Do Ducks Really Have Teeth?

Every single animal that we might have on the homestead needs to eat. Of course we know that! But do you ever stop to think how our animals eat? Probably a lot like we do: they chew and swallow, right? Right? Maybe not, if they don’t have teeth!

two Pekin ducks leaving the pond
two Pekin ducks leaving the pond

But without teeth how can an animal chew and then digest its food? It’s one of those stupid simple questions it’s easy to overlook. How about ducks? Do ducks have teeth?

No, ducks do not have teeth. Ducks typically swallow small chunks of food whole for subsequent processing in the crop and gizzard. Ducks do have structures in their bill resembling teeth, though, called lamellae.

As it turns out ducks, and pretty much all other birds, do not in fact have teeth though they have structures in the bill that can be easily mistaken for teeth if you don’t understand their biology.

But not to worry, ducks can still eat more or less normally; you don’t have to worry about that. We’ll talk a lot more about the biology of ducks as it concerns their eating habits below.

So Do Ducks Chew Their Food?

No, ducks do not chew their food. Ducks can tear off small pieces of softer food using their bills, but in all cases they swallow their food more or less whole no matter what it is.

Do Ducks Process Food with Their Bills?

No, not really. Except in the case of them tearing off a chunk of a larger piece of food or scooping up food out of the water or off of the sand or dirt to be swallowed, a duck’s bill is only really used for the collection and sometimes cleaning of food in water.

But it Looks Like Ducks are Chewing Sometimes…

Yes, it does, and this is what has given rise to the notion that ducks might have teeth. It’s hardly uncommon to see ducks stoop down to grab some food and then straighten up while making a chewing or chomping motion rapidly with their bill.

But this isn’t really chewing: a duck engaging in this activity is it simply positioning food in the bill so they can swallow it effectively, or else they are pumping water across the food and out of their bill to clean it prior to swallowing.

We will talk more about those special methods and structures that help them do this just below.

How Do Ducks Grip Their Food without Teeth?

Teeth aren’t just used for chewing food, obviously, but also to grip it. So how do ducks grip their food without any teeth?

Simply, ducks typically scoop up small morsels of food or tear away small pieces using their bill they can be contained inside their bill and swallowed whole entirely.

Especially for ducks that are dabble feeders, they are gathering lots of tiny particulates at once prior to swallowing, so their bill really just acts more like a scoop than jaws or teeth like other animals have.

Even for ducks that feed predominantly from the sand or soil, they use their bill as a tool to collect food.

Some ducks even have a small prong or point on top of their bill called a nail allowing them to use their bill in a shovel like fashion to root through soft soil and sand looking for food.

Do DUCKS have TEETH?! & Other things you never wanted to know about Ducks (BUT TOTALLY SHOULD)

I’ve Seen Some Ducks with Teeth, Really!

This is a common objection on this topic! You’ll find more than a few people that will swear up and down that they’ve seen ducks with teeth before.

They aren’t crazy, and I don’t think they are lying, but they are mistaken. If you’ve ever seen a duck with its bill open, and even some breeds with their bill closed, you might have seen what appear to be short, triangular teeth.

These aren’t teeth, but instead are a specialized structure inside the bill called lamellae.

Together, the rows of lamellae inside the ducks mouth act as a filter that allows ducks to pump water over the food to help clean it prior to swallowing.

Though these structures appear like teeth, they are not hard like teeth, and are instead somewhat flexible.

The Size, Prominence and Placement of Lamellae Varies from Species to Species

Each and every duck species and breed has lamellae of varying prominence. Some ducks can look downright ferocious because of them when their mouths are open! Others are so small and dainty they are difficult to see at all.

Most notably, some duck species have what is called a grin, an area running along the upper and lower half of their beak that, when the beak is closed, the lamellae can still be seen.

It gives them kind of a snarly, almost teeth-clenched kind of look, and as far as I’m concerned is the leading reason why some people might think that ducks do indeed have teeth.

So How Do Ducks Break Down Food?

So, we’ve established ducks don’t have teeth. How do they break down their food, then? Simply, ducks break down their food internally.

When ducks swallow food, it first makes its way to the crop, a pouch where it is held and it’s further softened by saliva. After that, the food is passed to the gizzard which contains small stones, sand and other grit.

The gizzard is a powerfully muscular organ, and it contracts repeatedly using the grit contained within to grind and break up the food prior to proper digestion in the stomach and the intestines.

So, in a way, ducks do chew their food; they just chew it internally with the help of this specialized organ.

Do Ducks Have Teeth on Their Tongues?

No. Ducks do not have teeth on their tongues, but they do have a spiky tongue: these spikes are called papillae and are used to help filter small bits of food from the water when ducks are eating and drinking.

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