Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A duck's quack doesn't echo, and no one knows why.
Origins: Anyone who has been on the Internet more than a week has probably received at least one of those annoying lists of "facts": dozens and dozens of items of no real significance that somebody thought would be cool for you to know. It is indeed fortunate that the lists are usually composed of items of no real significance, because many of the entries are of dubious veracity. The purpose of these lists apparently is not to educate the masses (however trivially), but to induce readers into the information age equivalent of a scavenger hunt, sending them scurrying all over the Internet in an attempt to verify the truthfulness of the entries. Ours is one of the virtual doors that gets knocked on quite frequently by these scavengers, and while we're glad to help, our job is never done because anyone can make up lists like these
First of all, how are we to define "a duck's quack"? Different breeds of duck make different sounds, and there are a lot of breeds of duck in the world. And anyone who has spent time around ducks knows that even within the same breed of duck, a male's quack can sound nothing like a female's. (Female mallards, for example, make loud honking sounds, but male mallards produce a much softer, rasping sound.) Do all these varied sounds, without exception, fail to produce an echo?
I could dismiss this one merely from personal experience. Although I grew up in suburbia, much of my youth was spent raising various kinds of domesticated animals, particularly ducks and geese. When those ducks got to quacking, I could most assuredly hear the cacophony of sound as it echoed off the stone walls that surrounded our yard and entered my bedroom window. So could the neighbors a few hundred feet down the street, who frequently called us to complain about the noise. The surprise was not that our ducks' quacks didn't echo, but that they echoed so remarkably well.
Fortunately, we now have more than my personal experience to offer since an acoustic research experiment was carried out at the University of Salford in Greater Manchester in 2003 to set this legend to rest:
Acoustic expert Trevor Cox tested the popular myth — often the subject of television quiz shows and Internet chat rooms — by first recording Daisy's quack in a special chamber with jagged surfaces that produces no sound reflections.Last updated: 29 June 2007
She was then moved to a reverberation chamber with cathedral-like acoustics before the data was used to create simulations of Daisy performing at the Royal Albert Hall and quacking as she flew past a cliff face.
The tests revealed that a duck's quack definitely echoes, just like any other sound, but perhaps not as noticeably.
"A duck quacks rather quietly, so the sound coming back is at a low level and might not be heard," Cox told the UK Press Association.
"Also, a quack is a fading sound. It has a gradual decay, so it's hard to tell the difference between the actual quack and the echo. That's especially true if you haven't previously heard what it sounds like with no reflections."
He said ducks were normally found in open-water areas and didn't usually congregate around echoey cliffs, which may have fueled the theory that their quacks don't produce an echo.
"You get a bit of reverberation — it's distinctly echoey," Cox said
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