Can Ducks See In The Dark?

Ringnecked Duck in the dark

If you’ve ever seen a group of ducks appear in an area overnight, you would be forgiven for thinking that ducks must have amazing night vision.

After all, how else could they get from place to place in the dark? But the truth is, while ducks have incredibly keen eyesight in the daytime, their night vision isn’t particularly good! So how do they do it? 

In this article, you’ll learn about the benefits and drawbacks of duck eyesight, how and why ducks move around at night, and the risks and benefits of evening hunting. I’ll also answer some related questions you may have about duck physiology.


How Well Can Ducks See At Night?

Duck swimming on the river in the night

During the day, ducks have incredible eyesight. In fact, Ducks can see approximately three times further than humans can.

This is due to their eye structure, including their strong lens muscles and flexible lenses which allow them to focus in on details that humans would never be able to see.

Duck eyes also have four types of cone photoreceptors (unlike human eyes, which have three), including a type that is sensitive to the short wavelengths of UV light. This and the fact that they have a plethora of cones in general means that ducks can actually see UV light, and are able to see a broader range and depth of color than humans are capable of.

As a result, which makes them much ducks are very good at avoiding danger, as they are very more capable of picking out hunters in the wild.

However, these advantages don’t extend to the nighttime. While ducks have a wealth of cone cells in their eyes, they don’t have as many rod cells, which are the photoreceptors responsible for low light vision. In fact, ducks can see very little when it is dark, though this does not stop them from being active at night.

Ducks’ Nighttime Behavior: How and Why They Fly At Night

Nigh migration of ducks F

Nighttime activity in ducks is very species-dependent.

While some species prefer to do their feeding in the daytime and roost through the night, others will rest in deeper waters during the day and then take to the shallows to find food as the light starts to go. So, ducks are not necessarily always moving at night. 

However, ducks are generally very mobile, and will change their patterns quickly when threatened by dangers in their environment, whether that’s inclement weather or too much hunter activity in their regular feeding or roosting grounds.  Which is why they might alter their patterns to move around at night, despite their terrible night vision.

Ducks are also migratory birds, and the majority of waterfowl migrations will occur at night, with migration activity beginning just after sunset and peaking in the middle of the night. This, by the way, is why you might find a large amount of ducks appearing overnight as if by magic.

Ducks have developed several adaptations that help them navigate at night. These include:

  • Landmark Recognition. On nights when some light is available, larger landmarks such as coastlines and rivers can help ducks find their way. 
  • Stargazing. Much like human sailors, ducks can actually use the stars to hone their sense of direction at night!
  • Homing. Many ducks have a keen “homing” ability, the ability to find their way to one specific home location even from unknown areas. It’s not understood how ducks achieve this, but it’s thought that they imprint information about their home breeding locations and then use navigational signs to return to them
  • Innate navigational senses. Like other migrating birds, ducks seem to be able to use the Earth’s magnetic field , to help them orient themselves. How they do this, however, isn’t well understood.

Are Night Duck Hunts Advantageous?

Advantages of night duck hunt

If you’re preparing to go duck hunting, you might have heard that the best time to hunt ducks is early in the morning. But what about evening duck hunts?

The benefits, like being able to sleep in for the morning. And while the wee hours of the morning are a prime time for duck activity, ducks are also often on the move at dusk, going out to or back from feeding just as it’s getting dark.

However, when you hunt ducks in the evening, it’s important to be aware of where you are in relation to their roosting areas.

Hunting ducks, while they’re roosting, is highly taboo, as it pressures the roost. Hunting the roost can scare the ducks away from an area permanently, affecting not only your bag but that of other local hunters. It’s not worth it.

That said, ducks aren’t always sleeping at night. As I said before, they may be migrating or foraging for food. Generally, though, it’s best to hunt ducks during hours of the day when they’re most active. This is between sunrise and mid-morning, and mid-afternoon to just after sunset. 

Taking ducks’ powerful vision into account, make sure that you:

  • Scout the area so that you can track where and when the local populations move to eat or roost. Learn their patterns in the area.
  • Buy duck decoys that look as realistic as possible and take into account that ducks can see UV. Remember, ducks can see a great deal of detail from very far away, so you don’t want to skimp on your decoys.
  • If you’re using a duck blind, make sure that you dull its material sheen so that no UV light or artificial light can reflect off it and be detected by flying ducks.
  • When purchasing duck-hunting camo, choose a pattern that’s as undetectable as possible. Some good options include:
    • Mimicry camo. Camouflage that mimics the natural environment can be a solid choice, as long as you make sure that it’s as close a match for your hunt location as possible.
    • Breakup camo. This is also a good choice, which relies more on blurring or “breaking up” the outlines of the human form to make you more difficult to detect. It works for hunting a variety of animals, including waterfowl. 

Related Questions 

Can all ducks fly?

Flightless Falkland Steamer Duck

There are some ducks that choose not to fly and those that are not built for flight. An example of the latter is the Falkland Steamer Duck, which has short wings that are not capable of flight.

How fast do ducks fly?

Ducks fly at speeds of approximately 40 to 60 miles per hour. The fastest duck is the red-breasted merganser. It can fly at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour.

Do ducks have to flap their wings while flying?

Ducks have to flap their wings approximately 10 times every second while flying so that they remain in the sky. This is as a result of their larger bodies. 


While a duck’s night vision isn’t great, many species of ducks are still quite active in the nighttime.

Understanding how and why duck movement patterns change can help you keep up with them and help you adapt your hunt to their changing behaviors. Who knows, you might even try out an evening hunt!


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