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Duck Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)

duck

Lovable and ubiquitous, the duck is one of the many animals which is often found sharing habitats with humans. Genuinely charming and likeable, scientists working for the “LaughLab” experiment at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK concluded that the humble duck is the funniest animal around and is the subject of the funniest jokes. (1)

Ducks are sociable, friendly, and fill their environments with a sense of natural beauty and balance. On top of that, ducks are common domesticated animals which have contributed much to human agriculture. In so many ways, the duck is one of the most incredible animals around and it is lucky for humanity that even in most urban environments, ducks can be found enjoying the water features of local parks. Ducks connect us with nature and with the many virtues that they embody. Read on to learn more about the magnificent duck!

Table of contents

Duck Symbolism and Meaning

Ducks are very family-oriented animals. Although only a few duck species mate for life, most ducks are perennially monogamous, meaning that they will court one mate per breeding season and remain together throughout the process of nest construction and egg laying. (2)

Young ducklings imprint on their mothers and follow them closely until they grow old enough to fend for themselves. Mother ducks, for their part, are diligent, attentive, and very protective over their broods. So, ducks may represent motherhood, parenthood, fidelity, family connections, protection, trust, and innocence.

ducks flying

Many of the most recognizable species of ducks, including the iconic Mallard, are sexually dimorphic. This means that males and females of this species have very different appearances once they reach adulthood. (3)

For this reason, ducks may represent balance, opposites, and either masculinity or femininity.

Finally, ducks often appear in cartoons, books, and children’s media of all kinds. Something about the duck’s waddling gait, its huggable shape, and its raspy quack has endeared mankind toward this common aquatic bird. The duck has come to represent playfulness, silliness, fun, childhood, gentleness, and mischief.

Duck Native American Symbolism

Ducks are the frequent subject of Native American legends, although they most often appear as gullible targets just waiting to become the next meal of a wily trickster. Some versions of the “Earth-diver” myth suggest that the duck helped the creator to make all of the world’s continents by retrieving them from the mud at the bottom of the primordial sea. (4)

One Menominee legend serves as an excellent demonstration of the duck’s gullible nature. In this story, a hero named Manabush asks the flock of ducks to close their eyes as he sings to them. Enjoying his singing, the ducks begin to dance with their eyes shut. (5)

While the ducks did as they were told, Manabush stealthily grabbed them by their necks and killed them one by one. One of the ducks opened its eyes and warned the others to flee. Manabush cursed this vigilant bird to have red eyes forever. That bird was the Grebe. (6)

duck

One Blackfoot myth uses a boastful duck to demonstrate the consequences of arrogance. In this story, a mighty falcon pursues a family of ducks. The falcon strikes the father duck in the sky, but fails to catch him and plummets to the ground with a broken wing. He spends an entire year starving and recovering his strength. Just as the falcon is about to give up, the ducks return to their springtime home. A duck lands in front of the falcon and begins to boast about how he cleverly evaded the falcon’s attack the previous year. Hearing this, the injured falcon regains his strength and catches the duck at last. If the father duck had not foolishly boasted about his victorious escape, the falcon might never have mustered the strength to catch him. (7)

Duck Eastern Symbolism

In China, the duck, especially the Mandarin Duck, is symbolic of true love and romance. Although they really only pair up for a single year at a time, Mandarin Ducks have long been held in China as symbols of lifelong partnership and devotion. As a result, Mandarin Ducks are common decorative motifs for weddings. (8)

According to one Chinese folk tale, a young maiden named Ying Mei, who was the daughter of an important official, fell into a pond. Her father’s gardener, a man named Yuan Ge, leapt into the water after her to save her from drowning. When Ying Mei’s father saw this, he interpreted Yuan Ge’s actions as an attempted assault and had him imprisoned despite his daughter’s protests. Ying Mei snuck into the prison and delivered a multicolored robe to her savior with whom she had fallen in love. When her father heard of this, he had Yuan Ge thrown into the pond with stones tethered to his feet. Ying Mei was so distraught that she drowned herself in the same pond. Not long after that, a pair of Mandarin Ducks appeared in the pond and were never once seen to part from one another. The people concluded that these ducks were the souls of the ill-fated lovers. (9)

duck

The Japanese expression, “kamo ga negi wo shottekuru,” roughly translates to “the duck comes with a leek over its shoulder. This expression relates to good luck and conjures an image of a tasty feast which walks its way onto your plate, fixings and all. (10)

One of the most famous of Japan’s mythological monsters is the “Kappa.” This aquatic beast is often depicted as a reptilian humanoid with features that resemble both a turtle and a duck. The Kappa, whose name means “river child” is an impish creature whose behavior ranges from venturing onto land to pull harmless pranks to luring children into the water to drown and devour. (11)

Duck Christianity symbolism

Ducks are never explicitly named in the Bible, so their Christian meaning is up for interpretation. Some see the careful guidance of a mother duck as a symbol of religious or family values.

