Ducks form part of the large waterbird family Anatidae and are distributed throughout practically every continent. Many species of ducks are highly sociable and group together in large numbers near rivers, lakes, and ponds. As a result, many people have probably seen ducks sleeping before, but we’re here to answer the question; where do ducks sleep?
Ducks sleep on the water and dry land, depending on the species. For example, Mallards mostly sleep on the land, but Wood ducks mostly sleep on the water. In addition, many ducks roost communally in large groups, enabling them to stay safe in numbers while occupying the best roosting sites available in their habitat.
If you’ve ever spotted a flock of sleeping ducks, you might have noticed how some sleep standing on one or both legs. This is a common behavior amongst ducks who frequently sleep with one or both eyes open!
Ducks don’t need to shut down their entire brain when they sleep - they can catch some shut-eye without even shutting an eye!
Read on to discover more fascinating facts about the sleeping habits of these popular aquatic birds.
Mallards mostly sleep on land in communal groups
Most species of ducks sleep in communal roosting sites on land or in the water, meaning they sleep close together in flocks.
Ducks are typically gregarious and sociable birds, and sleeping communally grants them safety in numbers. For example, roosting flocks of Mallards can number hundreds of thousands of birds, and since not every duck doesn't sleep at the same time, some remain alert to predators or threats. This is especially important for ducks like Mallards that sleep on dry land.
Other species, such as Wood ducks, sleep on the water rather than land. But, again, Wood ducks tend to form large floating roosts of hundreds or even thousands of birds.
Ducks can sleep standing on one or two legs or sitting. When seated, many species tuck their bill into their feathers, bending their head backward in the process.
Like many other birds, ducks are perfectly content sleeping on one leg, which is common amongst Mallards. And if that wasn’t strange enough, ducks can even sleep with one or both eyes open!
Ducks are capable of unihemispheric sleep, meaning they can effectively rest one half of their brain while the other half remains active enough to recognize movement or noise in the immediate area. This enables ducks to sleep in short bursts without letting their guard down.
Side view of a sleeping male American Wigeon duck
Ducks are sometimes described as semi-nocturnal, as they can be very active at night. So, ducks sleep throughout both day and night.
Many species of ducks forage at night, probably because it’s safer for them to remain alert at night and sleep in the day when predators are more conspicuous. So if you come across a flock of ducks in the daytime, it’s not at all uncommon for some to be napping or dozing.
Ducks sleep for longer than most birds, with one reputable source claiming they sleep 10.8 hours a day, roughly 45% of a 24-hour period.
It’s pretty hard to tell how long birds sleep for as many sleep in short bursts, which are sometimes just minutes or seconds long.
Mandarin Duck asleep whilst floating on the water
Most heavier species of ducks bend their head to face backward, resting their head on their bodies and snuggling their beak into their feathers.
Ducks likely sleep like this to conserve body heat and rest their head and neck muscles, but they may also be directing their eyes and ears to give them the best chance of hearing a predator sneaking up on them.
Ducks are part of the waterbird family Anatidae, and virtually all species live in or around water.
As such, ducks are naturally evolved to sleep on the water. Ducks usually prefer to sleep on calm or still water where they’re unlikely to be carried by the current, but some sea ducks like the Eiders are content drifting on the sea while they sleep.
Not all ducks sleep on the water - most heavier species like Mallards and Muscovys sleep on land instead.
Mallards sleeping whilst stood on the fence
Many species of ducks migrate, including the Wood duck, some Mallards, most Shoveler ducks, and some Wigeons and pintails.
Baby ducks sleep wherever their mother sleeps, which is likely a safe spot isolated from other ducks. In the breeding season, most species of ducks become more territorial, and breeding females tend to isolate themselves from others once their chicks hatch.
The mother duck will find a quiet, enclosed spot to sleep with its chicks, who will huddle under and against her for warmth.
Ducklings sleeping under mother duck
In 2016, researchers confirmed a long-standing suspicion amongst ornithologists - birds really can sleep while flying.
By attaching tiny electroencephalogram (EEG) devices to Frigatebirds, researchers found that these birds could sleep for some 45-minutes per day without touching the ground. Rather than sleeping for 45-minutes in one go, the birds often slept for just 10 seconds at a time.
Like Frigatebirds, some species of ducks are also great migrators. For example, Garganey ducks and Northern pintails complete journeys of thousands of miles each winter. So, it’s certainly possible that ducks could grab short bursts of sleep on their journeys, though this hasn’t been proven.
Northern Pintails complete impressive migrations each winter
Ducks are waterbirds - they thrive on the water and have no aversion to the rain! So you could say that rain is no water off a duck's back!
Ducks have thick, oily feathers that are naturally insulated from water. As a result, many species thrive in super-cold Arctic and Antarctic waters and aren’t deterred by snow, ice or rain.
Ducks love ponds - they’re some of their favorite habitats. So, many species of ducks will happily sleep in ponds or nearby them.
Most heavier species of ducks like Mallards and Muscovys prefer to sleep on dry land, so there’s no reason why they wouldn’t sleep in a field. However, most roosting sites are located fairly close to the water - the field would likely need to be near some water source.
Smaller ducks, like Wood ducks, live in trees, especially females with chicks. Most heavier species of ducks sleep solely on the ground or in the water.
Wood Ducks resting on a tree branch
Ducks have mastered the art of unihemispheric sleep, meaning they can sleep with one or even both eyes open. Not only is the eye open, but it’s also still functioning, meaning the bird can see while sleeping.
This rather strange ability means that ducks rest just one half of their brain at a time, alternating between each hemisphere. So while one hemisphere rests, the other remains alert and awake. This enables ducks to react to predators and other threats even when they’re asleep.
If sleeping with an eye open wasn’t enough of a party trick, ducks can also sleep standing up on either one leg or both legs. This enables them to quickly get away if they’re alerted to a predator or other threat.
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