Morally Ambiguous Ducktorate

Uh oh, duck!

"Everyone thinks they're such cute little things
Soft downy feathers and nice little wings
But there's a poison I'd like to administer
You think they're cuddly, but I think they're sinister!"

Ducks: the All-Terrain Animal. It's generally agreed that ducks are cute, particularly ducklings. They're also sort of funny, what with the webbed feet, the quacking, and the goofy waddling to and fro. Heck, even the word duck is funny on its own. But there's also something slightly sinister about them: the beady eyes, the low-pitched quacking, or of course the song about them, "March of the Sinister Ducks". Although rarely outright evil in cartoons (these roles are generally reserved for reptiles, rats, or humans), ducks are rarely heroic either. They might be an Anti-Hero, or The Lancer, or maybe a Trickster, though. They've got knives, you know.

Donald Duck is most likely the Trope Maker.

This trope can also cover the less-than-friendly geese and swans that the avid bird-watcher might meet in fiction. Or real life.

Named for Morally Ambiguous Doctorate, who's usually a different sort of quack.


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  • You know the one. He's not all that sinister, but does have a bit of a temper. He's always trying to get people's attention about something, but we just can't recall what...
  • An Australian add for AAMI car insurance had the usual chain of accidents caused by someone braking for a line of ducks crossing the road.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Ranma ½, Mousse qualifies: he's an antagonist in roughly three quarters of all his appearances, though not necessarily always a duck. He's no less lethal in avian form, however, most notably dropping explosive eggs. Where they come from, exactly, is best left unconsidered.
    • They come from a live chicken he keeps up his sleeve. Also, he doesn't use the explosive eggs in duck form, favoring conventional bombs and throwing daggers instead. Mousse is a master of concealed weaponry, even without clothing to conceal them in. Er, wait...

  • Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe, after explaining that Zeus took the form of a swan to mate with Leda, shows her four children as having birdlike traits. This trope probably explains why Clytemnestra's murder of Agamemnon is made so much more horrifying by her having a duckbill.
  • Deadeye Duck of Bucky O'Hare is the team's resident lancer.
  • Lobo the Duck. Well... okay, he's an Anti-Hero, but... um...
  • Herbert the duck in Dungeon is not only morally ambiguous at first—lying his way into a job and proceeding to bungle and philander his way through the rest of the story—but by the start of the third series, he has painted himself black and gained his own evil agenda.
  • In a What's New? with Phil and Dixie issue about spy games, one of the spy gadgets identified by a recruit as a trainee test is a rubber duckie. Apparently not a normal one, as he points out that it's capable of killing several people simultaneously (and has a plastic squeaker device in its mouth, too).
  • In Hell Boy and B.P.R.D. when we finally get a good look at the evil Eldritch Abomination Bigger Bad of the Mignolaverse known as the Ogdru Jahad, its seven bodies resemble nothing so much as duck-billed dinosaurs with cephalopod and crustacean bits attached.

  • In Unforgiven, Little Bill misreads a dime novel title as The Duck of Death. When he's corrected that the real title is The Duke of Death, he irritably responds, "Duck, I says."
  • A Freeze-Frame Bonus gag in Big Game - the newspaper showing Moore's falling ratings punctuates them reaching a new low with an image of a panicking duck.

