Hydroplaning by ducklings: overcoming limitations to swimming at the water surface

J Exp Biol. 1995;198(Pt 7):1567-74.


Rapid escape behavior by mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) ducklings is restricted to burst swimming at the water surface. Maximum speed may be limited because of the pattern of waves created as the duckling's body moves through the water (hull speed). Burst speeds for 9-day-old ducklings were compared with predicted hull speeds, based on the waterline length of ducklings either resting in water or actively swimming. Kinematic analysis of video tapes showed a mean maximum burst speed of 1.73 m s-1, which was four times greater than the predicted hull speed. At burst velocities, stroke frequency was 1.9 times higher than the stroke frequency measured during steady low-speed paddling. Transition to burst speeds from steady paddling occurred near predicted hull speed. The paddling motions of the webbed feet were used to generate both thrust and lift. By using lift to raise the body above the water surface, the influence of waves in restricting maximum swimming speed is negated. The duckling's body becomes a planing type of hull and skims on the water surface.