“How does a duck stay warm in winter?”
This is a question I pondered as I was photographing them in a snowstorm last weekend at the lake. Temps slipped below the freezing point that day, and the storm was dumping huge snowflakes everywhere. You remember the kind – those big, fat flakes that floated down like feathers so you could catch them on your tongue when you were a kid.
But these ducks didn’t look like they were having as much fun. Many huddled near the banks with beaks tucked under wings for warmth. They will stubbornly winter here no matter what the weather, as long as part of the lake doesn’t freeze and they can gain access to plant food that grows beneath the surface. With winters in Montana typically ranging from November through April, the outlook of this year’s season was already looking like a long road ahead. It would take a tough duck to survive out here all winter.
For all of their ordinary familiarity, it’s surprising to think how extraordinary ducks really are. A few fun facts about ducks you might not have known:
- Ducks’ feet and legs have a special network of blood vessels that retain heat, even while swimming in frigid waters.
- Ducks have a special oil-producing gland that makes their feathers water-proof. The outer feathers are so resilient that their inner ones stay completely dry even when diving under water to search for food.
- Ducks maintain an average internal temperature of about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Their downy feathers trap small pockets of air to create an insulative layer from the outside elements.
- During the molting season, ducks shed feathers and can’t fly for over a month – they literally become ‘sitting ducks.’