Do Ducks Have Teeth? Surprising Facts About Duck Teeth

Ducks are always nibbling on something. So, do ducks have teeth? Ducks don’t have teeth. These birds have specialized bills which help them handle food for easy swallowing. All the bill features, like the spatula shape, nails, lamellae, and grin patches, work hand in hand to make this possible.

Keep reading as we dissect how ducks feed without teeth. This article also discusses these birds’ digestive systems and why you should avoid feeding them.

Do Ducks Have Teeth?

Unlike most vertebrates, ducks don’t have teeth. In place of teeth, these birds have several adaptations and specially designed bills or beaks to help them break down food and swallow easily.

Below are descriptions of their specialized features.


Lamellae, sometimes called duck teeth,  are miniature, thin comb-like structures situated in rows along the bill’s inside part. These structures can easily pass for serrated teeth. However, they are relatively flexible and soft. Lamellae aren’t visible unless the duck opens its bill or if the bill has some form of deformity exposing the lamellae.

Lamellae act like sieves. Water and sediment enter the bill when the waterfowl is feeding. Lamellae filter out all the indigestible contents and trap seeds, invertebrates, and other food items in the bill.

Different duck types have varying lamellae counts. Dabbling ducks have fifty to seventy lamellae on both mandibles. Northern shovelers have four hundred lamellae; one hundred and eighty in their upper mandibles and two hundred and twenty in their lower mandibles.

Northern shovelers have the most developed lamellae. They can filter the tiniest food particles from the water, mud, and massive inedible materials.

Lamellae spacing and length also vary from one duck species to another. Although lamellae are prominent in waterfowls, other species, like the scoters and mergansers, hardly have these structures.

Spatula-shaped Bills

Ducks’ flat and elongated bills allow them to scoop food easily. This feature also helps them crush food into sizes that fit their throats.

A duck’s bill shape varies from one species to another. Some ducks, like the roseate spoonbill and the spoon-billed sandpiper, have spoon-shaped bills. These allow them to filter large food items like small fish and grubs from mud, sand, and water. Flatter bills trap plant material like algae, aquatic grains, and seeds.


Ducks’ bills have a hard, tiny bump on the upper mandible known as a nail. The nail’s color may be similar to the bill’s or differ slightly. Some ducks, like the greater and lesser scaups, are noticeable due to their nail color. Nails’ sizes and shapes vary from one duck species to another.

Nails help dig into mud or debris when prying for roots, seeds, worms, and insects. The upper mandible is fixed to the skull, allowing the nail to dig through the debris or mud quickly and steadily.

Grin Patch

A grin patch is a curve on the duck bill’s side that appears like a sneer or smile. This section slightly opens up to the lamellae, allowing easy filtration of the excess water. Most patches are a different shade than the bill and are easily noticeable. Grin patches may be missing in some species.

Do Ducks Chew?

Although ducks have various bill structures and adaptations that help them handle food, they don’t chew, thanks to the lack of duck teeth. Ducks make small chewing motions that position the food pieces in their bills so they are easily swallowed whole. Soft foods may break during these motions. However, it still can’t be compared to chewing.

Despite being unable to chew, ducks have salivary glands which secrete saliva, aiding in the digestion of food.

Ducks primarily feed on wet food, making it easy for them to swallow without chewing. If they eat dry food items, ducks will immediately drink some water to aid them in swallowing.

What Do Ducks Eat?

Ducks enjoy eating plants and animals, making them omnivores. These birds are water-loving and are constantly foraging in water bodies for food. Aside from small animals, ducks eat submerged and emerged vegetation, roots, tubers, and seeds.

There are two major types of ducks; divers and dabblers. Divers spend time in deep waters and dive under the water’s surface to look for food. They propel themselves by positioning their feet far back from their bodies. Sharp bills allow them to catch fish in the water.

Divers have stout legs and lobed hind toes that propel them with great power underwater. However, these features hinder their navigation on land. These waterfowls have less buoyant bodies allowing them to stay underwater for long periods. To reduce their buoyancy further, they compress their feathers, reducing the air trapped in them before diving into the water.

Dabblers feed near the surface of the water. You’ll notice these ducks at the rivers’ and ponds’ edges. They tip forward and stick their heads underwater to pry for food. Their feet are positioned under the body to provide adequate support, allowing them to forage on land without much trouble.

