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Why do ducks walk in a line anyway? We asked the experts

Monday, July 20th 2020, 11:52 am - Why are all these ducks in a row, anyway?

While it's not uncommon to see families of ducks around Canada this time of year the sighting always seems to make us smile.

Take the above video, for example, filmed in August 2019 by Karen Ramuno in Biddeford, Maine.

In it, an army of ducks can be seen crossing the street, grinding traffic to a halt.

So why do ducks walk in a straight line, anyway?

Joanne Barbazza, head of communications and outreach support for Ducks Unlimited Canada, says it's a practice that's not fully understood, but experts have some theories.

"We believe the answer is likely linked to improving survival," she says.

ducks - GettyImages-982189958 (1) File photo: Getty Images.

Other explanations, according to Ducks Unlimited Canada, include:

  • Improved predator detection. If the bird in front identifies a threat and reacts, the birds following can respond accordingly.
  • Taking advantage of the power in numbers. The number of birds and the shape of the flock may confuse or overwhelm predators because it presents them with a variety of possible targets -- increasing the odds of survival for all ducks in the flock.

As for the ducks in the video above, Ducks Unlimited experts believe they're domestic ducks and, given the video was taken during summer, they could be flightless due to their wing feather molt.

"It looks like they may be crossing the road for food - briefly seen at second 53/54, it looks like they are feeding on the side of the road," Barbazza says.

"Note, when a wild hen mallard is seen walking with ducklings behind, they are typically walking to wetland habitat. The ducklings follow, likely because they don’t know where they are going and the hen does."

When ducklings are feeding in a wetland, they're spread out over a large area while the hen stays on alert.

If she spots danger, she sends out an alarm call, notifying the ducklings to freeze or hide. If she moves away from the threat, the ducklings follow, typically in a row, until they reach safety.

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