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By: Efraim Harari

Ducks are medium-sized aquatic birds that are related to swans and geese. Ducks, however, are smaller in size, and differ from swans and geese in their tendency to dive into the water in order to catch food. Overall, there are 150 different species of duck; all are part of the bird family Anatidae.

Ducks come in a variety of contrasting colors, from bright and beautiful to dull and drab. Colors include bright greens, striking bronzes, and beautiful purples, as well as boring grays, dull whites, and dreary browns. The male duck is usually more brightly colored than the female.

The duck swims very gracefully in water, but on land it walks with a comical and clumsy waddle. It is an excellent flier; some ducks can fly as fast as sixty miles per hour. The duck has thick, soft feathers which are made water-repellent by a film of oil that the duck, using its bill, presses out of a gland located just above its tail. Water cannot penetrate this film, and it prevents the duck from becoming wet and cold. A duck’s feathers are so waterproof that even when the duck dives underwater, its downy under-layer of feathers will stay completely dry.

Ducks are omnivorous birds, and each species has its own dietary requirements. They are able to feed in and out of water. Somewill dive underwater to catch fish, others feed in corn fields and marshes, and others eat along the banks of lakes and rivers. In general, ducks will feed on aquatic plants, seeds, nuts, berries, insects, worms, leeches, frogs, shell fish, salamanders, and small fish.

Ducks are found in both seawater and fresh water. Their ability to adapt to different conditions and to eat such diverse foods is what makes the duck one of the most widespread birds in the world; they are found on every continent, with theexception of Antarctica.

The duck, however, is very vulnerable to its many predators. Predators include foxes, wolves, large fish, and crocodiles. Ducks are also hunted regularly by humans. Because of its calm and quiet nature, it often takes a long timefor the duck to react to surrounding noise, which makes it an easy target for those wishing to attack it.

Ducks are farmed all over the world for their meat and eggs. They are also farmed for their feathers (known as down), which are most commonly used inbedding such as quilts and pillows.

The Mallard Duck

The mallard is the most common and familiar duck in the world. The mallard’s yellow bill, white neck ring, rich chestnut breast, and green head distinguish it from all other ducks. The female has mottled brown plumage, with a whitish tail. Mallards prefer calm, shallow waters, but can be found in almost any body of water across Asia, Europe, and North America. The females quack loudly and often, while the males just make a single, faint sound. Mallards grow to about twenty-six inches in length, weigh up to three pounds, and can live up to ten years in the wild.

The Wood Duck

The wood duck is one of the most beautiful ducks in the world. It has purple wings and a metallic-green head marked with white lines. Unlike most ducks, wood ducks nest in hollow trees. They live in wooded swamps, marshes, and small lakes. They are one of the few duck species with claws; thus they can grip bark and sit atop of branches. They build their nests directly over the water, though at times their nests can be up to one mile away from the water. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to the pond or lake. These ducklings are able to jump from heights of up to 300 feet!

The Hooded Merganser

The hooded merganser is a small duck that has a collapsible crest made of feathers. When the feathers lie flat, they look like hair. But when the feathers are raised, they look like a hood, making the duck’s head look oversized and oblong.

The hooded merganser is an excellent diver. It is able to see clearly underwater and search for its prey. Amazingly, it has the ability to change the refractive properties of its eyes in order to enhance its underwater vision. It also has an extra eyelid, called a “nictitating membrane,” which acts as a pair of transparent goggles, as it provides added protection to the eye.

Torah Talk

Watching a male duck swimming in the lake, with its bright and colorful feathers and its graceful demeanor in the water, is truly a beautiful sight to behold. But the duck’s talents are not relegated to its looks – the duck has many more attributes to offer. In the air, it is an agile flier; and in the water, it is an elegant swimmer. It is also blessed with amazingly waterproof feathers. Yes, the duck certainly has a lot to quack about – but that is exactly the one thing that it does not do! The male duck does not quack; only the female duck does.

What an important lesson for us to learn. So often, when a person is blessed with exceptionalwisdom, strength, beauty, or other Heavenly-bestowed gifts, he instinctively feels the need to boast about it and let others know how great he is for having such talents and abilities. However, we must realize that we have nothing to do with the gifts that Hashem has bestowed upon us; we did nothing to acquire them, and as such, how can we brag about them? Boasting about our talents is really no different from gloating over our ability to breathe or to eat or walk, as these are all blessings from Hashem that don’t have anything to do with our own personal achievements.

Instead of bragging about our talents, we should be silent as the beautiful male duck that does not quack, and instead focus on thanking Hashem for the gifts He gave us. Additionally, we should realize that the more Heavenly gifts we have been blessed with, the more responsibility we have to utilize those gifts in ways that bring glory to our Creator, the One from Whom we receive all life and blessing.

If we do this, we will have achieved thesterling quality that the Torah holds in such high regard – true humility.