1 Kings 4:22-23 may refer to ducks as appearing on Solomon’s dining table:

Solomon’s daily provisions were thirty of the finest flour and sixty cors of meal, 23 ten head of stall-fed cattle, twenty of pasture-fed cattle and a hundred sheep and goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roebucks and choice fowl.” (11)

duck

A Christian folk story, which does not appear in the Bible, depicts a little boy playing with a slingshot and killing his grandmother’s duck. Scared, he hides the body, but his sister sees him and threatens to reveal his misdeeds. In exchange for her silence, she manipulates him into doing all of her chores. In the end, the boy is tired of being her slave so he confessed to the grandmother and expresses his remorse. His grandmother reveals that she knew from the beginning and already forgave him, but wondered when he would have the courage to come to her with the truth. In this story, the duck is used to represent the sins that God has forgiven and the ways in which Satan is said to manipulate our fears and drive us away from God’s forgiveness. (12)

Duck Celtic Symbolism

In Celtic mythology, ducks are often used as symbols of femininity, divinity, and otherworldly powers. The goddess Sequana, who is said to be the source of the French river Seine, is particularly connected to ducks. Some depictions of this goddess show her gliding down the river in a boat whose prow is carved into the shape of a duck’s head. (13)

duck

A small church in Ireland was named for Saint Colman O’Ficra who was the seventh century founder of said church. On the grounds of St. Colman’s there is a well referred to as “St. Colman’s Holy Well.” During the Festival of St. Colman, on the 27th of October, pilgrims used to visit this well to observe the long deceased saint. According to legend, a group of wild ducks took up residence in this well and were beloved by St. Colman. After St. Colman’s death, the ducks continued to dwell under his holy protection. No man could kill or cook these ducks successfully and if any member of the clergy were to disrespect the church, then the ducks would abandon it and the water would become foul until justice was served whereupon the ducks would return. According to one legend, a Kite once seized one of the ducks but dropped dead before it could eat or even injure the bird. (14)

Duck African Symbolism

In Africa, ducks are closely linked to geese and swans, symbolically there are few distinctions drawn between these birds.

An Egyptian legend presents the duck in a divine posture, as the creator of the world. It is said to have hatched a golden egg from which the Sun was born. Along with the Earth god Geb and many other deities, the “Great Honker” created the world. This goose or duck god is not necessarily male but can be described as both mother and father of the universe. (15)

duck

Egyptians chose this bird because of its migratory nature. They only saw the ducks during summer and thought they created themselves and thus made the world.

The Earth god, Geb, was also depicted with a goose head and is said to be the first king on Earth. He symbolizes vegetation, as well as deserts, which were filled with the dead. Geb had the power to release the deceased and imprison the unworthy. (16)

Duck in Dreams

Dreaming of a duck may mean that a period has come in which you would be well-served to examine your strengths and prepare for a season of transition. Have you ever heard the expression “water off of a duck’s back?” This expression refers to the way that water simply rolls right off of duck feathers instead of soaking these birds. This expression is usually used to refer to a mindset in which you try to let negative energy harmlessly bounce off of you instead of dwelling on it and soaking it in. Dreaming of a duck can refer to a need to be flexible and to focus on the positives in your life.

duck

A duck dream may also refer to a need for balance. Look at areas in which your life feels out of whack and try to bring things into a nice calm equilibrium.

Duck Encounters and Omens

Maybe you’ve had some pleasant interactions with the ducks at your local park, or maybe migrating ducks just keep passing over your home. In any case, an encounter with a duck is bound to bring insight and cheer into your life!

Ducks are beloved for their somewhat silly charm. If you’ve had a duck encounter, this might be a chance to take it easy and enjoy a bit of brevity. Ducks remind us to laugh at ourselves and to “find the fun” in any situation.

duck

A duck encounter might also indicate that you need to look below the surface of things a bit more. Ducks are great at diving beneath the water and collecting their food. Before making judgments, peek below the surface and assess the entirety of your situation.

