Birds Behaving Badly: Mating Male Mallard Ducks
Bird Pictures: Mallard Ducks
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
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.
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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
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.
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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
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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.
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