ANU ducks no longer playing chicken with cars

1 April 2014

Researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) have trained ducks to walk across pedestrian crossings in an effort to reduce the number of duck-related road incidents on campus.

Dr Donald Drake from the Research School of Birds and Fowl Creatures said the break-through research was the result of several years of study combined with practical training exercises and in-class lessons.

"Early research into duck road crossings told us that ducklings prefer to follow a group leader and walk single file across the road," said Dr Drake.

"The 'leader' duck often has little regard for road traffic and can often unwittingly put the younger or 'follower' ducks directly into harm's way.

"This has regularly put our local duck population in danger, particularly during peak-hour and around breeding season."

Staff and students at ANU have regularly petitioned the University to build tunnels or special duck-crossing bridges in an effort to improve road safety.

Some research suggests certain duck breeds develop a regular informal route based on their instincts. But the inability to accurately predict the corridors each season, coupled with the high cost of new infrastructure, prompted the University to call on Dr Drake's team to find an alternative.

Following extensive studies of duck behaviour, a training program was developed that combined practical conditioning and drill exercises.

"It was a real break-through moment felt by every member of the research team when the first of our leader ducks walked her family up to the zebra crossing to cross the road.

"We really couldn't believe our eyes," Dr Drake said.

"To know that we had pioneered the first ever training program to teach ducks to cross the road at a pedestrian crossing was an amazing feeling.

"With this research, there is real potential to save countless duck lives not just in Australia but around the world and we plan to share our research at the 2014 International Feathered Friends Conference," he added.