  • Manipulative Bastard Marco from Animorphs gets a duck as his cover morph for his final book, The Absolute.
  • In the William Butler Yeats poem "Leda and the Swan" Leda is raped by, you know....
    • Cobs (male swans) have no external genitalia. On the other hand, a shape-shifting god can presumably have whatever equipment he likes.
  • The robot duck in Thomas Pynchon's novel Mason & Dixon. Not actually evil, but extremely dangerous.
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog where swans go around impersonating harmless cats, then chase people up trees.
  • In the alternate universe of the Thursday Next series, ducks went extinct long ago. Dodos, on the other hand, are household pets.
  • In the textbook 'Physics Concepts and Connection' (Grade 11) by Irwin Publishing, a number of pictures have a cute duck for generally no concrete reason as to why it had to be a duck.
  • Dave Barry claims to have been in a band in college called the Federal Duck.
    We were originally called The Stomp Jackson Quintet, and then The Guides (don't ask), but we came up with our new and final name one night when we were lying on the bank of the Haverford campus duck pond, and some ducks started waddling toward us in what looked like a purposeful manner, and as we watched them with increasing alarm, the thought struck us that these ducks might be working for the government. And if you are wondering why that particular thought would have struck us, you did not experience the '60s.
  • In P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster story "Jeeves and the Impending Doom", Bertie Wooster has an encounter with a nesting swan:
    "...there was a hissing noise like a tyre bursting in a nest of cobras, and out of the bushes to my left there popped something so large and white and active that I have ever done in my puff, I rose like a rocketing pheasant ... I was parked up on the roof beside the Right Hon. gazing down at one of the largest and shortest-tempered swans I had ever seen."
  • The Redwall books have a few encounters with swans, notably in Mossflower, where three mooks try to kill a swan and steal its eggs, thinking the swans will be docile. THEY'RE NOT.
    • The Legend of Luke also has Martin and co. battling a swan.
  • Illustrations to this illuminated manuscript of Decretals of Gregory IX (a 13th century collection of papal laws) include such scenes as geese hanging a fox. With other birds watching.
  • The Bad Unicorn Trilogy: Dreadbringer's pet zombie duck, which devours anything that crosses its path. It once devoured an entire elephant!

    Live Action TV 
  • And Gilmore Girls, where a swan gave Jess a black eye. His embarrassment over the source and refusal to reveal what happened leads to a terrible first impression with Emily and a fight with his girlfriend.
    • Some would cite this as an example of cygnine heroism.
  • Well, since you're including that Ducky, why not Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard. He isn't morally ambiguous in the least, but he's had an interesting past that includes torture victims and a guy and his mother who went on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge just for him.
  • Some say The Stig is afraid of ducks...and that he knows two facts about ducks and both of them are wrong...
    The Stig note : Well, obviously they can't fly...
    Jeremy Clarkson: Yeah, they're right, you don't know anything about ducks.
  • Ernie of Sesame Street is so hung up on his rubber duckie that it's a bit sad. If he wants a yellow bird friend so badly, why not go talk to the giant one down the block? Clearly, rubber duckie has some unnerving influence over the guy....
  • In an episode of Perfect Strangers, Larry goes duck hunting with a business associate he wants to impress. To his surprise, Balki agrees to come along, claiming to passionately hate ducks. Yet when the ducks appear, Balki tries to stop the hunt. It turns out that Myposian "ducks" are huge, dangerous, hideous birds, totally unlike normal ducks. Balki describes one, and Larry responds, "Balki, that's not a duck. That's a pterodactyl."
  • On How I Met Your Mother, while everyone else likes ducks, Marshall says, "Have you ever been in a fight with a duck? (...) Ducks are jerks!"

  • In Arthurian legend, Lohengrin had a swan as his standard. You think that's a wimpy creature for a knight to emulate? Pah! In the opera, Lohengrin's boat is pulled by a swan. That puts him on par with the guy who rides a bear.
    • The tenor Leo Slezak was once playing the Swan Knight when the mechanical device controlling the boat misfired and the swan perversely took off without him. He turned to the stagehands and asked the celebrated question, „Wann fährt der nächste Schwan?" "What time does the next swan leave?"
  • In Greek Mythology, the god Apollo is occasionally depicted as riding a chariot pulled by swans. Considering that he tends to be a classic example of Light Is Not Good...
  • Somewhat subverted in Finnish Mythology, where the swan is associated with the Tuonella (the Underworld), which is not bad, but still creepy.
  • In Roman Mythology, geese foiled an unfriendly Gaul takeover of the Capitol (but not permanently).

