Birds Behaving Badly: Mating Male Mallard Ducks

Bird Pictures: Mallard Ducks

Female mallard duck being pestered by a male
Female mallard duck being pestered by a male | Source

Bird Behaviour: Mating Male Mallards

This photo journal brings to light one of the less pleasant aspects of birdwatching. The world of nature is not always pretty and some people might find some of these duck pictures upsetting. However, they are an excellent depiction of mallard duck behaviour during the mating season.

There are far more male mallards than female and their imperative is to mate - full stop. That makes it hard on the females who are constantly harried by males throughout the breeding season.

The males also have a built-in imperative to be THE male that fertilizing a female's eggs. Unlike many birds, mallards do not mate for life or even for a season. There are exceptions of course, Smudge the little white duck has the same mate every year. That doesn't stop him trying to mate with other females or other males trying to mate with her.

What they do, is, when they have mated with a female they stay close to her and try to chase away any other males. They are trying to protect the passing on of their genes and only their genes.

All of this leads to squabbles, lost feathers and a lot of noise.

Male and Female Mallard Ducks

Female mallard duck trying to stick close to the last male she mated with.
Female mallard duck trying to stick close to the last male she mated with. | Source
When being chased, the female protects the back of her neck by tucking her head right down.
When being chased, the female protects the back of her neck by tucking her head right down.

The female mallard duck

When the female is being pursued by one or more males, there is a lot of quaking. She will try to stay close to the male that she mated with last. Because males grab hold of the back of the female's neck to control them for mating, the female will tuck her head in trying to protect her neck and give the male less chance to establish an unbreakable hold.

A surprising number of birds stick to one mate but the mallards are far from monogamous probably because there are so many more males than females.

Duck picture

Female mallard showing bald patch from males grabbing onto her neck
Female mallard showing bald patch from males grabbing onto her neck

Identifying Wildfowl - Waterfowl

There are literally thousands of different water birds so any help you can get is always welcome. For those of you in the US - this is a great book full of color photos.

Mallard pictures

The chase is on.  Female mallard duck being chased by two males
The chase is on. Female mallard duck being chased by two males

Two male mallards: one female mallard

Down on the canal, there are two competing male mallards. One had a completely brown head which makes him quite distinctive. These two males appear to be mated to the same female. Not that she seems happy about it. She will stay close to the one that mated with her last, seeking his protection from the other. But it varies day to day which is the dominant male.

These duck pictures show my observations of this bird behaviour.

Pictures of Mallard Ducks

Brown-headed male mallard duck
Brown-headed male mallard duck
One day the female mallard is with the brown duck
One day the female mallard is with the brown duck
The males come to blows - chest to chest shoving is typical agressive behaviour in both male and female mallard ducks.
The males come to blows - chest to chest shoving is typical aggressive behaviour in both male and female mallard ducks.
'Down and Dirty'
'Down and Dirty'

Five male mallards against one female

 More upsetting is the way a gang of males can chase a loan female.  Below is a record of one incident when a pretty pale gold-coloured female is harried by no less than five males.  She does a great job of escaping but is eventually overcome by sheer numbers.

Mallard images

One loan female pursued by five male mallard ducks.
One loan female pursued by five male mallard ducks. | Source
She got away this time
She got away this time
'Caught'
'Caught'
Five against one
Five against one
Source

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Did you know about this bird behaviour?

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When are the females safe?

You might be wondering when the females are safe from pursuit, the answer is only on the nest and that when it is very well hidden. Even after her eggs have hatched and she is caring for ducklings, she will still be a target. Indeed, it is not unknown for male mallards to kill young chicks that are not their own.

Mallards can have more than one brood a year and if you see abandoned chicks around, it probably indicates that the female has been mated again and is one the nest. It is sad to see but the chicks are fairly independent right away and if they can stay clear of predators, have a fair chance of survival. It isn't usual to see abandoned chicks try to join other broods but they are usually chased away.

It's a hard life being a bird!

