Duck Sleeping Habits

By Ben Team

Ducks exhibit flexible sleeping habits, altering their behavior to maximize energy usage, minimize exposure to predators and serve social needs. However, most pet ducks -- including mallard-derived breeds and domestic Muscovy ducks -- sleep in a stereotypical posture, or derivation thereof, with their head resting on their body. Ducks must be mindful of predators while they sleep, so they often employ special tactics to keep them safe while snoozing.

Sleeping Posture

Ducks -- especially young ducklings whose heads appear comically heavy -- may sleep in a variety of positions. However, usually you will see your duck napping in a stereotypical sleeping posture, with his head rotated backward, resting on his back. He may tuck his beak under the feathers on his back while sleeping in this position. Rather than rotating their heads, some ducks pull their necks backwards and rest their beak on their chest.

Flexible Schedules

Your duck’s sleeping patterns will vary based on a variety of factors, such as the way in which you house him and the current weather conditions. For example, he may take frequent naps in the shallow parts of his pond when the spring sun warms the water quickly. Conversely, he may sleep through the long, cold nights of winter, tucked away in his shelter. While ducks often sleep at night, their activity period is not restricted to sunlit hours; in fact, many species migrate at night. In warm weather, ducks may feed through the night. Always be sure your duck has access to water whenever he has access to food.

Nap Time and Place

Mallard (Anas platyrynchos) breeds usually sleep intermittently through the night while floating in the water or while resting on land. By contrast, Muscovy ducks (Cairina moschata) are members of the tree duck clade, and often elect to roost above the ground at night. Most ducks take brief naps throughout the day, and normally do so on dry land. Often, naps are part of an elaborate grooming process that occurs several times each day. The cycle begins with a period of foraging, after which the ducks bathe, and then preen their feathers; napping is the final step in the process.

Sleep With One Eye Open

A landmark study published in a 1999 issue of the journal “Nature,” produced some startling information. The data demonstrated that ducks can allow half of their brain to sleep at a time, so that the other half of their brain -- and the associated eye, which often remains open -- can be alert for predators. In a subsequent interview with “The Independent,” lead scientist Niles C. Rattenborg, explained: “Birds sleeping under risky conditions spend more time with one eye open and half the brain awake.” Ducks sleeping at the end of a line often keep the eye closest to the other ducks closed, while the other eye remains open.

Aging is a Tiring Process

Young ducks sleep more as they age, according to a study by James K. Ringleman and Lester D. Flake. Publishing their results in a 1980 issue of “Journal of Wildlife Management,” the pair documented a group of mallards and blue-winged teals (Anas discors), living in a South Dakota wetland area. In most cases, as young ducklings aged, they slept -- and groomed -- for longer periods than their younger counterparts did. In 1991, the U.S. Geological Survey scientists Pamela J. Pietz and Deborah A. Buhl, collected similar data while studying mallards in North Dakota and Minnesota.