  • In "Weird Al" Yankovic's "I Want A New Duck," the narrator complains about the ways his duck has acted against him.
  • There was once a rock band called The Sinister Ducks, which had Alan Moore in it. They were the ones responsible for "The March of the Sinister Ducks" mentioned above.
  • A mischievous but harmless example occurs in The Duck Song, about a duck who harasses a lemonade vendor by asking for grapes when he knows the vendor has none. Eventually, the vendor caves and buys the duck some grapes, but then the duck says he's not in the mood for grapes; he wants lemonade instead.
  • In the Far East Movement song "Get up" the video has a bunch of hoodies throw a brick into a pond that kills a duckling. In return the ducks leave the pond and massacre said hoodies.

    Newspaper Comics 

     Professional Wrestling 

    Stand Up Comedy 

    Tabletop Games 
  • RuneQuest has Ducks (a.k.a. Durulz) as a potential PC race; they're either waterfowl cursed with intelligence and arms, or humans cursed with feathers and bills, nobody really knows. Sure, they look humorous, and sometimes even act humorous ... but watch out for a knife in the night ... It should be noted that they have a special affinity for one of the local death (and truth) gods.
  • The original Munchkin game had the "Duck of Doom!" trap. "You should know better than to pick up a duck in a dungeon."
  • "The Devil Adores A Duck" from card game Misery.
  • Gloom (in which you have to make your own characters miserable, then kill them off) has the death card "Done In By A Duck", which requires a duck marking on the victim. It can be gained by, among a few other things, the event "Molested By A Mallard". These people lead horrible and also strange lives.

    Video Games 
  • Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal is home to the Qwack-O-Ray, which turns your enemies into ducks. Normal ducks at first, but following the upgrades of the weapon, the ducks become more and more morally ambiguous. To the point of being fanged phoenix ducks from hell. You read that right.
  • Pokémon:
    • Magmar is a duck that is on fire. Its evolution, Magmortar, is a duck on fire with cannon arms.
    • Ducklett seems harmless, but the anime had a trio of mischievous ones that stole Ash's hat (among other things).
  • This trope could be exactly why a crime lord named after a waterfowl (Geese Howard) could be so damn evil and dangerous, not someone you'd take very lightly due to his name.
  • In EarthBound, there's an enemy called the Mad Duck. It has the creepiest stare this side of Weegee, and does strange, unique things in its A.I. Roulette.
    Mad Duck made something spin around.
  • The Mad Mallard enemies, basically ducks with military helmets, from Legend of Mana.
  • Dink Smallwood (the game, not the character) has something against ducks. They lurk in sinister fashion throughout the game. And then you get to the inescapable violent fast ducks in Hell.
  • In Suikoden III one of the Grassland tribes is made up of anthropomorphic ducks who would fit right in in Howard's universe. While not evil by any stretch, the one you interact with most is a war veteran who puts reason before honor.
  • The Durulz of RuneQuest make an appearance in King of Dragon Pass. Every human tribe mistrusts them, but bullying them off of their land brings dire results in the form of their allies' retaliation.
  • In the old PC game Crazy Drake, you play a duck-turned-superhero who needs to retrieve some stolen golden eggs (he was charged with watching them while his parents were away, but was distracted when playing videogames), and its implied that the only reason he dons a superhero outfit is so that nobody will recognize him. In addition, he sics a futuristic ray gun at enemies who are much more helpless.
  • Off: The Batter's true/symbolic form kinda sorta looks like a demonic duck, once you get over the initial "WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT" reaction. The local Bonus Boss would agree.
  • Kingdom of Loathing has an optional sidequest at level 12 where you have to save a farmer embattled by enormous ducks. While unprepossessing at first, the Adventurer's actions inadvertently imbue them with vampirism, firebreathing, drunken rage, and a variety of other sinister super-powers.