Pictures of birds by wildlife photographer AnnMackieMiller

Male mallard magnet.  More cards and gifts available on Zazzle.com - follow the link to browse.
Male mallard magnet. More cards and gifts available on Zazzle.com - follow the link to browse. | Source

Wildlife photographs for sale

All the duck pictures shown here are copyright to AnnMackieMiller, 2011. They are in low resolution, which means they cannot be blown up any larger without losing pixelisation. This is to prevent theft.

However, copies of these and all wildlife photography by this photo journalist, are available in high resolutions electronic copies for a small fee. They can be used for blogs and website but not on products, these being reserved by the photographer. Contact her for details.

© 2011 annmackiemiller

More by this Author


It would be nice if you left a note to say you called. Thanks 18 comments

J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Not far from my house there's a river where ducks and swans hang out because people keep feeding them bread. Even the fish pop up sometimes!

I don't know if you have ever witnessed it, but I have seen swans push and hold ducks underwater as if to drown them. I have always noted that birds, in general, are a fighting species.

I have observed Humming Birds, Ducks, Swans, and many other local species. I wish I took pictures of them-I just never seemed to have a camera or the state of mind to take it out quick enough.

I always love finding your Hubs in the Hub Hopper! You are truly a specialist on this subject, a really great writer, and the pictures that you take are priceless! Can't wait to see what's next!

JSMatthew~


LeeWalls profile image

LeeWalls 5 years ago from United States

Hello Ann:

I always try and drop a line on the writers I follow. I really appreciate the time you take in putting your hubs together and the superb pictures you share. Keep up the good work.


annmackiemiller profile image

annmackiemiller 5 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England Author

thanks very much for these very kind comments, you have no idea how much it means to me that people are enjoying what I do. :0)


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Poor female ducks =__=


wilderness profile image

wilderness 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

What a great hub! I love your descriptions as well as the photos - thanks so much.


naturegirl7 profile image

naturegirl7 5 years ago from South Louisiana

Wonderful photos. We once raised an orphan Mallard duck that we found wandering in the parking lot of a bank on a busy street. I've never observed them where they lived in great numbers.

Thanks for the insight into their behavior.


happypuppy profile image

happypuppy 5 years ago

Thanks for sharing these amazing photos! It's fun to read your hub.


princesswithapen profile image

princesswithapen 5 years ago

Ann

I agree with Simone's comment. The male mallard ducks sure seem to be a naughty tribe! These are fantastic pictures and you've captured all the right moments. Beautiful hub!

Princesswithapen


iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

You take amazing photographs!! Loved "Female mallard duck trying to stick close to the last male she mated with."!

Voted up!


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Very nice article and informative.


faye 4 years ago

Thank you for explaining this behavior! I was so upset to witness a female being chased and bitten by two males...in my own backyard. I guess I will accept it as a part of nature.


albela rahi profile image

albela rahi 4 years ago

beautiful pictures annma..thanks for sharing!! keep writing and photographing!


egamstutz 3 years ago

Been observing a lone Canadian goose grazing along a major highway, for the last 7 days at least. Looks like he has been isolated from the flock. We have observed that happening when one is injured, but this one appears to be healthy, but alone. Sad to see!


annmackiemiller profile image

annmackiemiller 3 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England Author

hopefully he will find his way back to family :)


Dorothy 3 years ago

A few years ago I saw a female mallard with a chocolate-brown head & found an article stating that this coloring was the original for the female mallard & that the change has occurred due to the mallard mating with other breeds. Is this right & what are my chances of seeing another brown-headed mallard female?


annmackiemiller profile image

annmackiemiller 3 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England Author

I'm not sure about it being the original coloring - we had one brown headed one on the canal last year and we have several white ones - it is always worth keeping your eyes for differences.


Lady Lorelei profile image

Lady Lorelei 20 months ago from Canada

We have a bird sanctuary not far from where I live so have a large bird population of ducks and geese constantly flying over. I love seeing them and often in the summer take my grandchildren walking the trails of the bird sanctuary.


BarbaraCasey profile image

BarbaraCasey 19 months ago from St. Petersburg, Florida

We had a mallard "meat market" on our lake not long ago. Usually our tiny lake houses only a few ducks, but it was a madhouse during mating season. Quite eye-opening, after watching ducks serenely paddle around the lake for the months before that.

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