Feathers are very crucial to a duck’s health and so, the question “do duck feathers grow back?” is very relatable. Feather is one thing that makes birds and waterfowl unique. Birds are the group of animals that have feathers. Feathers have many defined functions on the bird. The most important function of feathers is for protection and flight. During winter, feathers are ducks first line of defense.
Yes. Duck feathers grow back. Ducks naturally lose and replace their feathers regularly. Feathers are naturally recurring, just like human hair. They grow back on their own after pulling out.
Feathers are part of the wonderful works of nature. When you look at bird’s feathers, you will observe they were carefully engineered by nature. Feathers require some amount of care and also get replaced periodically.
Waterfowls have an oil gland at the base of their tail that secretes a grooming fluid that helps keep their feathers soft and pliable. This fluid gives their feather a waterproof effect, keeps them from breaking and also enhances their aerodynamics.
Waterfowls, while preening, spread this fluid throughout their feathers with the use of their bills.
Feathers wear out and often break despite the preening birds do. The good thing is that any feather that wears out or breaks or lost completely is replaced automatically. Worn out and broken feathers are replaced during molting.
Molting according to English dictionary is the shedding of feathers. The timing and frequency varies among waterfowls.
Ducks and geese have a similar molting pattern. They, however, can only molt their wings simultaneously. During molting seasons, these birds are rendered flightless for like a month until the melting is completed.
3 Main Types of Duck Feathers
Ducks have three types of feathers:
- Contour feathers
- Flight feathers, and
- Down feathers
They replace their contour feathers at least twice in a year. Male ducks (drakes) have flashy breeding feathers during winter and spring, which they use to attract their mates.
They molt these feathers shortly after the breeding season. The flashy feathers are replaced with basic or eclipse feathers. The basic feathers are dull and help hide the drakes from the public until their flight wings are replaced. As soon as they can fly again, they start molting the second time and gradually develop their breeding feathers again. The cycle still continues.
Female ducks molt too, but the difference in their basic and alternate feathers is barely noticed. They molt into their basic feathers before nesting. This feather remains until their wings finish molting and brood rearing activities are over.
Parts of a Duck’s Feather
- Vane: the flattened, web-like part of a feather, consisting of a series of barbs on either side of the shaft
- Barbs: One of the side branches of a feather. It consists of lots of stiff filaments that attach to a Rashid
- Rachis: the central shaft of a feather
- Barbules: Any of the secondary barbs that form a fringe of small projections on a feather
- Barbicels: Any of the hooks on the barbules of a feather that interlock adjacent barbs
Some Reasons Ducks Loose Their Feathers
Ducks lose their feathers by plucking. Plucking is the pulling out or removal of feathers usually by the bird. In some cases, ducks pull their fellow ducks feathers especially as a sign of aggression. When the duck does it to itself, we can’t really say what the cause is exactly.
Ducks may pluck themselves usually when they are bored or stressed. Skin irritation and infectious diseases also lead to ducks plucking their feathers. This is mostly caused by a parasite infestation, bacterial infections or poor nutrition.
Seek veterinary attention as soon as you observe this among your ducks.
Diseases also lead to duck feather loss. Two main diseases have been noted to be the causes of duck feather loss: Hypothyroidism and Psittacine circuitous.
Note: All birds naturally molt. Knowing when your duck is molting is very important to avoid mistaking the natural molt for a disease.
For people not so experienced in raising ducks, they might be surprised or shocked noticing this for the first time. Wild and outdoor housed ducks molt once or twice a year, but pet birds are not easily predictable.
Feathers grow from a small cavity or sac called follicle. Just like human hairs, feathers also have muscles and ligaments that control their actions. These muscles also help to control the growth of the feathers. Whenever the duck loses a feather, a new one grows out of same follicle.
Feathers when coming out new look like hair and it contains blood vessels responsible for the supply of nutrients and blood vessels to the new growing tissues. This is why they are called bloody feathers.
Whenever these young feathers are broken, it leads to bleeding. Ducks will normally remove this broken blood feathers on their own. The blood vessels in the feathers die off as soon as the feather is matured. There is a sheath that covers these young feathers but as soon as the feathers are mature, the ducks rub or pull those sheaths off. Pulling off the sheath helps the mature feathers to come out properly.
Types of Feathers
I already mentioned earlier that ducks have three types of feathers: contour, flight, and down.
