Waterfowl: Profile and Information


Waterfowl, which includes swans, geese and ducks, is a very diverse bird family.

Except for Antarctica, they can be found on all continents and occupy a different variety of habitats, including the tropics, the ocean and even the high Arctic.

They belong to the Anseriformes family. Anseriformes is a bird order consisting of approximately 180 living species in three families: Anhimidae (the three screamers), Anseranatidae (the magpie goose), and Anatidae, the largest family containing more than 170 species of waterfowl, including ducks, geese, and swans.

For aquatic life at the water level, most modern species in the order are highly adapted. All, except for screamers, have phalli, a characteristic lost in the Neoaves. The majority of animals are web-footed due to their aquatic nature.

They may be some of the most recognized birds because in city parks and on freshwater beaches, several species are frequently seen.

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) and Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are the most common waterfowl in cities and suburbs throughout North America.

Both species are highly adaptable and frequently congregate in large numbers in urban parks and on freshwater beaches.

Were you aware? Although the Mallards and Canada Geese are migratory, large flocks stay in the mild Pacific Northwest climate during the year, where they can find food and shelter throughout the year.

Scientific classification

FamilyAnatidae, AnhimidaeAnseranatidae
SpeciesAix sponsa
Scientific nameAnseriformes

Physical Appearance

In size and weight, waterfowl, including ducks, geese, and swans, differ greatly. The smallest is the tropical pygmy-goose, which weighs only 269 grams (10 ounces) and is 30 centimetres (12 inches ) long.

The trumpeter swan, which stands at 183 centimetres (72 inches) and weighs more than 17 kilograms (38 pounds), is the largest. Screamers are large birds, standing 76 to 95 centimetres (30 to 37 inches) and weighing anywhere from 3 to 40 kilograms (6 to 88 pounds). Their wingspan is 170 centimetres (5.6 feet).

With long necks and complete webbing between the three forward-pointing toes, these birds have compact bodies. The lower bill is flat with a kind of nail at the tip, while the upper is cone-shaped.

Waterfowl are unable to glide, but with their necks extended, they can fly easily. Five species, including three of the four steamer-ducks species, the Auckland Island teal, and the Campbell Island teal, are flightless.

Screamers look like geese, but they have a tiny head that looks like a chicken. Their feathers are grey or greenish-black, and the head and neck are somewhat white, blending into the forewing.

On the front of its head, the screamer has a feathered “horn,” and its eyes vary from yellow to orange. Screamers have webbing between their toes, like most waterfowl.

Screamers are noted for head and neck ornaments, while antacids may have brightly coloured speculums in green, bronze, or blue (secondary patch of colour). Young ones have a plumage that is identical, but duller.

In anhimidae, the bill is short and hooked, while antacids have long and rounded bills. Male anatids have a copulatory organ and tracheal and syringeal bullae that are partially or completely ossified. Anhimids lack uncinate rib processes and have an under-skin pneumatic dermal layer.

There are large wings of ducks, swans, and geese which come to a point. Feather colouration ranges from the white of most swans to the brown of many geese to many northern ducks’ vivid patterns.

The colouration of males is more complex than that of females. Geese and swans shed their feathers once a year, while ducks shed their feathers twice a year. Except for the magpie goose, waterfowl are flightless during the moulting season. Screamers gradually moult and are thus never made flightless.

During the breeding season, male ducks are usually more colourful than females. Geese and swans, however, are not sexually dimorphic; males and females look very similar, although their size can vary.


The Anseriformes and the Galliformes (pheasants, etc.) are the most primitive neognath species, and in bird classification schemes they can adopt ratites and tinamous. They belong, together, to the Galloanserae.

Several unusual extinct families of birds have been found to stem from Anseriformes based on common features found in the skull zone, beak physiology and pelvic section, such as the albatross-like pseudo tooth birds and the giant flightless gastornithids and mihirungs.

The Vegavis genus is the earliest member of the anseriform crown-group for a while. Still, a recent 2017 paper has found it to be only outside the Vegaviidae family crown group.

Anatidae systematics, especially concerning the placement of certain “special” genera in ducks or shelducks, is not completely resolved. Anatidae has historically been classified into Anatinae and Anserinae subfamilies.

The Anatidae was made up of the Anatini, Aythyini, Mergini and Tadornini tribes.


Except for the Antarctic region, waterfowl are distributed worldwide. Anhimidae is limited to South America, and in Australia and New Guinea, there are magpie geese (Anseranatidae).

Forms of waterfowl inhabit marine habitats, including lakes, wetlands, streams, rivers, marshes and swamps. Some taxa are present outside the breeding season in marine environments.

