When you imagine a duck landing, you probably picture it splashing into a river or pond at high speeds. You almost definitely picture it in a body of water, which makes sense. Ducks spend most of their time on water, in ponds, rivers, streams, and even lakes.
They can even sleep on the water!
But do ducks ever land on the ground? Read on to learn more about duck behavior, why they usually land on water, and reasons why they might choose to come down on land instead.
Can Ducks Land On Land?
Yes, ducks can certainly land on land, some can even land on trees! Ducks like the wood duck or the mandarin duck will build their nests in trees.
The wood duck will usually stay pretty close to the water, but mandarin ducks like to make nests in holes in the trees, which can be very high up, and surprisingly far away from any water!
When they do choose to be on the ground (or in the trees), ducks are usually motivated by one of two things: finding a place to roost or finding food.
When hunting, in addition to knowing where a duck is going to land, it’s important to think about how exactly a duck is going to land.
It’s a misconception that ducks always land in the wind. If the wind is light, say under 10mph, they can approach their landing spot from any direction.
But if you’re hunting ducks on a windy day, you need to make sure the wind is at your back. When the duck is landing, it will hover against the wind, giving you a great chance to get off a breast shot .
Why Do You Usually See Ducks On Water?
Ducks spend a lot of time on and around water, sometimes hours every day. Besides the obvious, needing a drink, there are a lot of good reasons for ducks to stay near the nearest water source:
- Ducks are excellent swimmers. Due to their waterproof feathers and webbed feet, ducks find it quite easy to remain on and in water for long periods of time. They’ll sometimes swim between rest areas or even when foraging for food.
- Ducks can sleep on the water. They float on the water while resting their heads on their backs. This is known as “wing tucking” and it enables them to relax the muscles in their necks while preserving body heat. However, ducks can also sleep on land, for example, if the weather is really harsh and they want to find cover with their young.
- Some ducks will dive to forage for food. Diving ducks can stay underwater for between 10 and 30 seconds at a time, if not longer. Fun fact, when you see groups of ducks on the water paddling around in circles, they’re actually doing it to agitate the water and bring plants and algae to make foraging easier!
- Ducks prefer to fly over water. If you’ve ever seen a duck flying very close to the water, you’ve witnessed a behavior called “skimming”. Gliding very close to the surface of the earth changes the airflow around the wing, reducing drag and making it easier for birds to fly. Since bodies of water have few obstacles, they’re surfaces for birds to make use of this effect (via Stanford).
- Ducks bathe in the water. Ducks can wash on the surface of the water or by diving underneath it. They bathe by opening their wings to get water all over their bodies, then dry off by moving around (how they do this changes from species to species). No matter the species, all ducks engage in preening after bathing. This is when they groom themselves with their beaks, distributing oil from their uropygial gland all over their feathers to waterproof them.
Reasons Why Ducks Land On Land
While ducks do often prefer to be around water, they may choose to be on land for a variety of reasons, including:
- Searching for a feeding spot. When looking for food, ducks will land in places like grain fields, somewhere with obvious sources of food nearby so they don’t have to work hard to get a meal, especially after flying for a long time.
- Finding a place to sleep. While ducks can sleep in water, they will also roost on land, especially during inclement weather when they need shelter from the elements. For example, in the cold months, mallards will forage by flying between wetland habitats such as marshes, bogs, and swamps.
- Seeking shelter. When searching for a place to sleep, ducks try to land somewhere where they’re safe from predators. This is why hunters set up decoy spreads, which fool ducks into thinking there are other ducks in an area. The decoys make them think it’s safe to land, bringing them directly into your sights. It’s always a good idea to have a variety of duck decoys, such as ones that look like they’re sleeping, others that are feeding, and others that are standing, to provide a realistic flock.
Here are some related questions (with answers) regarding ducks that can help hunters.
Do ducks like the rain?
You might think that they’d waddle to a dry sanctuary, but ducks actually like the rain and can even fly when it’s raining. However, if a storm is bad enough, ducks will seek refuge on land.
Can ducks get cold?
Ducks can tolerate fairly cold temperatures, down to about 20º F, but the severe cold makes it difficult for ducks to maintain their body temperature. Combined with a lack of food sources, this makes times of extreme cold quite dangerous for ducks.
Where do ducks like to build their nests?
Ducks usually build their nests close to water sources. Hens will build nests in hidden areas, such as behind vegetation or in holes in trees.
Ducks can land on both water and solid ground, but will often do so for different reasons. Understanding and being able to predict duck behavior will help you set up effective decoys on both land and water, and increase your chances of getting the kill.