I was thinking yesterday are ducks smart? I mean, are they actually smart or maybe just savvy? Part of that survival instinct thing. Can they deduce and come up with solutions. In considering, I believe the answer is definitely – yes. But let’s see if I can convince you.
It’s not that I am a scientist studying the brains of ducks (more on that below). Or giving them cognitive tests to determine their level of problem solving. But what I do do is watch. Many a day will find me sitting in Café du Canard (my own exclusive ‘café’ set up in my garden) enjoying their antics over a cup of coffee.
With this watching comes understanding. Understanding why they make certain sounds, eg what their sounds mean. Watching the male’s disputes over who is top duck. And the girls deciding who they would like as their mate.
There are definite and specific actions they take. Sometimes divided by their sex, sometimes done as a flock. Of course this gives a modicum of justification to ducks being smart. But not how smart.
I started to think of examples then. Louis, my first white call duck, was who prompted me thinking along these lines. First I will digress a little and tell you about mealy worms. These are dried little worms that are a good source of protein for ducks. And they are also for some almost like a drug they are so yummy.
My mealy worms come in bags with bright yellow branding on them. The ducks, especially the call ducks, have figured out if I am holding one of these bright yellow bags that this means mealy worms are potentially on the offering. There is lots of excited chatter and a definite gathering around me to see if it is true. (It always is. I don’t believe in teasing my ducks about their favourite treat.)
Most days they get a treat of mealy worms in the morning when they are let out of their overnight bedroom. And another treat in early evening before bed. And when it is bed time, about 1 hour before dark, they bring themselves their nights accommodation in hopes of a last treat before going to bed.
They now know to tell me when it’s their bedtime. They loudly exclaim they have arrived ready for bed, and could I please provide their bedtime treat now. Thank you very much.
Recently Louis has taken to ‘asking’ me for his favourite treat if I am down around the enclosure during the day. He comes up to me, standing at my feet, looks up and – the only way I can describe it is – begs. He begs very prettily, and he is very obviously asking me for something. Since this is the only thing I offer beyond what’s already always provided I know he is asking me for mealy worms.
I have tested this by providing. And can see the resulting happiness result. Yes, in case you are wondering, ducks show emotions quite readily. Grumpy, anxiety, depression, joy and happiness. Like us humans, each day can be different.
Also like humans each duck has its own personality. And typical personality traits. Some are more prone to being happy, others towards anxiety, others are more angry or cautious in nature. They are born with certain personalities but also develop them, like we do, due to what occurs in their life. Nature and nurture at work.
Louis has also shown me how smart he is in other ways. He learned to climb stairs by watching Maggie and George during the time he was enamoured with Maggie and wanted her to chose him over George. (Which never quite happened, but Maggie deigned to let him stay as part of her entourage.) My other ducks have not been able to figure out getting up stairs, but Louis learned very quickly. And he has since gone on to teach his entourage. I have long thought he is my smartest duck.
For most duck smarts I have found where there is a reason, there is the time worth figuring out how to achieve. Gabby, one of my imprinted ducks, didn’t like the rain. (Yeah, I know, weird.) It rained and he wanted to come inside. So he’d leave the flock (very unusual) and head indoors. He’d call me from the foot of the stairs to let me know he was hiding out in the hallway. Maggie used to do the same thing, except she knew how to climb stairs so brought herself up and into the living room. Then she would settle on the sofa for a nice little snooze. (Gabby called out in hopes I would bring him upstairs to hang out with me.)
They have amazing memories too. Does that count as smart? My ducks, especially my imprinted ducks (where humans are thought to be big ducks) remember people. When I have visitors, they remember those that they have met before. Some it’s about greeting a life long friend. Those they are meeting for the first time it’s about letting them know they are in ‘their’ duck territory now.
The first time my parents met Maggie she deigned to greet them and welcome them into her Duckdom. She spent much of their visit following them around. I personally think she was acting as tour guide and telling them about her favourite worm hunting locations.
They returned for a visit 2 years later and she remembered them very distinctly. She marched right up to them and proceeded to coo over their feet. She only did this if she was familiar with the person. Not remembered, and she would have been a bit more biting and interrogating of what were you doing here.
Don’t just take my word for it…
So are ducks smart? For certain. There’s definitive science to back it up. Personally, I didn’t need to read it to know something I knew already. But I am glad that it’s not just me that has come to realise it.
And the actual research paper from Science – Thinking abstractly like a duck(ling)
Or the quick morning TV version:
Wish to learn more?
More Duck Stuff
And should you be on the lookout for duck and other animal inspired gifts – you’ll find quite a few in my shops, from vintage and antiques to new items actually designed by us.
Simply click on an image to see more.