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A Duck's Life
Whether they’re gliding across the smooth surface of a lake or soaring through the sky in perfect formation, geese and ducks are familiar fixtures in the American landscape. But while we may encounter them fairly frequently, many people don’t know much about these animals. Geese and ducks are interesting individuals who look out for their companions and have strong bonds with their mates and their young. Read on to learn more.
Geese: A Lesson in Family Values
Geese are very loyal to their families—they mate for life and are very protective of their partners and offspring. If a goose’s mate or chicks become sick or injured, she will often refuse to leave their side, even if winter is approaching and the other geese in her group are flying south. Those who have spent time observing geese report that they experience emotions just as we do—when a goose’s mate is killed or her eggs are destroyed, she will seclude herself from other geese while she mourns. After a partner dies, some geese spend the rest of their lives as widows, refusing to mate again—this can be a long time, because geese live up to 25 years.
Geese enjoy preening their feathers, foraging for food in the grass, and collecting twigs, bark, and leaves to use to make "home improvements" in their nests. They lay eggs once a year in the spring, and the female incubates them for 30 days while her mate guards their well-concealed home. True to their loyal nature, geese like to use the same nest each year if possible.
A Lesson in Teamwork
Multiple families of geese come together to form a larger group called a gaggle. This strength-in-numbers approach comes in handy when they are flying long distances. Aside from guarding their own families, geese also look out for others in their gaggle—if they are flying and one goose is shot, some of the other geese will lag behind to look after their injured friend.
Geese are adept fliers who may travel thousands of miles during their yearly migrations, and they fly in a characteristic V-shape so that the geese in front reduce the air resistance for those behind them. This amazing wind-cutting technique helps the geese fly about 70 percent farther as a group than they would be able to do on their own. The geese rotate from the front to the back when they get tired, and those who are holding up the rear honk their encouragement to the leaders. Geese have long memories, and they use familiar landmarks and the stars to navigate during their yearly migrations.
Ducks are outgoing, social animals who feel most at ease when they’re in a larger group of other ducks—this group of ducks is called a paddling. They spend their days looking for food in the grass or in shallow water, and they sleep together with their paddling at night. Ducks are meticulously clean animals who keep their nests free of waste and debris, and they enjoy preening their feathers and flaunting their beautiful plumage for potential mates. In nature, they may live for 10 years.
Ducks are adept swimmers and fliers, and they may travel hundreds of miles each year during their migrations. They fly in formation for protection and to reduce air resistance, and they can fly at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour!
Ducks use vocalizations and body language to communicate. Researchers at Middlesex University in Britain recently reported that ducks even have regional accents, just like humans! These scientists found that city ducks have more of a "shouting" quack so that other ducks can hear them above the hustle and bustle, while country ducks have softer, smoother voices.
Helping Geese and Ducks
While most people don’t think of ducks and geese when discussing farmed animal cruelty, the meat and foie gras industries treat these animals horribly. Ducks raised for their flesh spend their entire lives crammed inside dirty, dark sheds, where they are deprived of everything that is natural to them—they are never able to take a swim, feel the sun on their backs, breathe fresh air, or raise a family. The overcrowding on these farms leads to debilitating injury and disease.
Birds raised for foie gras suffer an even worse fate, as detailed on the Web sites and factsheets linked from these pages.
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