Duck Mythology and Folklore

Many different Native American traditions feature tales involving hopelessly gullible ducks. From Manabush to Wenebojo, several Native American heroes have taken advantage of this gullibility in stories by deceiving and catching ducks. (17)

duck

Penelope, the wife of the Greek hero Odysseus, is said to have been abandoned by her father who had desired a son. He cast Penelope into the sea where she was rescued by a flock of ducks and returned to her family. Penelope’s father interpreted this as an omen indicating the virtue of this child and so decided to keep her and raise her as his favorite. (18)

The ancient Chinese text, “Classic of Mountains and Seas,” describes a mythical beast known as the “Manman” or “Manman Duck.” The Manman is said to resemble a duck with just one eye and one wing. Only when two Manman find one another is the creature capable of flying. The male and female must join together. The Manman is thought to bring about storms. (19)

Duck Spirit Animal

The duck spirit animal tends to be found in down-to-earth people with cheerful easy-going personalities. The duck spirit animal is sociable and gets along easily with others, although they do have a tendency to be a bit competitive.

People with the duck as their spirit animal tend to be very nurturing. It is common for the duck spirit animal to seek careers in teaching, nursing, or hospitality. People with this spirit animal love to feel useful and to brighten people’s days!

The duck spirit animal is very flexible and great at rolling with the punches. In tough situations, the duck spirit is more likely to flee than stand its ground. People with this spirit animal may sometimes find it hard to lay down roots.

Duck Totem Animal

The duck totem is associated with balance. Like the perfect balance between masculinity and femininity exhibited by male and female Mallards, the duck totem brings opposite energies into balance together.

duck

If the duck is your totem animal then you likely have a talent for bringing people together and settling disputes. You may be the “peace maker” of your friend group or even your own family.

Duck Power Animal

The power of the duck is versatility. Ducks are comfortable swimming above or below the water’s surface. They can fly great distances and are less clumsy on land than many other diving birds (though they are still a bit clumsy). In many ways it could be said that the duck has mastered all three of the earth’s spaces.

duck

People with the duck as their power animal are independent, flexible, and comfortable adapting to almost any circumstance. The best times in which one should invoke the power of the duck are when one feels most out of place. The duck provides the fortitude and optimism necessary to conquer any obstacle.

Duck Tattoo Meaning

A duck tattoo may represent cheerfulness, humor, friendship, innocence, and many other virtues.

Ducks are common cartoon characters and many duck tattoos include animated ducks such as Disney’s Donald Duck, or Warner Brothers’ Daffy Duck. These characters are quite sassy and mischievous, so a tattoo featuring either of them might represent their personalities.

duck illustration

A tattoo of Mandarin ducks, or any pair of ducks for that matter, represents romance. Finding someone who really “completes” you is no easy feat. The duck represents this lucky occurrence.

Conclusion

As the official funniest animal around, the duck brings smiles into the lives of almost everyone who encounters it. If you feel a special connection with ducks, look to the folk lore of nations around the world and you’ll quickly realize that you are not alone in your appreciation of this special bird!

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9 thoughts on “Duck Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)”

  1. Bless you, I run into tears looking at the power & the beauty of your words what godly soul you are, wish you love beyond love eternal spirit.

  2. I work at Levi’s stadium in Santa Clara CA and two days ago these two ducks landed in the driveway coming into the stadium and I had some wild bird seed and I fed them so they have been back every day now was that ok to do? I mean feeding them and that isn’t a sign of something right because they only came back because I fed them I think either way they are so cute I couldn’t help it lol

  3. I accidentally run over 2 ducks today after dropping off my daughter school notes. I feel so badly. Today is the death anniversary of my dog Rika too. I have a feeling, that was my two dogs Rika and Niko visiting me from heaven. I’m so sorry for being emotional! I’m just really sad right now.

  4. I’m so happy I read this article. but abit sad bc I’m a animal lover where I leave there’s a McDonald’s this morning I went and there was a duck walking around. Now I go again 8:00pmhe still there I’m worried for him my daughter started to 😢 cry. is he ok sick sad ¿!

  5. Wondering why and what it might possibly mean having an adult drake mallard show up by my car and not leave the parking area of my apartment.

    1. Hailey Brophy

      I would interpret this as a sign of faithfulness because ducks are often associated with families, monogamy, and romance. Perhaps it is drawing your attention to an opportunity to grow your relationships or your family?

      I hope this helps!
      — Hailey Brophy
      Writer @ World Birds

  6. Feeling confused… “An opportunity that must be overlooked, but taken advantage of”? The rest of the information was very helpful and interesting.

  7. I had a dream. I came across a mallard duck trapped under a grid under water. Someone had fastened a velcro tie around it’s neck. I was so upset and realised if I didn’t set it free it would surely drown. I just couldn’t understand such cruelty. As I tried to undo the tie the duck tried to bite me. I spoke to it and assured it I was saving it. It calmed down and let me undo a rather complicated tie. Once freed the duck allowed me to embrace it in a lovely hug and then flew off! I would love to know the meaning of my dream.

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