A note found floating on a pond

“…So what exactly was this superlative achievement of evolution? What was it that finally separated us from the animals and made us who we are — ducks?

Wings are not unique to us, of course, and have even evolved several times, although primitive versions of real wings – the ones that would ultimately culminate in duck wings – seem to have emerged in the early Oligocene.  But the important anatomical features that set us apart from mere animals – the qualities that make us so special – apparently didn’t evolve until much more recently. Our elegant webbed feet, for instance, are key to our dominance of the water’s surface, and our aquiline beaks enabled us to spend less time underwater looking for food, giving us the leisure to develop philosophy and mathematics. The latest DNA analysis suggests that these features are quite recent and true ducks actually split off only a few million years ago from our primitive canard cousins. This discovery is somewhat humbling, and provides yet another nail in the coffin for the unscientific but still widely held belief that we were created uniquely by Daffy, in His image, and given dominion over the fishes of the sea. This is no longer a tenable hypothesis and most educated ducks today recognize that we did in fact evolve from more primitive animals and have achieved our position at the very top of the evolutionary tree only comparatively recently in geological terms.

We ducks are beautifully adapted to our world. Other species sometimes have some interesting adaptations too, of course: snakes have lost their limbs and so can perform a rudimentary swimming motion, while certain primates have even lost their feathers (in mammals these are known as “hair” and lack significant waterproofing qualities) and hence had to evolve unnaturally bloated brains in order that they can keep themselves warm by seeking shelter. Nevertheless, nothing could be prized more highly than our beautiful voices, which are, without question, unique across the animal kingdom. Canardologists have been able to show that certain other, closely related species to ourselves, are capable of superficially similar utterances, but it is very clear that these are not true quacks. To the untrained ear they resemble quacking but they clearly lack genuine syntax and scientists regard them as at best a kind of squawk. Quacking is not possible without our highly evolved beaks, and some theorists even hold that our ability to quack is a consequence of strange quantum-mechanical interactions within the pecten on the edges of our beaks, which could not be replicated, either in nature or in misguided attempts to create Artificial Quacking, known as AQ [see Vaucanson, 1738].

The many races of ducks on our waters today are, of course, one species,  and we must celebrate our differences whilst recognizing our common heritage. To our shame it was not until 1967 that Mandarins were legally recognized as ducks at all by Mallard society, but the time has come to put aside these superficial differences. Coots and Moorhens are merely primitive cousins but the presence of our elegant beaks and our stunning voices should be enough to qualify the rest of us as equal members of Anatidae. Today our attention must be focused on more pressing issues: our profligate over-fishing in particular threatens the food chain and hence the entire planet. We need to become better stewards, or else our lakes and streams may one day become dry, worthless land and we will have to return full-time to the air, like our primitive ancestors.”