A​re Ducks Smart? [Definitely. But How Smart Are They]

are ducks smart

There is a​ famous classic newspaper cartoon that critiques the way education systems typically determine the intelligence of their students. It features a series of animals including an elephant, dog, chimpanzee, goldfish, and others.

The animals are standing in a line with a large tree behind them and a teacher in front of them sitting behind a desk. The teacher says, “For a fair selection, everyone has to take the same exam: please climb that tree.”

The chimpanzee is very pleased with this development, but the elephant, goldfish, and others stand there slack-jawed. It is a humorous way of communicating that intelligence manifests itself in a variety of forms, and we must not limit ourselves when it comes to measuring it, but we often do.

Because of this, a variety of species are often underestimated when it comes to their intelligence. One of these species is none other than the humble duck.

Ducks are incredibly intelligent. They have profound social intelligence, cognitive intelligence, and even abstract intelligence.

S​o if you’re trying to figure out which animal species has a chance to evolve into the next dominant intelligent life on this planet, this article will give you three reasons why the duck might be a good guess. And you can do with that information what you will.

Ducks are Socially Intelligent

Social intelligence is the capacity to communicate and understand members of one’s species, paired with the capacity to form social bonds and work as a unit. Ducks have the capacity to do all these things, and they do them well.

ducks are socially intelligent

The way they go about communicating and understanding each other is more primitive than humans, of course, but nevertheless, they still have the capacity to pass on important information to their fellow ducks.

Ducks use a complex system of vocalizations and body language to communicate with one another. Through this system, ducks are able to communicate information about predators, food sources, and other important information to each other, which is essential for their survival.

According to a study conducted by Middlesex University London, ducks even have regional accents (how crazy is that?!?), because they adjust their calls based on their environment. The researchers conducting this study noticed that ducks in urban areas tend to have more of a “shouting quack” to compensate for their loud environment.

I​t makes you wonder if rural ducks get made fun of by local ducks when the rural ducks are on vacation in the big city. Or maybe they just quack “y’all,” who knows…

A​long with their ability to communicate with one another comes an incredible ability to form strong social bonds with their fellow ducks and even their human caregivers. Some ducks form mating partnerships for multiple years at a time and will return to each other even if their mating had not been successful in earlier years, which is evidence of the strength of the bond that forms between them.

Ducks have playful and curious personalities and can be quite affectionate and social with humans. You only have to be chased in your local park by an overly friendly duck who is particularly interested in your sandwich once to realize that sometimes ducks can even form too familiar of social bonds with humans.

Ducks are Cognitively Intelligent

Cognitive intelligence is the capacity to respond well to one’s surroundings based on experience and problem-solving, ducks have this in abundance.

Ducks are Cognitively Intelligent

Ducks have evolved cognitive abilities and defense mechanisms that allow them to thrive in their environments. These adaptations come naturally to ducks and are evidence of their keen awareness of their surroundings and their ability to respond to threats effectively.

F​or example, when ducks travel, they typically do so in a straight line. This formation allows the duck in front to scan where they are headed for predators, while those behind the lead duck are simultaneously scanning the back and sides of their line for predators.

T​his ingenious cognitive adaptation allows them to travel safely from place to place.

Ducks also have impressive memories. Like all migratory birds, ducks follow the same migration pattern each year by simply remembering the way, they don’t even use google maps.

But a lot of birds can do that, but ducks’ memory goes a step further. With the right training, domesticated ducks can learn and remember their names.

Their cognitive intelligence does not stop simply with defensive adaptations, or good memories, ducks are also excellent problem solvers. Ducks have the ability to learn to play games and even solve puzzles, which makes them great pets if you’re up for training them.

Ducks are Abstractly Intelligent

Abstract intelligence is the capacity to understand abstract concepts. It includes everything from the ability to differentiate shapes to the ability to write articles about duck intelligence.

Ducks are Abstractly Intelligent

Abstract intelligence is a key ingredient in human creativity and reasoning. Before 2016, only hyper-intelligent animals like chimpanzees and parrots were believed to have abstract intelligence, and only after they had been thoroughly trained.

But in 2016, a group of researchers at the University of Oxford discovered that baby Mallard ducks were able to differentiate shapes and patterns an hour after hatching, with no training needed.

This might not seem like a big deal, but it is.

Three centuries ago, the Philosopher John Locke reasoned that abstract thinking definitively divided humanity from animals. This ideology has been believed ever since, but in 2016 that changed.

These baby Mallards were the first evidence that certain species of animals have innate abstract relational intelligence without any reward, reinforcement, or training. This study was groundbreaking and recognized ducks as members of an elite company when it comes to innate intelligence.

I​f you consider these three reasons, ducks’ social, cognitive, and abstract intelligence, a case can be made that humanity’s greatest threat as the dominant intelligent life on the globe, is none other than the humble duck.

A​re ducks smart? Definitely. But are they smart enough to become the dominant intelligent life on the planet? That’s for you to decide.

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