From the family Anatidae, ducks are primarily aquatic birds known for their webbed feet and flat and broad bills. They are relatively smaller and have shorter necks than swans and geese, who are family. Ironically, ducks are often confused with coots, grebes, and loons, to who they don’t relate.
Physical confusion aside, people are often curious about how ducks mate. From elaborate dances to secret calls and colorful displays of their wings, duck mating is nothing short of fascinating. Here, we learn everything there is to know on this front.
How Ducks Mate
To better understand how ducks mate, let’s first look at their reproductive systems:
Male Duck Reproductive System
A male duck is called a drake. Unlike most bird species, a drake possesses a corkscrew-shaped penis, along with the testes. Interestingly, the testes are internal– mainly near the kidneys. With a penis and testes, it goes without saying that drakes produce sperm for fertilization.
Female Duck Reproductive System
Otherwise known as a hen, a female duck possesses ovaries and oviducts. It has a twisted vaginal canal that accommodates the drake’s corkscrew-shaped penis and ensures fertilization happens. After mating and eventual fertilization, the eggs travel through the oviduct before laying.
Behavioral Patterns of Ducks During Mating
How do ducks tell if it’s time for mating? Usually, the drakes display their feathers affectionately while dancing to woo the hen. Typical dance styles include up-and-down head bobbing or circular swimming. If need be, drakes show off their strength and size by extending their wings.
Depending on the duck species, the drake may lift its tails up, showing his purple-blue secondaries while whistling. Note that the mating rituals can be so subtle that you may not catch them, especially if you are not actively looking.
If a hen is flattered by a particular drake’s performance (pun not intended), she will lead him away from the rest. A drake knows a hen is interested if she rapidly but shortly swims with its neck held low as if to graze the water’s surface.
They will swim together until they finally mate. Most duck species find their partners for breeding between December and March. Some extend a little into the spring migration period.
The Breeding Seasons
As humans prepare for chilly winter by heating up their places and investing in heavy gear, ducks see that as the perfect time for mating. While some domestic ducks can mate all year round, most species only have one mating season.
Environmental Factors that Influence How Ducks Mate
The fact that ducks mate in winter shows that they prefer specific environmental conditions. Usually, the aim is to hatch and raise ducklings when there is enough food, more sunlight, and warmer temperatures. Whether or not a particular mating season is successful depends on these factors.
Do Ducks Mate for Life?
Do ducks mate for life? This is a question that most people are unsure of its answer. To cut the confusion, the simple answer is no. Ducks do not mate for life. Instead, they do what scientists call seasonal mating.
Here, a hen chooses her preferred drake, mate, lay eggs, and hatch. Seasonal monogamy is common across most duck species, and you rarely find ones that mate for life. Unlike some waterfall species, you can hardly find partners that form lifelong bonds.
Do Ducks Mate in Water?
While ducks can lay in water or on land, if you are keeping some at home, it’s advisable to have them mating in water. This is a precaution, as mating on land can lead to injuries. When the drake mounts a hen, its weight can cause damage to the hen’s feet.
Naturally, ducks prefer mating in water as it also allows them to showcase their “flirting” skills. It would be impossible to do some of the stunts they do in the water while on land. Additionally, some drakes can be very aggressive, making mating in water safer.
Fun fact: ducks usually mate quickly (less than a second) because the drake’s penis is usually too fragile and can’t sustain an erection for long.
The Key Takeaway
Ducks have one of the most exciting mating habits. Wooing partners include head-bobbing, flat-backing, whistle-grunt, and head-down victory laps. Ducks have only one mating season, usually during winter. The aim is to have ducklings when there is plenty of sunshine and food.