What Are Ducks’ Feet Called? (Answer)

Photo: Anna Skliarenko / Shutterstock

Webbed feet can be found on many birds, but also on some reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.

Aquatic birds often have a variation of webbed feet to help them swim and navigate the waters.

Ducks’ feet are called palmate webbed-skin feet. This type of webbed foot fully connects three front toes. The back toe, hallux, is not connected with webbing. Ducks can spread the webbing wide or close it. This is done for stabilization and propulsion movements for swimming, flying, and walking. Ducks use countercurrent temperature control and other measures to protect the feather-less webbing and toes in extreme temperatures.

This article takes a closer look at the anatomy and function of ducks’ feet. Read on.

Duck Feet Design

Ducks are a type of waterfowl, belonging to the Anatidae family of birds, which also includes geese and swans. 

They are found all over the world, in marine and freshwaters, except in Antarctica. 

Ducks can be seen flying, nesting, swimming, and floating.

Feet, Not Flippers

Ducks have webbed-skin palmate feet, not flippers. Flippers are like flattened limbs for moving through the water, whereas feet have toes with joints that can bend and move as needed.

Each toe has a talon, which can vary in color and size particular to the species.

Scales are also found on the duck’s webbed feet. These assist the bird in maintaining grip as they search for food and walk on wet surfaces.

In mallards and other species of ducks, the feet (and bills) of females and males turn orange in the late fall to winter seasons. 

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This is a result of hormonal changes (melanin and adrenaline) that occur due to pairing and mating, in seasonal monogamy.

Types Of Webbed Bird Feet

Webbed feet are syndactyly, meaning that some or all of the toes are united or connected. 

The word form “palmate” is used in several types below, originating from the Latin word, palmatus. Palmatus, translated, means “shaped like an open palm or hand”.

There are 4 types of swimming feet as indicated in the table below.

Type Of FootCharacteristicsBirds With This Type (Examples)

  • Most common type

  • triangular-shaped

  • 3 front facing toes connected with webbing

  • 1 small back toe (hallux) is separate

  • Ducks

  • Terns

  • Geese

  • Swans

  • Gulls


  • Four webbed toes

  • Triangular-shaped in front, with side-webbing to connect to fourth side-adjacent hallux toe

  • Frigate birds

  • Pelicans

  • Gannets


  • Similar to palmate feet

  • 3 webbed toes and separate hallux

  • Webbing does not extend to the full length of the toes

  • Sandpipers

  • Herons

  • Some breeds of chickens


  • Toes are not webbed to connect them, but give the appearance of being so

  • Has lobes of skin on the front three individual toes

  • No lobes on the back fourth toe

  • The skin expands and contracts when swimming to create a greater surface area for propulsion

  • Eurasion coots

  • Grebes

  • Phalaropes

Function Of Duck Feet

The formation of the duck’s legs and feet are essential to their daily living and survival in swimming, walking, flying, and temperature control.

Ultimately, the increased surface area of the duck’s feet allows it to move faster and with greater force to escape predators and catch prey.

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Webbed feet allow ducks to paddle through the water, propelling themselves efficiently and quickly. 

Ducks can open their webbed toes wide, pushing the water with a greater surface area and force. They can also close the toes to pull the leg and foot forward to get ready for the next stroke or push in the water.

Ducks can also use their feet like a rudder, to steer themselves in the desired direction.


The scales on a duck’s foot assist the duck in maintaining grip. Additionally, a duck will open and close the toes to create surface area for walking, providing them with stability and balance. 

The placement of the leg on waterfowl can vary between breeds and species. The placement of the legs works in conjunction with balance and stabilization, as well as for diving abilities for food sources in the water.


Ducks are well-abled fliers, and some species are migratory over long distances during seasonal climate change. Webbed feet can assist the ducks with motion and steering as they move through the air.

Ducks can take off and land in water using their powerful wings to propel them. 

When ducks land, they spread their toes, creating an increased surface area with their webbed feet. This slows the duck down as they safely land on a surface or in the water.

Temperature Control

Ducks are warm-blooded but do not have fat or feathers on their feet. So, their bodies use a countercurrent heat exchange system in their legs and feet as well as other techniques. 

Countercurrent Heat Exchange

Cooled blood (as a result of water or climate temperatures) travels from the foot back up to the body through veins that are grouped around arteries. These arteries are moving warm blood from the body to the foot. 

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In simple terms, the cold blood leaves passing by the warm blood entering the leg and foot. The heat from the warm blood transfers to the cooled blood. They use venous and arterial currents when the environment is below the freezing point.

Restriction Of Blood Flow

Ducks can also conserve heat by reducing the volume of blood flow to their feet when cold temperatures are above the freezing point (32°F). 

This heat transfer makes it possible for the ducks’ feet and legs to endure ice and cold water. The core body temperature of a duck is about 100°F, yet the foot temperature can be as low as just above freezing.  

Other Techniques

Additionally, ducks may draw one leg up at a time to warm it up with their feather-covered body.

Conversely, if a duck is too warm, it can cool down by putting its webbed feet and legs in cold water or mud. Spreading the webbed toes increases the surface area that can be cooled off.

In Conclusion 

Ducks have palmate webbed-skin feet, which consist of three connected front toes. The back hallux toe is not connected to any webbing.  

They can manipulate the webbed toes by closing or opening them to create surface areas ideal for propulsion and balance when swimming, flying, and walking.

Ducks also use countercurrent venous and arterial blood flow to control the flow of heat in extreme temperatures. 

Ducks can additionally use other temperature control measures such as reducing the volume of blood flow, tucking a leg up to the body, or standing in water or mud.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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