    Web Comics 
  • In Get Medieval, the ducks of St. Germain's serve merely to introduce the concept that everything in the universe exists to make Asher suffer. In fact, only one bird fails to attack him at any point, and it is a sparrow.
  • El Goonish Shive has a Demonic Duck (of some sort)... he's not really a bad person, though he seems to have a rather tasteless sense of humor, but he sure LOOKS the part.
  • Duck summary. (A Softer World).
  • Tania Walker and Vicki Eden's sadly abandoned furry webcomic Crikey Duck features three duck Con Artists as its Villain Protagonists.
  • In Girl Genius, Airman Higgs would definitely agree about those waterfowl.
    • And in the last panel of a comic describing the rise of the Heterodynes, a terrifying new threat appears: Jägerducks.
      • On a related note, in honour of the above mentioned panel the Girl Genius Yahoo group's mascot is a Jaegerduck named Hovart (previously known as Howard), who occasionally comments on the comic via one of the posters and apparently regularly wreaks havoc on said poster's apartment.
  • Gabe from Penny Arcade gets bitten by a swan and turns into a were-swan. It's actually pretty terrifying.
  • Digger is afraid of ducks, or at least claims to be to try and make Muri feel better about the horrible horrible trauma she has endured.
  • Gun Show has some pretty strange ducks.
  • A short story arc in Axe Cop dealt with the Baby Man family and their hunt for a duck that laid explosive eggs. Once they catch it and eat it, they gain the ability to lay explosive eggs as well.
  • Dolan, basically an Ax-Crazy version of Donald Duck.
  • This Lackadaisy one-page side story. Wick is being harrassed by a duck he killed when he was a kid.
  • Laugh-Out-Loud Cats: Ducks are Kitteh's mortal enemies.
  • Hereti-Corp creates the most foul beast imaginable... a fire-proof, fire-breathing duck!
    Daiyu: Never mention that I helped you with this abomination! .... What is a duck? A bird? Yes. One that not only masters the air, but walks proudly upon the Earth... And yet, friend Shankraft, it makes its home in the water! A master of air, earth and water! Do you know how unnatural that is? Yet now it fears not even fire! It is a master of all the elements. No creature should have that much power. How can humanity survive it?

    Web Original 
  • If you're a duck in Reynard Noir, chances are you're crooked. Or annoying.
  • Ladies! Beware of cute duckling scam
  • The Metro City Chronicles has Professor Quackers, mad science duck.
  • The Black Swan is a British supervillain in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe. She's a murderous Diabolical Mastermind who has several times been compared to Professor James Moriarty, and is rightly feared by the British crimefighting community.
  • The duck in Weebl's "Armadillo" likes scaring armadillos right into traffic a bit too much.
  • Dr. Quackers is an evil, avian version of Dr. Watson who is occasionally used by the mods to "threaten" those who neglect the rules of the Sherlock Holmes Kink Meme "[1]".
  • This horror spoof.
    You can't escape him...
    You can't hide from him...
    Be afraid!
    For HE is...
    Coming after you!
    Goose II.
    On your monitor!
  • LoadingReadyRun Does A skit revealing the vicious nature of Ducks.
  • Malicious Advice Mallard, the Evil Twin of Actual Advice Mallard (see same page), who averts this trope entirely.
  • Nerd³ hates ducks with a passion, to the point of shooting anything which remotely resembles a duck (even the Minecraft chickens.)