Ecology and Behaviour


With 48 genera and 161 species, Anseriformes comprises three families: Anhimidae (screamers), Anatidae (geese, swans and ducks) and Anseranatidae (magpie goose).

All species of waterfowl have large clutches of young precocial that hatch covered in down and that soon after hatching can swim and feed on their own.

Usually, nests are near the water on the ground, although some species nest in tree cavities, such as wood ducks (Aix sponsa). Female ducks are primarily responsible for the young, while their mate supports the goose and swan females.

Many anatids are migratory with post-breeding dispersal of offspring, while anhimidae are mainly sedentary. ⠀ Antacids are recognized for their flock systems, which often number in the hundreds of thousands of people. Anhimidae is rarely seen swimming, although antacids spend a great deal of time in the water.

 Outside the breeding season, waterfowls sometimes flock together and may form groups ranging in size from a few birds to several thousand. Anatids feed in flocks, roost, and migrate.

From their incredibly loud, far-ranging cries, Screamers (anhimids) get their common name. During the breeding season, anatids vocalize passionately. Although anatids whistle, honk, grunt or quack, Animal vocalizations range from trumpeting to drumming.

Humans hunt many anseriform species for sport or consumption. Some species have been domesticated for the development of flesh, liver, and eggs. In the textile industry, feathers of many species are collected for use.

Crops, including corn, winter wheat and barley, or potatoes, can be harmed by large flocks of Anseriform birds.


Waterfowl consume a range of food, including plants, fish and invertebrates, depending on the species. Waterfowls are herbivorous and feed primarily on leaves, stems, flowers, roots, seeds of aquatic vegetation. They may also forage for insects, plankton, molluscs, crustaceans, and small fish.

Two distinct foraging strategies have evolved for Ducks: diving and dabbling. Dabbling ducks feed on the surface or tip their rear to reach underwater, and Mallards are an example by springing up straight from the water when they take off.

By diving and swimming underwater, diving ducks such as Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) find their food. They are very uncomfortable on the ground, unlike dabbling ducks, as their feet are built more for swimming than walking. They normally sprint across the water’s surface to take off.

On land as well as in water, geese and swans are dabblers and forage. Teals and shovelers are tiny dabblers who can eat partly submerged in water by swimming forward with their bills.


Most anseriform taxa are considered seasonally monogamous, although multiple partner copulations within a breeding season may occur. In some species, the length of pair bonds can last several years or more.

Complex courtship displays that often include body posturing and vocalizations include pair bond creation. Although anhimidae copulate on land, most antacids copulate on the sea.

Anhimidae is solitary nesters, while anatids range from colonial to strongly territorial. Seasonally, most anseriform birds breed, although tropical taxa may breed year-round. Nests are typically placed on or near water and are made of material from plants.

The size of the clutch varies from 2-13 eggs. Anhimidae egg-laying intervals are approximately two days, while anhimidae egg-laying intervals are every 24 hours.

Male and female anhimidae share incubation for a period of 42-45 days, while female anatides incubate for a period of 22-40 days alone.

In general, Anseriform parents accompany young people when feeding, offering protection for predators and maybe pointing out food items. Parental treatment for several weeks also extends beyond fleeing.

Living With Waterfowl

Mallards and Canada Geese are usually blamed For trampling lawns, and for polluting water and vegetation with deposited faeces, In parks and around lakes and rivers, they find ample sources of food and shelter. For long periods, they often remain in one location. Modification of habitats may allow waterfowl to disperse.

Supplementary feeding attracts huge flocks of waterfowl and facilitates their reliance on handouts that do not provide the birds with adequate nutrition. Waterfowl eat and help monitor aquatic plants, such as milfoil and algae, when left to feed on their own.

But rotting food can compromise the quality of water and encourage bacterial infections in animals if people dump their unused food and leftovers such as bread and chips.

In a small enclosed area, if ducks and geese congregate, plastic netting or chicken wire fencing can keep them out. Waterfowl, especially near water, are drawn to wide expanses of lawn. The line of flight between the lawn and the neighbouring water would be broken up by landscaping with barriers of shrubs, hedges or closely planted trees.

Place poles with 2-by-3-inch plastic flags that have been broken down the middle to scare away Waterfowl. Suspend the flags, so the wind passes with them. Eyespot balloons and bird-scare tape can be purchased from catalogues and at garden and hardware stores.

Waterfowl are sensitive to noise. You can purchase a variety of automatic noise-making devices. One can use a combination of many types to frighten birds at the first signs of their activity.

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