Due to the varying adaptations, many waterfowl species can intermingle and survive on the same wetlands without competing for similar food resources.

Green-winged teals, Canada geese, Trumpeter swans, and mallards are all dabblers, meaning they thrive in shallow waters. However, due to their different neck lengths, they look for food at varying water depths.

Trumpeter swans have long necks, allowing them to search for food about thirty inches deep. Green-winged teals have shorter necks, restricting their feeding to only a few inches deep.

Unlike other birds that rely on their sight to locate food, ducks look for food using their beaks’ soft edges and then grab it with their nails. Their lamellae, commonly mistaken for duck teeth, are responsible for grabbing big food items like leafy greens and fish.

Do Ducks Bite?

Ducks bite when protecting their eggs or ducklings and if they feel threatened. Waterfowls are overprotective birds. Females may bite you if they discern a risk to their ducklings. The males may bite you if they perceive you’re endangering their partners or intruding into their territory.

Always observe ducks from a distance and avoid approaching them unless they appear comfortable with your company. Ducks are timid vertebrates, and humans appear as large unfamiliar figures. 

If not used to having you around, these birds will be startled and alarmed immediately after seeing you. Staying still and further from them assures them of their safety and reduces their chances of biting you. 

Ducks don’t intend to bite you whenever they open their mouths in your presence. They may do so as a form of communication. Waterfowls open their mouths and make facial expressions to convey emotions like hunger, fear, happiness, and stress.

Ducks may also try to get your intention by opening their mouths. These birds may be feeling hot and require cooling down.

How Ducks’ Digestive Systems Work

After filtering out excess water and inedible material, the hair-like ridges on ducks’ tongues move the food to the back of their throats. Specialized taste buds determine if the food item tastes good or not. Saliva helps the food slide right through.

The tongue directs the whole food item down the throat, avoiding the glottis. Glottis is the windpipe opening in the middle of the duck’s throat. This hole opens and closes, allowing the duck to breathe.

Food first stops at the esophagus after traveling down the throat. The esophagus stores food that the duck may want to save for later. It’s pretty flexible and expands to accommodate the food size. If your duck’s chest appears swollen or lopsided, it’s probably storing a large food item in its esophagus.

Immediately after the esophagus opens, the duck gets the urge to feed again. The food item enters the stomach from the esophagus, where it’s bathed in digestive juices and enzymes.

The food item then moves to the gizzard, where the breaking down of the food begins. Gizzards have strong and dense ventricular muscles, which apply intense pressure on the food. The rocks and grits that may have made their way into the duck’s digestive system also help break down the food.

Ducks’ bodies absorb nutrients like proteins when the food is in the gizzard. The rest of the food item proceeds to the small intestines afterward.

In the small intestines, digestive enzymes from the pancreas and the liver’s bile enhance the extraction of more nutrients. Epithelial cells, which line the small intestines, aid in the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream through the epithelial cells, which line the small intestines walls.

The remaining food items flow to the ceca. The ceca absorb all the remaining nutrients and water. The large intestines are the last stop for food items. Here, the duck’s system absorbs all the remaining water and electrolytes. The bird’s body expels the rest of the food through the cloaca. Although there’s no duck with teeth, these birds survive just fine without these structures.

What’s Wrong With Feeding Ducks?

It’s pretty easy to give into the temptation of feeding ducks, especially when you see them scavenging for food with no avail. However, you should avoid doing so, as it can lead to critical problems. Some of them include the following:

Pollution – All the bread that’s not eaten pollutes the water bodies, promotes algae growth, and enhances fish eradication.

Duckling malnutrition – Bread doesn’t provide enough nutrients to promote duckling growth and development.

Diseases – Ducks require a wide range of nutrients to stay healthy. A diet rich in carbohydrates places them at risk of contracting life-threatening diseases.

Overcrowding – Adequate food supply allows the ducks to lay more eggs, causing the lake or pond to overcrowd after some time.

So, Do Ducks Have Teeth?

There are no ducks with teeth. What most people confuse for duck teeth aren’t similar to human teeth. They are soft miniature structures used to sieve or filter food. Ducks have modified bills and digestive systems that help them survive without teeth.