5 Lessons Ducks, Geese and Swans Can Teach Us About Life
A Feathered Philosopher—Not a Bird Brain
Feathered Philosophers Share Their Tips for Living Well
Please don't say they taste like chicken. No fair calling them "bird-brained" either. And, could you kindly lay off the wisecracks about their waddle? Perhaps you haven't seen yourself walk since you put on those last five pounds.
Give the Goose and Friends Some Respect
Ducks and geese have an inferiority complex when it comes to their reputations with humans. They're tired of being stuffed for Christmas dinner and plucked for their soft feathers.
Together they've joined wings with their more uppity and contentious cousins, the swans, who have image problems of their own. Swans are widely regarded as having an especially nasty disposition.1
These feathered philosophers want your respect, and to earn it they are sharing five tips for living well.
Awesome New Yoga Pose: Sitting Duck
When ducks quack at you, do you quack back?
Lesson 1: Be Flexible
Our feathered friends are models of flexibility, as they boast a large number of neck vertebrae—from 16 in ducks to 24 or more in swans, depending on the subspecies.2 By comparison, humans, giraffes, and almost all other mammals have only seven neck vertebrae.
Ducky and his buddies use their long necks in grooming, communication, and mating displays. They also use them to feed on vegetation well below the water's surface.
Are You Loose as a Goose? If Not, Then Get Stretching
Toe-Touching Flexibility Reveals the Flexibility of Your Arteries
While we humans cannot acquire more vertebrae, we can work with the body we have to ensure that it's in the best shape possible.
Did you know that flexibility is a key indicator of cardiovascular health for people 40 years or older? Medical research has found that if you are flexible enough to touch your toes in the sit-and-reach test, then chances are your arteries are also flexible.3
Doctors are uncertain why this is true, but they do know that healthy arteries are more resilient. The stiffness of our arteries increases as we age. Inflexible arteries are associated with high blood pressure and are a risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, and death.4
Are You Loose as a Goose? Try the Sit-And-Reach-Test
Assess your own flexibility using these simple steps:5
- Sit on the floor with your back against the wall.
- Place your legs straight out in front of you with your toes pointing straight up. Your ankles should be about 10 inches apart.
- Place a yardstick or rigid tape measure on the floor so that it lines up with your ankles at the 15 inch mark (~38 cm mark).
- Placing one hand over the other, slowly reach forward from your hips towards your toes. Do not bounce or lunge. Reach as far as you can, and measure how far you can reach on the yardstick.
- Repeat the process three times, and interpret your results using the table below. (Use the best of your three attempts.)
How to Interpret Results of the Sit-And-Reach Test
If You Are A ...
Your Flexibility Is AVERAGE If You Can Reach
Your Flexibility is EXCELLENT If You Can Reach
Man under 55
12 inches (30.5 cm)
19 inches (48.3 cm)
Woman under 55
16 inches (40.6 cm)
21 inches (53.3 cm)
Man 55 or older
11 inches (30.0 cm)
17 inches (43.2 cm)
Woman 55 or older
15 inches (38.1 cm)
20 inches (50.8 cm)
So "Waddle" It Take to Get You Stretching?
If you aren't as flexible as you should be, medical researchers recommend integrating Pilates, yoga, and stretching exercises into your exercise routine. Such exercises may help you modify the age-related stiffness of your arteries. Start now, and pretty soon you'll be loose as a goose!
Swans: Romantic Birds With "Fowl" Tempers
Trumpeter Swan Fact
Trumpeter swans were believed to be extinct in the 1800s. Native to the Northern United States and Canada, they were overhunted and killed by the thousands for their feathers. These feathers were shipped to Europe to produce powder puffs and ladies' feathered hats.
Lesson 2: Couples Enjoy Friendship Plus Other Benefits
Swans float gracefully along the surface of the pond in pairs, necks curved. We uphold them as the epitome of romance and committed relationships.
Although "divorce" sometimes occurs, swans generally form pair bonds that last their entire lives—an average of 10 years in the wild and 30 or more years in captivity.6 If one mate dies, the other goes through a mourning period. It remains alone for several seasons before finding another mate or joining a flock.
Lifelong partnerships provide swans significant reproductive advantages, as both males and females cooperate in raising their young (called "cygnets").
Humans also reap rewards from matrimonial partnerships, and the benefits go far beyond having a steady partner to fluff your feathers. Men, however, often get more out of the arrangement than women.
Who's Your Daddy?
The financial pluses of marriage are not limited to sharing expenses and combining resources. Married couples have an average of twice as much in the bank as unmarried couples.7 Married people also gain access to health care coverage, lower rates on auto premiums, Social Security survivor benefits, and other federal benefits.
