Winter Duckfest, Part IX — American Wigeon About To Land
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Have you ever wondered how ducks manage to land on the surface of a pond or lake without plunging headfirst into the water? After all, these birds are pretty high-speed fliers, and their bullet-like shapes suggest that they might hit the surface like guided missiles.
But, that’s not the case. In fact, ducks often land so gently that they barely raise a splash. How do they do it? These photos help explain it.
The first photo depicts a female American Wigeon in flight.
Notice how streamlined she is. She’s extremely aerodynamic in this image. Everything about her says that she’s moving against air resistance as efficiently as possible.
But, now, look at the second image.
This male American Wigeon is just an inch or two above the water’s surface and a fraction of a second away from making contact. He’s dramatically altered his shape and attitude in order to brake his descent and to land gently. He’s no longer streamlined. To the contrary, he’s shifted his body angle so that it is nearly vertical, providing him with maximum air resistance. His wings, instead of being parallel to the plane of flight, as they are in the first image, now are at right angles to it. They’re not really wings designed for flight at this moment so much as they are a parachute designed to stop the duck’s forward progress, rather like the parachutes deployed by drag racing vehicles when decelerating.
In fact, this duck will slow his speed to the point that he, in effect, stalls. At that instant, the duck will enter the water nearly vertically, and extremely gently.
Now, humans might or might not be able to engineer a plane with the same capabilities as have these ducks. But, you’ll have to admit it: this is a example of how ducks have evolved to perform an action that seems elementary when only glanced at but that is, in fact, extraordinarily complex. I never ceased to be amazed at nature’s marvels.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 400. The first image shot at f8 @ 1/640, the second at f10 @ 1/1600.