    Western Animation 
  • Disney is the main producer of sinister ducks, starting with:
    • Donald Duck, whose song hangs a lampshade on how hair-trigger his temper is. He was treated as the Disney stable's resident Butt Monkey for many years.
      • The one-page comic from Hook, Line and Succor here, teaches a valuable lesson: You don't fuck with the duck.
    • Recent portrayals of Daisy Duck are pretty obnoxious. She wants to steal the spotlight from Minnie, or takes unfair advantage of Minnie's friendship. In earlier cartoons, she had a temper just as bad as Donald's from time to time. Or she seems to push Donald a little too hard on minor faults such as his tendency to be The Unintelligible. Carl Barks considered Daisy to be a "Loose Woman" and a "Shrew" and wasn't too fond of her either.
    • Donald's nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie have gone up and down the scale from Bratty Half-Pint to Wise Beyond Their Years.
    • Scrooge McDuck is pretty much the resident Anti-Hero of the Disney crowd. Also, a fair number of the villains in the comics and in DuckTales are ducks, most notably Flintheart Glomgold and Magica de Spell. (In fairness, most characters in the Donald/Scrooge comics are ducks, so pointing out that several villains are is a bit like pointing out that most real-life crooks are human.)
    • Launchpad McQuack would be heroic if he wasn't a bumbler.
    • Darkwing Duck is a hero, admittedly for the bragging rights; but as an Affectionate Parody of The Shadow, he's intentionally a little sinister. He is repeatedly shown to have an ego (and even admits it in one episode), seems to frown upon outside assistance aside from Launchpad (and even including him before their permanent partnership), and is in general shown to be a Hero with Bad Publicity. His Evil Counterpart Negaduck is much more sinister, as the bad guy.
    • Gladstone Gander (a goose, but still fits). Although not actively evil so much as incredibly, openly smug about his luck and extremely lazy, he is still an insufferable Jerk Ass.
    • While on geese, Gus Goose, Donald's lazy glutton cousin.
    • Aversion: There's nothing particularly unpleasant about Professor Ludwig Von Drake, though in his original appearance he was immensely arrogant, and every bit of his "wisdom" that Don chose to take for a fact led to loss of money, or humiliation.
    • Also averted by Elvira "Grandma Duck" Coot, a Cool Old Lady with no moral quibbles whatsoever.
    • Subverted with Abagail and Amelia Gabble from The Aristocats. They appear to be a pair of geese who are both very rude, but then they agree to help Thomas O'Malley climb out of the water while rescuing Marie from drowning near the middle of the film.
      • And then their's their Uncle Waldo, who apparantly bit a chef's finger in a restaurant as an attempt to avoid being killed and eaten there!
  • Daffy Duck of Looney Tunes is usually tricky and antagonistic for its own sake as opposed to stablemate Bugs Bunny. Under Chuck Jones, he became a jerkass Small Name, Big Ego; a portrayal which prevails to this day.
    • Plucky Duck is just like his mentor.
    • Danger Duck is just like his ancestor.
    • Daffy's Alter Ego Duck Dodgers is supposed to be a hero, but is extremely smug and self-satisfied.
    • But he pales in his sinister-ness next to the Duck Nazis and Duck Hitler. Fear "The Ducktators." %%(At about 01:27)
    • In Looney Tunes Collector: Alert! for the Game Boy Color, Daffy plots out his motivation on the spot after being defeated by Bugs early in the game and learning what's going on:
      Daffy: You're despicable! I give up, rabbit!
      Bugs: Hey doc... your pond won't be worth much soon... Marvin is out to destroy the Earth!
      Daffy: Again? Isn't he pestering us in enough cartoons? Must he also do the same video games?! I'm gonna follow this stupid rabbit and pretend to help him. If he wins I'll say I saved the world. I'll go on TV, set up a web site, become a worldwide star! If he fails, I'm smart enough to become Marvin's right hand duck and help him dominate the world! Ha-ha!
      Of course, if you played its sister game Martian Revenge, you'd know that Bugs saved the day and Daffy would indeed go on to make a TV movie of his own supposed heroism, infuriating Marvin enough to return to Earth as a Villain Protagonist.
    • One old episode, "What Price Porkey", had the chickens and a farmer squaring off against the ducks in an all-fowl war after the ducks kept stealing their feed. In the end, the last remaining duck is trapped in a large metal cage. However, he gets the last laugh when he (she?) lays a bunch of eggs that hatch into ducklings who run out of the cage, snatch the chicken's victory corn, and bring it back to their parent to gobble up.
