Why Don’t Ducks Feet Freeze?

It’s a beautiful day. It really is.

It’s also 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

For my Aussie and British friends that’s a balmy -14.444 Centigrade. The .44444 infinite is very important so don’t ignore it. Every post decimal number is important at this temperature.

The temperature in the British Isles is, well, incredibly temperate. Annual temperatures average a daily high of 56F and average lows are 43F. So not a huge range.

There’s generally a lot of discussion and sometimes chaos if it goes above or below the above stated temperatures. The British really enjoy discussing weather, and feel it generally very intentionally affects their lives, like it has a rather vindictive or occasionally charming personality all of its own. You often hear things like:

“Well, the rain just ruined our picnic, didn’t it?”

Or, here’s a classic:

“Bloody weather…”

The Australians, in contrast, just tend to go out and herd cattle, dig for gold nuggets, lay on the beach, and fight bushfires without feeling like the weather hates them. Even when clearly, sometimes it does.

Americans are much more practical about Weather’s life choices. In Illinois, over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 22F to 83F. With quite a few extremes on either end.

Conversations based on weather generally go as follows:

“Is the heated chicken waterer keeping up with the temperatures?”

“They’ll be combining on Thanksgiving!!!!😬😬”

“Bring in some wood for the fireplace”

“Someone go chip at the ice around that sheep’s feet so she can move again.”

And my favorite:

“Where’s the axe? I need to break ice in the pond for ducks…”

All things said around here during winter.

(Don’t worry, I was kidding about the frozen sheep.)

But back to the ducks. Ducks are truly stunning creatures, and I dearly love mine. I have some Khaki Campbell’s, which are good egg layers, a couple of Pekin Ducks (like the juicy ones on a Chinese menu), a couple of mutts, and then an endangered variety called Shetland Ducks.

The Shetlands are the black and white ones. The brown Khaki is called Jamie. He had a Claire but she was eaten by a raccoon. It was very tragic but he has moved on and seems to have taken up with the White Pekin…

The Shetland Ducks are an endangered breed that come from, weirdly enough, the Shetland Islands. These islands lie in the North Atlantic Ocean between Scotland and Norway and the ducks were brought there by Viking invaders way back in the depths of time.

Jamie with Vikings

My friend Sonja Solomonson raises a variety of heritage breeds and if you’d like to contact her, take a look at her Facebook page Rustic Red Poultry. I got my wonderful Shetlands from her, and have loved every minute of raising them.


She’s an expert on feathered things, and an exceptionally wonderful human, to boot.

So these ducks, being somewhat used to Arctic conditions, do very well in our Illinois winters. Most ducks seem to actually, which is bizarre to me, because if I had had a little webbed, or even non-webbed foot, out on that ground this morning, it would have snapped off in about 2.1 seconds.

So how come ducks feet don’t freeze? Ok. Get a cup of tea, because here’s a little science.

They do this, for a start:

They sit on their little feet. Chickens don’t, which is why chickens end up in the coop on cold days. Ducks want to be out fishing, and worming and bugging and everything else. So they start with warming their feet with their little bellies.

In addition, they are very cleverly designed for swimming around in icy cold water. Even in mid-January, I’m down at the pond every morning, hacking through the ice with an axe, so Jamie and friends can have a nice warm swim. Whatever.

How on earth does this non-frozen webbed foot work? I have trouble believing this whole design was made up by some accident. ❤️

There’s a very clever heat exchange taking place. The smaller the temperature difference between two objects, the more slowly heat will be exchanged. Ducks, as well as many other birds, have a counter-current heat exchange system between the arteries and veins in their legs. Warm arterial blood flowing to the feet passes close to cold venous blood returning from the feet. The arterial blood warms up the venous blood, dropping in temperature as it does so. This means that the blood that flows through the feet is relatively cool. This keeps the feet supplied with just enough blood to provide tissues with food and oxygen, and just warm enough to avoid frostbite. But by limiting the temperature difference between the feet and the ice, heat loss is greatly reduced.

Pretty clever, huh?

And yes. It’s still beautiful. But the Big Guy is pretty generous with His scenery.

Even when your eyelashes get tiny icicles.

Spring is coming, friends.

3 thoughts on “Why Don’t Ducks Feet Freeze?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s