Most animals have body structures that we can recognizably equate to our own. Or at least, most mammals do. If we have cows, horses, goats or sheep we can recognize their noses, teeth, eyes, and ears, and are all analogous to ours.
But this isn’t always the case with birds and especially ducks. Speaking of that, has anyone ever seen a duck’s ears? Do ducks even have ears?
Yes, ducks do have ears, including an outer and inner ear. Most of the time, the opening of their ear is concealed beneath their feathers and cannot be seen.
Well, that’s a simple enough answer and readily explains why ducks and other birds don’t have ears sticking out that we recognize on other animals.
It turns out that ducks hearing is actually extremely important to them, and also they have some pretty fascinating adaptations concerning their sense of hearing.
I’ll tell you all about that and a lot more in the rest of this article…
Can Ducks Actually Hear?
Yes, ducks can actually hear. Of course they can; they respond to auditory stimuli like every animal. Ducks have a well-developed auditory system that allows them to detect sound waves through the air and the water alike.
Their hearing is particularly acute compared to most birds, as it’s important for communication among individuals in their typically large flocks.
Research and testing has shown that ducks use their hearing to navigate, communicate and also alert to sounds that may indicate danger, such as the calls of predators – or approaching humans!
Where are a Duck’s Ears Located?
A duck’s ears are located on the sides of its head, just behind its eyes. But the ear concealed beneath feathers that also help seal the ear against water and debris.
The position of the ears also allows ducks to locate sound sources effectively just like we do. Though you cannot see them directly, the structures of a duck’s ears are strikingly similar to ours.
Ducks have an outer ear canal and the inner ear, which contains a tympanic membrane (eardrum) as well as cochlea and other structures that make up the auditory system.
Are Duck’s Ears Visible?
No, not unless you push aside all of their feathers covering it. While a duck’s ears are present, accounted for and functional more or less like those of other living creatures, you cannot ordinarily see their ears.
If you did care to push aside their feathers, you would see an opening just behind the eye on either side of the duck’s head. This is the ear canal.
Do Ducks Keep Water Out of Their Ears?
Yes, they do! Well, most of the time. Ducks have a unique ability to keep water out of their ears while swimming and diving.
The first adaptation ducks rely on to keep water out of their ears is their supremely waterproof feathers which are knit tightly together over the ear canal.
The physical design of the feathers combined with a duck’s secreted preen oil provide spectacular water repellency that help keep water out of the ear canal. Just like a natural swimmer’s cap!
Additionally, the muscles surrounding the ear canal contract when the duck is submersed, and shrink the opening of the ear canal further. This also helps prevent water from getting in.
Combined with the surface tension of water, it’s a rarity that ducks need to worry about swimmer’s ear.
This adaptation is crucial for ducks since water getting trapped in the ear could lead to infections or damage to the inner ear structures.
By keeping water out even when fully submerged, ducks can maintain and better utilize their excellent sense of hearing- even while underwater! More on that in one second…
How Good Is a Duck’s Hearing?
It’s pretty good! A duck’s hearing is sharp, and good compared to other birds. They have a well-sense of hearing that allows them hear in the open air and even underwater.
A ducks’ hearing is particularly acute for sounds in the 2,000 to 4,000 Hertz range. This includes sounds in both the audible range and ultrasonic frequencies for us humans.
A duck’s hearing is so sharp it can normally pick out the unique qualities of mates and relatives even among the clamor of a huge flock, and can hear what’s going on under the surface of the water about a kilometer (0.62 miles) out. Very impressive!
Can Ducks Hear Underwater?
Yes! Ducks can hear shockingly well below the water’s surface. While swimming, ducks’ ears remain waterproof, but are still open to hear sounds.
They can still sense vibrations and sounds with high fidelity, and have an accurate sense of direction to determine where sounds are coming from when underwater.
Since sound waves travel four times faster in water than in air, and travel much farther, this allows ducks to hear sounds from a great distance underwater, usually 1,000 meters or more in the case of sea ducks.
This remarkable auditory sharpness helps them detect danger, locate food sources, and still remain able to hear other ducks even while diving or swimming.
Do Ducks Depend on Hearing for Communication?
Absolutely. Ducks rely heavily on hearing for communication among themselves, and even with you! Ducks produce a variety of vocalizations, such as quacks, whistles, “chirps” and grunts to communicate with one another, or to attempt to communicate with the people that take care of them.
Scientists at Oxford demonstrated that ducklings can identify their mothers’ calls within just hours of hatching, clearly showing the importance of hearing in duckling survival. This is part of a process called imprinting.
Additionally, ducks rely on their hearing to find and court potential mates, establish their territories, and detect predators before it is too late.
I’ll put it this way: a deaf duck would probably be a dead duck in very short order!
Does Environmental Noise Negatively Affect Ducks?
Yes. Sharp, loud noises (i.e. gunfire, bird bombs) can startle ducks, causing them to fly away and generally increasing their stress levels.
But sustained environmental noise pollution can also negatively affect ducks’ in chronic, subtle ways, including their feeding, mating, and communication patterns.
Sustained noises can cause ducks to become disoriented, affecting their ability to locate food sources and avoid predators. In urban environments, noise from traffic, construction, and other human activities can be particularly problematic for ducks.
It can interfere with their usual communication, making it harder for individuals to locate one another and establish social connections.
And that’s just what we know right now: conservationists and researchers are working to understand the full extent of noise pollution on ducks and other wildlife, as well as developing strategies to mitigate its impact though these efforts are in their infancy.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.