A Sleeping Duck is Only Half Asleep

Duck We live on the St. Joseph River here on the Indiana/Michigan border, and the back of our house is full of ducks and geese who use the river for their daily living. In the evening, the ducks will congregate on logs in back of our house, and no matter what time of day or night, you get near them, they always are well aware that you are there and have definite limits on how close they will let you get. I have a spotting scope, and looking at them up close I have noticed that one side of the duck seems to be more active than the other. In Discover, May 1999, page 19, there was a brief article reporting a study (done by Niels Rattenborg of Indiana State University) of how ducks sleep.

What Rattenborg has done is to monitor the brain waves of ducks as they sleep. Ducks always seem to spend the night together as a group. The ducks on the outside of the group are easily spooked by any movement anywhere near them. Rattenborg found that one of the hemispheres of these outside ducks was functioning at 100% capacity while the other one was in a sleep mode. Apparently the duck has the capacity to sleep with half the brain at a time doing the sleeping and the other half being fully responsive to the environment around them.

Duck It should be obvious what the advantage of this system is. Not only is the duck protecting itself by being constantly awake on the side that danger might come from, but the duck is also protecting other ducks closer to the center by being a watchman. I have noticed in watching our mallards that when they get disturbed, the outside duck will not be on the outside when they regroup. Apparently there is a rotation of responsibility so that a fresh duck ends up on the outside of the group awaiting the next disturbance.

Ducks are not known for being intelligent animals, but they have been given a design and an instinctive method of behavior that allows them to survive in a hostile world. The Creator has provided for all creatures to have a method of survival that is unique to them and makes it possible for them to be protected from their enemies.

--Additional Reference: Scientific American, May 1999, page 27.

--John N. Clayton

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