A married man earns approximately one-third more than his single buddies, and men who are cohabiting with a partner earn on average 15-20% more than single men.8 Men's pay levels benefit from marrying earlier, regardless of whether they are high school graduates or more educated.
For women, this is not the case, however. If they have at least some college education there is a career income benefit to delaying marriage until after age 30.9
How Many Birds Is This Woman Wearing?
Health and Longevity Benefits
Wedded bliss also contributes to health and longer lifespans. Research has found that not having a life partner or spouse during middle age is associated with premature death; never married people are twice as likely to die during middle age.
According to one study, men don't even have to be involved in a happy marriage to reap its health benefits. Compared to single men, married men had a 46% lower likelihood of dying—even if their marriage was unhappy.10
However, studies tend to indicate that women reap the health rewards of marriage only when it is a happy one. Happily married women gain less weight, have lower cholesterol, and are less likely to experience depression and heart disease.11
For both men and women, marriage can be especially beneficial during times of serious illness. In a large-scale study of married and unmarried cancer patients, those who did not have a spouse were
- 17% more likely to have an advanced stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis
- 53% less likely to receive appropriate therapy than married patients and
- 20% more likely to die than married cancer patients.
So there you have it: matrimony can provide a key survival benefit.
Facts About Ducks, Geese and Swans
• Ducks and geese waddle because they have webbed feet and relatively short legs.
• Swans can fold one of their legs up onto their backs. They do it to absorb extra warmth from the sun, thus helping to regulate their body temperature.
• Ducks pair up for a season. Geese and swans are socially monogamous for life but not always sexually faithful. Male birds unknowingly help raise young that are not even theirs. (Oh, no! Feathered Philanderers?!)
Not an Ugly Duckling Among Us
How would you rate your attractiveness?
Lesson 3: Preen a Little
Ducks, geese, and swans engage in preening, or self-grooming of their feathers. Preening removes parasites and helps keep them both clean and dry. The birds use their bills to align their feathers just so and to coat them with a special water repellent substance from their preen gland.
Just as preening helps ducks, geese and swans to look their best, it can also help you.
The Attractiveness Bias: "What Is Beautiful Is Good"
Beauty confers a lot of benefits, even if it is a surface quality.12 Physically attractive people are perceived as happier, more sociable, and more successful than the "uglier ducklings" among us.
The attractiveness bias extends to teacher ratings, voter preferences of political candidates, and juror judgments. The attractiveness bias is sometimes referred to as "the what is beautiful is good" effect because we tend to associate attractive people with desirable qualities.
Being Beautiful at Work
Being beautiful isn't merely about perceptions. It translates into tangible advantages.
In employment contexts, better-looking job applicants are judged as more hirable, and they receive higher salary offers. This is in spite of a near-zero relationship between intellectual competence and attractiveness.
Once on the job, the benefits of being good-looking extend to career development opportunities and promotions. Attractive employees are more likely to be selected for management training programs. They are also more likely to be promoted to managerial positions.
While our attractiveness is fixed to some extent by heredity, we can preen so that we are the most beautiful versions of ourselves as possible. Adjustments to makeup, hairstyling, clothing, fitness, and posture can all impact how we present ourselves.
Decide for yourself. While it is true that beauty is skin deep, preening can help you tangibly feather your nest.
Good Things Take Time
Lesson 4: Tackle a Large Project One Day at a Time
Ducks and geese pair up in late Fall and begin to nest the following Spring.13 The couple together selects a nesting location under shrubbery or in tall vegetation, away from the water as well as predators.
The mother becomes a Project Manager, laying between 8 and 18 eggs (depending on the variety of duck or goose). Meanwhile her mate waits for her in the water. Understanding the enormity of her task, the female lays one egg each day. By delaying incubation until all of her eggs have been laid, she ensures that all of her hatchlings will emerge within a 24-48-hour period. Then she can lead them to water.
Project Management Basics
If you are faced with a large project that threatens to overwhelm you, divide your large task into smaller tasks with actionable steps. Determine a schedule, the resources and tools you will need as well as the milestones you will use to assess progress against your project plan.
Also consider what tasks you can delegate. (The mama duck, for instance, does delegate some tasks to papa duck. A gal shouldn't do everything herself.)
Focus your efforts on what you must get done today, giving yourself a specific amount of time to complete each task. Challenge yourself by working against the clock. Take scheduled breaks and record your progress.
Most of all, make yourself accountable by sharing your performance against your established project plan. By taking it one day at a time, pretty soon you'll be where you want to be!
Anyone Else Have Duck Toes?
If you have "webbed feet" (duck toes), tell us about them in the Comments Section.
If you have webbed feet (also known as "duck toes," or more properly "syndactyly"), tell us about your experience in the Comments Section. Do you hide them? Do you "quack people up" with them? Have you gotten corrective surgery?