The contour feathers are majority for protection. It possess a Venter shaft (rachis), and usually with vanes that are composed of barbs.
The contour feathers gives the duck it’s characteristic shape and also make up their exterior. Contour feathers help to streamline the body of the duck during flight, and helps in thermoregulation.
There are small contour feathers that overlap the tail and wing feather. These small feathers are called coverts. It’s these coverts that provide the streamlined shape for the aerodynamics of flight.
The flight feathers are found on the ducks wings and on its tail. They have been naturally made to accommodate the stress and strain of flight. They are directly connected to the ducks ligaments or bones for better organizational wholeness.
The flight feathers support the ducks weight in flight. They are always more married on their leading edge, and have vanes with unequal width. This distinguished feature helps to lift the duck and push it forward during flight. It’s more profound in primary flight feathers.
There are 2 types of flight feathers:
- Remiges: the remiges originates from the wings and attach to the ducks bones. The feathers are grouped into primary feather of the inner wings and secondary feathers of the outer wings.
- Rectrices: this make up the tail surfaces and the airfoil of the duck. The retrices have their central pairs attached to the tailbones directly.
The down feathers help to trap warm air against the ducks body. They help with the insulating functions in the duck. Their shafts are short and they don’t have arranged barbules. This makes them light and soft.
At first, duck and goose feathers were used to line blankets, sleeping bags, pillows and clothing. Female ducks use down feathers to line their nest and to also keep their egg warm.
Hens generally pull their down feathers from their body during the process of laying egg. The hen transfer heat more efficiently from their bodies to the egg through this brood patch. During incubation, hens pull some layers of their down feathers on top of their eggs with their bills. This is to keep the eggs warm and protect them while the hens are away.
The exact number of feathers on a duck is not known yet. Scientific literature said that their numbers varies by species. Researchers said they have counted some of the duck species e.g. the mallard has about 11903
It has been observed that smaller birds generally have more number of feathers than the larger ones.
Duck Feather Water-Repellent Attribute
Duck feathers have a non-wetting prodigy. This water repellent attribute of the ducks feather was studied at a nanoscale. The fine structure of the duck feather was revealed using a scanning electron microscope imaging.
It was passed from one stage of magnification to another. The result from the microscopic scan presented that duck feathers have a multi scale structure. It was shown that the preening oil and the multi scale structure of duck feathers are responsible for their lack of affinity for water.
Uses of Feathers
Duck feathers are used for making artificial baits that are attached to fishing lines to attract fishes. Some people prefer using the smaller, shiny and colourful ones. I think it’s more efficient.
You can use feathers to light a fire especially when they are dry. Feathers are inflammable and at the same time light weight.
Feathers are used in making pillows. Pillows made from feathers are fluffy, comfortable and are also said to last long.
Tie up the feathers in a pillow case and wash. After which you dry them and they’re ready for use.
General Facts about Ducks
- I mentioned earlier that ducks have waterproof feathers. Even when they go underwater, their down feathers still remain dry.
- Ducks eat grasses, fruits, insects, aquatic plants, fishes, etc. They are generally omnivorous animals.
- Ducklings under the age of ten days walk and swim as a group. They don’t like to leave their mothers’ sight for protection reasons.
- Most duck breeds have only one sexual partner at a time, although they don’t mate for life. They go for new mates each year. They tend to choose the strongest, healthiest and better mates. They do this because they want a mate that has the ability to pass their genes to the next generation of ducklings.
- Ducks feel better when in larger group of other ducks. They are very social and outgoing animals.
- Ducks are usually categorized as waterfowls because they are normally found in areas that has water, such as streams, and ponds.
- Ducks, when well taken care of, can live up to 20 years. It is sometimes dependent on the duck specie.
- A duck’s egg production can be affected by daylight. Ducks tend to lay more eggs when there is daylight. Farmers will normally make use of artificial lighting to prolong the hours of light the ducks have per day. This helps the ducks to effectively lay more eggs each day
- The Muscovy duck breeds have eggs that hatch within 35 days while most other duck breed eggs take about 28 days to hatch. The hens play a very important role in the protection of their eggs from predators.
- All domestic duck breeds are said to have descended from the Mallard or Muscovy duck. For over 500 years now, ducks have been bred as pets and farm animals. Mallard ducks are easily crossbred with other ducks.
Duck feathers grow back during molting (the natural process in which birds routinely replace some or all of their feathers). The only exception is in cases where there is permanent baldness which almost never happens.