I live near two parks that have hundreds of ducks that pair up during mating. When they all scatter from kids or dogs chasing them or from someone feeding them, the ducks quickly rejoin each other. How do they know how to find each other?
— Steve Reynolds
A duck might call us out for species-ism, for saying, “They all look the same.” To us, they’re a bunch of little foie-gras factories, indistinguishably attired in identical feathered suits, but between ducks it’s a different story. Ducks see other ducks like people see other people. They have ugly ducks and suave, stylish ducks. They probably even have hipster ducks who wear their feathers in puffy duck mullets with bangs like it’s 1985 (or the duck fashion equivalent) and all the other ducks are, like, “Oh, you’re soooooo ironic, whatevs.” Birds have acute vision in general and, while ducks aren’t sharp-eyed raptors, they can still see very well, so discerning the difference between each other is an easier task for them. Because they have abundant cone cells in their eyes, they can see colors that are invisible to humans, particularly ultraviolet. That just gives them more options to tell each other apart. Really, if you spent a bunch of time looking at ducks, you’d end up being able to tell some of them apart, too. That’s just not the kind of thing that most people devote a lot of time to. If, on the other hand, you do have the desire to learn to distinguish individual waterfowl by sight, there may just be a career in natural history in your future.