Have you ever wondered if ducks stay with the same partner for life like in a fairy tale? Well, in reality, most ducks don’t do that. They are what we call “seasonal monogamists.” This means they find a mate for the breeding season but usually choose a different one the next year. When it comes to raising ducklings, it’s usually the job of the female, and the males don’t really help.
Unlike geese and swans, which often stay together for their whole lives, ducks usually don’t form long-term bonds that last beyond one breeding season. They might seem really close to their mate during the breeding season, but the next year, they often pick a different partner.
There are some exceptions, but these cases are rare. In a few species, bonded males and females might meet up again when they go to their wintering areas and find each other again when they come back to their breeding grounds in the spring. However, this doesn’t happen with most duck species.
If you want to learn more about how ducks mate, what happens when one duck dies, leaving its partner alone, and why mating can be risky for female ducks, keep reading.
Do all types of ducks stay together with one partner for life?
No, most duck species don’t stick with the same mate for their whole lives. This is more of an exception than a common thing. About 44 percent of waterfowl species, like swans and geese, are more likely to mate for life.
In some cases, a few duck species that habitually return to the same places each year have been observed re-pairing in the following years. This means they might recognize and reunite with their previous mate. This has been seen in harlequin ducks, goldeneyes, eiders, buffleheads, and long-tailed ducks.
However, most dabbling, diving, and sea ducks don’t mate for life or repair. They often choose new mates for each new breeding season.
During courtship, breeding, and nesting, male and female ducks form strong bonds. But after the eggs hatch, the males don’t help raise the ducklings. Some males leave the breeding area entirely, while others stay to protect their mates from other males but have no involvement with their young.
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How do ducks attract a mate?
Ducks usually form pairs either during their winter stay from December to March or during their spring migration. Male ducks perform various courtship behaviors to win over the females, and these behaviors vary among species.
The females choose their mates based on bright and colorful feathers, loud whistling calls, and impressive feather displays during elaborate rituals. Here are the typical steps in duck courtship:
Both males and females bob their heads up and down while swimming together, showing their interest in pairing up.
The female signals her readiness for mating by flattening her back and stretching her neck while swimming towards her chosen mate.
The male mounts the female from behind, gripping her neck feathers with his beak for balance. Sometimes, this can appear forceful if the female resists, leading to quacking, flapping, and posturing.
After mating, the male rises out of the water and emits a loud whistle sound, sometimes followed by a short, loud grunt.
After copulation, the male often swims in a circle around his female mate, like a victory lap.
What happens when a female duck’s mate passes away?
If a female duck’s male partner dies early in the breeding season, she will usually find another mate quickly, and the breeding and nesting process will continue without much interruption. This is especially true for many duck species, such as mallards, where there are usually more males than females. So, if a female suddenly loses her mate, there are plenty of other males willing to take his place.
Do ducks feel sadness when they lose a mate?
There are reports that suggest ducks might grieve the loss of a mate, especially when looking at domestic ducks kept together in enclosures, studied more closely than their wild counterparts. What may seem like mourning could also be confusion at the sudden disappearance of a mate. Some researchers believe that if a duck witnesses the death of its partner, it might have a longer-lasting impact on how the surviving duck reacts to the loss.
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Do female ducks form pairs with other females?
Female ducks can engage in territorial displays that might look like courtship rituals with other females. In some wild duck species, like certain shelducks and grebes, wood ducks, and scaup, female-female and male-male duck pairs have been observed. There are also anecdotal reports from breeders of domestic ducks suggesting that their female ducks sometimes engage in amorous behaviors with each other. However, any eggs produced in such situations would not be fertilized.
Why do male ducks sometimes cause harm to female ducks during mating?
One sad fact about duck mating is that female ducks of breeding age sometimes drown during the process, making it one of the leading causes of their deaths.
It’s essential to remember that when we talk about this behavior, we should avoid thinking about it in terms of human morals or emotions. These are natural actions for wild ducks, driven by their instincts.
Forced copulation, which means males trying to mate with females against their will, is a common issue among wild waterfowl, especially mallards. In mallard groups, there are often many more males than females. These extra males have a strong urge to reproduce.
In their instinctual drive to breed, male ducks will pursue females, even if the females are already part of bonded pairs, and sometimes force mating to occur. Since duck mating typically takes place in the water rather than on land, there is a real risk of drowning, as the male’s force can push the female underwater during mating.
It’s important to note that the male duck doesn’t intend to drown the female, but unfortunately, accidents and injuries can happen, especially when several aggressive males are competing for the same female.