How Do You Know if Ducks Are Mating?

Duck mating behavior includes head-bobbing and flat-backing, which often leads to mating. Both males and females show their interest in courtship with head-bobbing in the water. Female ducks then approach their desired males with an elongated neck and flat back.

Male ducks mount the females from the back, grabbing the necks for stability. During the penetration, the males make a whistle grunting sound. The female ducks also make odd noises, but nothing close to it.

While observing duck mating, we can notice another humorous behavior. Drakes (male ducks) perform head-down victory laps as a token of pride after each successful copulation.

When is Duck Mating Season?

The duck breeding season is not fixed. Most species pair up in the fall and breed throughout late winter, spring, and early summer. While domestic mallard ducks are comfortable with this routine, the wild ones might mate all year round.

Domestic male Pekins also follow no timeline for breeding. They will mate whenever they get a chance.

However, most ducks follow seasonal mating patterns. They maintain this love bond only until the nesting. Next year, they will find a new partner.

How Long Is Duck Mating Season?

The breeding period for ducks lasts from spring to fall. You will catch the male and female ducks mate mostly from March to May. Many ducks extend their breeding period even to August. The hens can lay eggs all year round.

However, the duration of duck mating season will vary depending on your region, climate, and duck species. For example, seasonal mating duration in warmer areas is longer compared to cold regions.

However, the truth is that drakes are high in hormones and they might engage in courtship whenever they encounter a female.

When Do Ducks Mate and Lay Eggs?

Ducks mate from late winter through spring to early summer. Few wild species can breed all year round and lay eggs when a protein-rich ration is available.

But specifically speaking, a warmer season such as mid-May is better for duck nesting compared to winter. 

According to a report published by the NSW Government, a female duck gets sexually mature at 6 to 7 months of age and is ready to carry out her reproduction cycle. As per her egg-laying timeline, her gestation period lasts for 10 to 18 days. She lays 20 to 50 eggs each year and ducklings come out within a month of incubation.

How Many Times a Year Do Ducks Mate?

Two ducks walking by a lake with one male and one female duck on a grassy edge next to the water.

The majority of duck species follow annual mating cycles and engage in copulation only in the breeding season. But their mating frequency in one season lies somewhere between 6 to 8. This reproductive frequency basically depends on the region, climate, and species.

However, each courtship does not lead to pregnancy in hens. Only 1 out of 4 copulations can make the hen’s eggs fertile, as mentioned in Earth Life’s article.

This is one of the reasons behind such a mating frequency. Ducks choose one partner for each breeding season and bond only for those months.

At What Age Can Ducks Start Mating?

In general, the mating age for ducks is 6 to 7 months. The breeding age can vary slightly depending on the gender and species.

For example, Pekin ducks reach sexual maturity between 16 to 28 weeks. Studies have shown that their testosterone levels spike up after they become sexually active.

Likewise, the age of sexual maturity of female Muscovy is 27 to 28 weeks. Meanwhile, the male Muscovy ducks do not become mate-worthy until they are 29 weeks old.

How Do Ducks Choose Their Mates, and What Affects Their Choice?

Female ducks are more in numbers and so they are in the power of their mate selection. Drakes are the ones who approach the females and show acts to impress them.

An article from Cornell Lab says that, as a part of duck pairing behavior, males do head-throw kicks and head-bobbing.

Moreover, female ducks with the upper hand are picky about choosing a partner. There are three main factors influencing mate choice:

  1. Colorful plumage
  2. Display act
  3. Perceived strength of the male ducks

Here’s An Interesting Fact: Female ducks have a special reproductive system that lets them choose which sperm fertilizes their eggs. Because their vaginas are spiral-shaped, which makes it hard for unwanted sperm to reach the eggs. Incredible, isn’t it?

What Courtship Rituals Do Ducks Perform Before Mating?

Ducks perform certain rituals and displays before engaging in the courtship. Both hens, especially drakes show specific behaviors such as,

  • Head-Pumping: Ducks bob their head rhythmically, and it is often tagged as a mating dance.
  • Head-up-Tail-up: Males will lift their wings and tails while whistling to show themselves off to the females.
  • Pushing Reaching: Drakes move forward in the water, holding their bills close to the water and their chins close to the chest. This courtship behavior is noticed in the King Eider species.
  • Head-Throw Kick: Common goldeneye ducks move their heads backward (bill pointed up) and forward to call for mating.
  • Salute-Curtsy: Red-breasted Mergansers lower their head just above the water, extending their neck to draw a straight line. They will eventually drop their neck and chest into the water, tucking the tail tightly.

How Do Ducks Mate?

A male duck mating with a female duck in the water.

The duck mating process begins with the pre-copulation displays and moves which I mentioned earlier. Typically, hens choose a drake and then move to the main process. Here’s how ducks reproduce:

During duck breeding, drakes mount the hens and align their penis with the hen’s vaginal opening. Almost instantly, males extend their penis into the oviduct. Drakes hold onto the hens by the neck for stability, while females balance themselves by lifting their tail feathers.

Next, males then ejaculate by repeatedly inserting their penis into the female’s genital tract. Additionally, a common behaviour during mating is for drakes to make a whistle-grunting sound.

Do Ducks Quack When Mating?

