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How ducks find each other

Image by Rick Geary

Heymatt:
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.

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Image by Rick Geary

Heymatt:
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.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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