Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Bottoms up!

This is probably one of the most familiar duck behaviours. Mallards often 'upend' to feed, submerging the anterior parts of their bodies and keeping their tails pointing up, while keeping their balance paddling with their feet -  a behaviour most kids find hilarious. Although it is not a universal duck feeding method, Mallards are amongst the experts. Mallards are dabbling ducks, they obtain most of their food from near the surface. Upending allows them to reach just a little bit deeper and feed at depths not used by smaller dabbling ducks but too shallow for diving ducks. In contrast to smaller dabbling ducks, mallards and other large dabbling ducks can afford to upend as their large size allows them to reach deeper and to remain submerged for longer.
Proportion of Mallards feeding using different feeding methods (from Green, 1998).

In a comparative study of duck feeding behaviour, Andy Green found out that neck dipping and upending were the predominant feeding methods in Mallards. Ferruginous ducks, a species of diving duck, did not upend and barely used the neck dip, diving was overwhelmingly the most commonly used method. 
 You can watch Mallards upending in this short video:

More information
Andy J. Green (1998). Comparative feeding behaviour and niche organisation in a Mediterranean duck community Canadian Journal of Zoology, 76, 500-507 : 10.1139/z97-221


  1. Four at once in the still, what a good shot.

  2. Thanks Toffeeapple, the still is just a screentshot from the video - it was either video or photos in this occasion. I found it unusual they were all going at it at once!

  3. That's so interesting, I've never really thought about that before! Definitely inspired to be more observant of animal behaviour now..

  4. Thank you Jess. That was my original purpose with the blog, to highlight behaviour of common birds everybody has access to.

  5. Hi! I like your blog on bird behavior. :) I was wondering if you could please answer a question about mallard ducklings. Have you ever seen them turning a 'somersault' when they are dabbling? I mean, instead of just pulling their head back from the water, turning a full roll? Or would that be considered diving?