  • Hanna-Barbera seems to have a company wide aversion. No nasty ducks at all.
    • Little Quacker, the duckling who turned up now and again in Tom and Jerry, was usually well-mannered, polite, and depended on Jerry to save him from Tom.
    • Yakky Doodle had a tough bulldog pal, Chopper, to protect him from his enemy, Fibber Fox.
      • Yakky Doodle is almost the same character as Hanna-Barbera's earlier Quacker. The name change was mandated because Hanna-Barbera had gone independent from MGM, who still owned Quacker on paper at the time (as part of the Tom and Jerry property, which H-B only later reacquired).
    • Quack-Up from Galaxy Goof-Ups and Yogi's Space Race was, as the name suggests, just an idiot.
  • The Warner Brothers, and their sister, Dot, were originally meant to be ducks, based on the popularity of Plucky Duck of Tiny Toon Adventures fame at the time Spielberg was creating the trio. He apparently decided fairly quickly to change that, as it would be duck overload, turning them into the ambiguously specied characters they now are.
  • Pepper Ann had an episode where Nicki admitted she had an intense phobia of swans and they never managed to find out why or even be able to cure it. Then it was revealed her older sister had the exact same fear. At the end of the episode however, it is revealed to the viewer that their fear comes from an old toy now in their attic of a robotic swan with leering red eyes and a grating "SWANNIE. WANT. TO. PLAYYYYYYY."
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog frequently has trouble with waterfowl:
    • The arguing space duck brothers pretty sinister. They're only trying to save their brother from a mad chef, though.
    • LeQuack, a recurring master criminal duck whose escapes from capture usually involve (implied) slaughtering of policemen and/or blowing up prisons/prison vehicles.
    • The goose god who tries to lure Muriel away from Eustace and Courage so she can be his queen.
    • The Precious, Wonderful, Adorable, Loveable Duckling imprints on Eustace as his mommy, and tries to remove Muriel as a rival for Eustace's attention. Oddly enough, in that episode, Courage says that he typically likes ducks.
  • Count Duckula (a minor villain from Danger Mouse who got his own Spin-Off) is an interesting example: a nice — if somewhat snarky — guy who gets feared and loathed because he happens to live in a dark, spooky castle in Transylvania and is technically a vampire. Several off his previous incarnations were straight-up Hammer Horror villains, and the only reason his current incarnation is nice (and vegetarian!) is that the people who performed the ritual to restore his life substituted the blood necessary for ketchup.
  • Duckman is a bit of a morally ambiguous Jerkass.
  • The Mighty Ducks cartoon had a team of anthromorphic alien ducks; most are the true-bred heroes but they have their share of questionable duckiness.
  • In a Dexter's Laboratory episode, Dexter's monkey who is secretly a superhero faces a duck villain, Quackor (owned by Dexter's nemesis Mandark).
  • There's the Duck! episode in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy where a phantom, invisible-to-others duck begins haunting Grim and consecutively all of Endsville. He makes farting noises in public, and the victim is always blamed for it.
  • One duck terrorizes Oscar Proud, but leaves his daughter Penny alone.
  • Birds in general are dangerous in Happy Tree Friends, but one must be particularly wary around what appear to be man-eating ducks in one of the episodes.
  • In Beast Wars, memetically applied to Megatron's Rubber Ducky.
  • The evil Peking Duck of The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat. All his duck underlings were evil, too.
  • Bucky O Hare And The Toad Wars: Most of the ducks we see are either members of the notorious pirate band The Corsair Canards or members of Kamikaze Kamo's band of Ninja. Both groups are decent-ish and courted as potential allies by the heroes, but The Corsair Canards are emphatically not The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything (the first thing we see them do is board and rob a luxury liner), and the ninja fight exactly the way you'd expect a group of assassins-turned-guerillas to.
    • On a more personal level, we have Deadeye Duck, a former Corsair Canard who currently serves as Righteous Indignation's master gunner. Deadeye is firmly on the side of the heroes, but is completely comfortable with stealing, manipulating and using lethal force when it serves a purpose.


Alternative Title(s):

Ducks Are Evil, Wicked Waterbirds, Wrathful Waterbirds