Ducks use their beaks to detect, grab and swallow food in one big gulp. They also use it to filter out excess water and inedible objects, leaving only their intended meal. The kind of food a duck eats is largely dependent on the shape, size and ability of its beak.
Dabbling or Diving, It's All Fine Dining
More than 28 kinds of ducks live in North America, and each has its own characteristics. Among them is the size and shape of the beak, also known as a bill. Ducks fall into one of two categories: dabbling or diving. Dabblers mostly eat in shallow waters, dipping their heads underneath to reach prey below. Divers eat in deeper waters and like their name, dive underneath for food. The size and shape of a duck's beak determines how he finds food.
Beak and Mouth Structure
The edge of a duck's beak is soft, and he uses this to feel for food, much like a fingertip. Ducks and other waterbirds also have a nail-like part at the end of their beaks. This is used for hooking or moving food or other objects. Ducks don't have teeth, but their mouth contains both an upper and lower jaw. Using their strong beak and jaw, they catch their food and swallow it whole.
Combing Through the Good Stuff
Just inside the beak are small, tooth-like notches called lamellae. These fine structures help ducks filter out water, mud and other items the duck doesn't want to eat. The lamellae remove the undesirables from the mouth, leaving only the intended food. A duck may have a few dozen to a few hundred lamellae, depending on the type of duck. The lamellae also helps a duck to grip food.
Breaking It Down
Ducks may eat not just fish, but seeds, grains, plants, frogs, salamanders and crawfish -- whatever the beak will allow. Although they swallow their food whole, ducks have some tools to help in digestion. These include the gizzard, an organ between a duck's stomach and intestines. Food enters the gizzard from the stomach, at which point the muscular gizzard squeezes together, crushing food. Ducks also deliberately eat tiny stones called grit; stored in the gizzard, grit acts as an additional grinder.
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Sarah Whitman's work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, websites and informational booklets. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in nutrition, and her projects feature nutrition and cooking, whole foods, supplements and organics. She also specializes in companion animal health, encouraging the use of whole foods, supplements and other holistic approaches to pet care.