Duck Teeth – How Ducks Use Their Bills to Eat Bugs, Slugs, and More

Do ducks love to eat? Absolutely! They’re avid foragers.

But do ducks have teeth?

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No. At least, not in the same way that you or I do. 

So, How Do Ducks Eat If They Don’t Have Teeth?

A duck’s bill is lined with something called lamellae. Lamellae may look like serrated teeth, but unlike teeth, they are fairly soft and flexible.

Much like a whale’s baleen, this is a filtration system that helps ducks separate their food from the water or muck that they do not want to eat. 

Ducks don’t use their bills to chew. They swallow their food whole.

Because they swallow their food whole, it is important that ducks have moist food and access to water to help them wash things down.

Much like a chicken, ducks have a gizzard.

Ducks will seek out and eat pebbles and sand (often called grit) and store them in their gizzard where the grit is used to grind food the duck has swallowed before passing the food onto the stomach and intestines.

Dabbling vs. Diving Ducks

There are two main types of ducks, and therefore two main types of duck bills.

Dabbling Ducks 

Dabbling ducks can usually be found near the edges of rivers and ponds. They scoop their insects and plant matter off the surface of the water or the ground.

Dabbling ducks tend to have flatter bills which are better suited for eating plants, seeds, and grains.

Diving Ducks

As the name implies, diving ducks seek most of their meals below the surface of the water and they are proficient at catching fish.

They have a sharper bill that is better for catching and eating fish. 

A Closer Look at Duck Bills

duck-teeth-bills

All ducks have bills, but not all duck bills are built the same. Let’s look at some other components of the bill.

Nail 

If you have ever studied a duckbill closely, you may have noticed that at the very tip of a duckbill there is a small hard nub. This nub is sometimes a different color than the rest of the beak, and it is known as a “nail.” 

The nail helps ducks dig through mud as they search for roots, seeds, and insects. 

Grin Patch 

Some breeds of ducks have something called a grin patch. As the name implies, this is a section of the bill that looks much like a smile from the side.

The true purpose of this section of the bill is to help the duck filter water from food.

It’s not smiling teeth that are being revealed. It’s lamellae. Grin patches tend to be fairly rare in ducks, being more common in geese.

There are over one hundred different breeds of duck, and there is quite a variety of bills among them.

Some breeds have more lamellae than others. Others might have a prominent nail or grin patch while others do not. 

Can Ducks Bite?

You’re likely starting to wonder if ducks can bite. Like any animal, a duck can bite; but unlike most other animals, a duck’s bite doesn’t hurt much.

Because they lack teeth, their bite is more of a pinch.

Of course, if you have a big duck, that could be a serious pinch! So, I would still err on the side of caution.

Now that you understand how ducks break down their food, you can make better choices about what to feed your own ducks.

They may not be able to give you a toothy smile, but they’ll be thankful all the same. 

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