Merlettes, actually. The classic Cadillac crest has two groups of three birds that are usually identified as ducks, but are really merlettes – a bird used in French heraldry that has no beak or feet. Life imitates art in this lineup of a 1972 Coupe de Ville (seen earlier) followed by two offspring of the de Ville line from the 1990s and 2000s, still in the white plumage they wore when hatched.
The merlettes were in the coat of arms of a French explorer who called himself Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, who founded Detroit in 1701. Born in France to modest origins as Antoine Laumet, the “sieur de Cadillac” made his name and fortune in the New World after arriving at the age of 25 in 1683. Within four years, he had a grand new name with a coat of arms and had become one of New France’s experts on the geography of the continent after exploring as far south as modern-day South Carolina. He parlayed his name and expertise into increasingly important royal appointments, founding Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit in 1701 and becoming governor of Louisiana from 1710 to 1716. Henry Leland, founder of both Cadillac and Lincoln, chose the name and heraldry of Cadillac as appropriate symbols for his new car company formed in 1902 from assets of the failed Henry Ford Company, whose founder would start another car company soon afterward.