Talk It Out
Lesson 5: Let the Stress Roll off like Water Off a Duck's Back
Thanks to the uropygial gland (or preen gland), ducks, swans and geese are able to apply a special waxy substance which effectively waterproofs them. Wouldn't it be awesome to apply the same technique to ourselves to ward off stress?
Too much stress is associated with
- clinical depression
- weight gain
- preterm labor in pregnant women
- high blood sugar in diabetics
- back pain
- flare-ups of asthma, multiple sclerosis, and other serious medical conditions
- greater inflammation and colds
- higher risk of strokes and heart attack
- development of chronic diseases
- accelerated shrinkages of brain tissue in areas of the brain overseeing reasoning, decision making, emotion, and self-control
- premature aging
- genetic changes that may show up in the next generation.
So do you need any more convincing to get your stress under control? Whether you exercise, meditate, or talk it out with a friend, learn how to let the stress roll off like water off a duck's back.
Your health depends on it!
Like Water off a Duck's Back
Buttercup the Disabled Duck: One Lucky Ducky
When Buttercup the duck was hatched in a high school biology class in 2012, one of his feet was turned backwards.
Unfortunately, his disability could not be fully corrected, and he could waddle only with extreme pain. Buttercup went to Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary for treatment.
His foot was amputated, and the lucky ducky received a high tech prosthetic foot thanks to the wonders of three-dimensional printing technology.
Buttercup the Disabled Duck Gets a High-Tech 3-D Printed Foot
Resist the Urge to Feed Ducks and Geese at Your Local Park
Before you head off to the park with a loaf of bread, think twice. Although many people feed ducks and geese, the habit is actually harmful to the birds for the following reasons:
- Poor nutrition
- Disease contagion
- Unnatural dependency on handouts
- Delayed migration
Why not take photos instead?
If You Love Them Please Look but Don't Feed
1British Waterfowl Association. "Swans." British Waterfowl Association home page. Accessed September 25, 2013. http://www.waterfowl.org.uk/swans.html.
2Michigan State University. "Kellogg Bird Sanctuary: Know your Swans." Welcome - W.K. Kellogg Biological Station. Accessed March 4, 2016. http://birdsanctuary.kbs.msu.edu/visit/birds/birds-exhibit/kellogg-bird-sanctuary-know-swans/.
3Medical News Today. "The Important Relationship Between Flexibility And Health." Last modified October 9, 2009. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/166574.php.
4 Tanenbaum, Sharon. "Increase your flexibility and improve your life - CNN.com." CNN.com. Last modified August 21, 2010. http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/08/21/increase.flexibility.realsimple/index.html.
5 Khalsa, Soram. "The Flexibility of Your Body Correlates With the Flexibility of Your Arteries." The Huffington Post. Last modified May 11, 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-soram-khalsa/yoga-health-the-flexibili_b_570848.html.
6Tudge, Colin. "They famously mate for life, but as one flighty pair find new lovers... the truth about the sex lives of swans." Mail Online. Last modified January 26, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1246073/They-famously-mate-life-flighty-pair-new-lovers--truth-sex-lives-swans.html.
7Ebben, Paula. "Can Marriage Improve Your Finances? « CBS Boston." CBS Boston. Last modified February 21, 2011. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/02/21/can-marriage-improve-your-finances/.
8Sutherland, Keri. "Married men earn a third more than their single counterparts." Mail Online. Last modified January 30, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1247317/Married-men-earn-single-counterparts.html.
9Barkhorn, Eleanor. "Getting Married Later Is Great for College-Educated Women." The Atlantic. Last modified March 15, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/getting-married-later-is-great-for-college-educated-women/274040/.
Gentle Mother Cat Adopts Abandoned Baby Ducklings
10Harvard Medical School. "Marriage Leads to Better Health for Men - Harvard Health Publications." Health Information and Medical Information - Harvard Health Publications. Last modified July, 2010. http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/marriage-leads-to-better-health-for-men.
11DeNoon, Daniel J. "Only Happy Marriage Is Healthy for Women." WebMD. Last modified September 15, 2003. http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20030915/only-happy-marriage-is-healthy-for-women.
12Cornell HR Review. "May the Best (Looking) Man Win: the Unconscious Role of Attractiveness in Employment Decisions." Last modified February 14, 2013. http://www.cornellhrreview.org/may-the-best-looking-man-win-the-unconscious-role-of-attractiveness-in-employment-decisions/.
13Wildlife Rehabber. "Duck - Goose Egg And Nest Information | Wildlife Rehabber." Wildlife Rehabilitation Information and Resources. Accessed September 29, 2013. http://wildliferehabber.com/content/duck-information.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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