. Their legs are set further back in their body so although they are brilliant swimmers they are uncertain when walking on the land. Dabbling ducks are more common in the UK.
The other interesting fact that I have about ducks is about their genetic pattern, as humans we have the chromosomes X and Y, women have two X chromosomes (XX) and men have an X and a Y chromosome (XY), you get one each from your parents when you are conceived, you get an X from your mother and either an X or a Y from your father who determines the gender of the baby. Males are more likely to get genetic disorders because if females have one X chromosome with mistakes in it the other one can still tell the body how to do it right, but with men there is no backup copy and so will have the disorder, even though it is only on a single X chromosome. (There are many other genetic disorders which are not located in the X and Y chromosomes, and they are generally pretty evenly split between males and females)
In ducks the chromosomes are are the W and the Z. The interesting part is that the males are ZZ and the females are ZW. This would mean that it is the females who would always have the genetic disorders that are associated with the Z chromosome and the males who would be unlikely to get it, having another Z chromosome to back up the first.