Anatidae facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Ducks, geese and swans
Black-bellied whistling duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae


Anatidae is the biological family of birds that includes the ducks, geese and swans.

These birds are common and widespread, and live in or near water. The family has a cosmopolitan distribution, on all the world's continents except Antarctica and on most of the world's islands and island groups.

These are birds that are adapted for swimming, floating on the water surface, and in some cases diving. The family has about 146 species in 40 genera. They are usually herbivorous, and are monogamous breeders. A number of species do annual migrations. A few species have been domesticated for agriculture, and many others are hunted for food and recreation. Five species have become extinct since 1600, and others are close to extinction.

Description and ecology

The ducks, geese, and swans are small- to large-sized birds with a broad and elongated general body plan. Diving species vary from this in being rounder. Extant species range in size from the cotton pygmy goose, at as little as 26.5 cm (10.5 in) and 164 g (5.8 oz), to the trumpeter swan, at as much as 183 cm (6 ft) and 17.2 kg (38 lb). The wings are short and pointed, and supported by strong wing muscles that generate rapid beats in flight. They typically have long necks, although this varies in degree between species. The legs are short, strong, and set far to the back of the body (more so in the more aquatic species), and have a leathery feel with a scaly texture. Combined with their body shape, this can make some species awkward on land, but they are stronger walkers than other marine and water birds such as grebes or petrels. They typically have webbed feet, though a few species such as the Nene have secondarily lost their webbing. The bills are made of soft keratin with a thin and sensitive layer of skin on top (which has a leathery feel when touched). For most species, the shape of the bill tends to be more flattened to a greater or lesser extent. These contain serrated lamellae which are particularly well defined in the filter-feeding species.

Their feathers are excellent at shedding water due to special oils. Many of the ducks display sexual dimorphism, with the males being more brightly coloured than the females (although the situation is reversed in species such as the paradise shelduck). The swans, geese, and whistling-ducks lack sexually dimorphic plumage. Anatids are vocal birds, producing a range of quacks, honks, squeaks, and trumpeting sounds, depending on species; the female often has a deeper voice than the male.

Anatids are generally herbivorous as adults, feeding on various water-plants, although some species also eat fish, molluscs, or aquatic arthropods. One group, the mergansers, are primarily piscivorous, and have serrated bills to help them catch fish. In a number of species, the young include a high proportion of invertebrates in their diets, but become purely herbivorous as adults.

Images for kids

Anatidae Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.