Quacking is the ultimate way of duck communication. In fact, quacking is one of the mating vocalizations of the hens and drakes.

Both male and female ducks quack as a pre-mating ritual and a call for partnership. Additionally, these birds will also quack when they are engaged in courtship.

Females make a series of 2 to 10 quacks. Their courtship quacking starts at a high pitch and then softens gradually. On the other hand, males do not really quack. Instead, they create a raspy whistle-grunting sound during mating.

Are Ducks Aggressive When They Mate?

Most ducks, especially the wild ones, are known for their violent mating aggression. Male ducks often put themselves on the hens whether they like it or not. Aggressive tendencies of drakes include physically hurting the female ducks.

The hens often lose their neck and back feathers due to the violent mating. Drakes can get more hostile in their courtship behavior and pull off the female skin.

They might chase and drown the hens out of aggression. Most sources recommended putting 4 to 6 females against one drake to reduce the aggression.

Do Male Ducks Force Female Ducks to Mate?

Male ducks sometimes force female ducks to mate and it’s known as forced copulation.

This happens because there are more males than females, which makes it harder for every male to find a partner. Therefore, some drakes use forced copulation to ensure they can have ducklings.

Interestingly, female ducks have unique ways to avoid having babies due to forced mating. Because their bodies have twists and turns that make it difficult for unwanted males to succeed. I said it earlier, remember?

Despite this, forced mating is still common in many duck species. It can hurt female ducks, sometimes causing injuries or even death.

Why Do Ducks Bob Their Heads at Each Other?

Head-bobbing is a normal part of duck communication. Experts say it’s a sign that ducks like each other. These birds seem to bob their heads to one another and even to their owners to express their affection.

On the other hand, aggressive head-bobbing is a self-defense technique used by ducks against predators.

However, head-bobbing is one of the courtship signals we see in duck mating. In the breeding season, both the males and females put on mating displays in water to find a partner. It starts with head-bobbing.

What Are the Mating Habits of Mallard Ducks?

Mallard’s breeding behaviors are quite aggressive. The drakes are mostly monogamous for the mating season. However, the paired males pursuing another paired female is not uncommon in these ducks. Additionally, forced copulation also falls in Mallard’s reproductive habits.

There are some speciesspecific rituals seen in Mallard ducks. For example, the drakes show off their green plumage by dipping their beaks in water and allowing the water to drip on their feathers. Hens keep an extended neck during mating and the drakes will swim circling the female after the copulation.

Do Ducks Mate with Multiple Partners?

A group of ducks standing on a wet path.

Mating with multiple partners is a common trait of ducks. They follow the ‘Survival of the fittest’ reproductive strategy and try to spread their genes as much as possible. Hence, the strongest drakes often exhibit polygamous behavior.

Most ducks pair in the fall and stay in a monogamous relationship only for the season. But Mallard ducks barely respect this code. They hunt for more partners even when they are in a pair. Then again, some duck breeds might just pair bond for several years and avoid other partner encounters.

Do Ducks Mate For Life?

Ducks do not mate for life, and long-term mating habits are rare. However, seasonal monogamous behavior is only seen in ducks.

It means they pair up for one breeding season and then part ways after nesting. This behavior is seen in the following species:

  • Mallard Ducks
  • Call ducks
  • King Eider ducks
  • Goldeneye ducks
  • Red-breasted Mergansers

Apart from Mallard and call ducks, other species are strictly monogamous for the season. These two breeds will still try to attract other female ducks. However, bufflehead ducks take their relationships seriously. They continue the mating pair for several years.

What Do Male Ducks Do After Mating?

The only male reproductive role in mating is fertilizing the eggs and protecting the females from laying eggs safely. Once the nesting is done, males’ most common post-mating behavior is to leave the hens. They will not come back to the ducklings ever again.

As part of the after-mating activities, drakes will fly to a molting ground and join other males. This festival of losing feathers starts around June and the drakes look more like females during this period.

The males remain flightless for about 2 weeks and they lose all their charming color in this process. Soon, their new feathers start to grow and the drakes prepare themselves for the upcoming mating season.

Will Male Ducks Try to Mate with Chicken Hens?

Some brown chickens in a grassy field, with one chicken close up looking sideways.

Male ducks often try to mate with chicken hens. Male duck behavior changes during the breeding season. They become sexually aggressive and go for chickens if enough female ducks are not available for them.

Unfortunately, cross-species mating between drake and chicken is impossible because of their anatomical differences. Roosters have no penis, and so the chicken’s biology is not compatible with the huge duck’s penis.

Forcing these unusual mating attempts ruptures the intestine and causes internal damage in the chicken hens. Again, as the duck penis is corkscrew-shaped, it might pull out the entire hen intestine that cannot be put back. In both cases, the hen will die.

Do Ducks Mourn the Loss of a Mate?

Domestic ducks do mourn the loss of a mate sometimes. Grieving in ducks is seen when someone with closed bonds dies. But this mourning behavior varies somewhat.

As ducks are not intelligent creatures, they cannot feel strong emotions. The disappearance of a mate from the cage will not bother them much for long. Soon, they will move on with their lives.

Generally, the ducks look for a new mate after losing their current partner. They do not delay the reproduction period at any cost.

Can Ducks Lay Eggs Without Mating?

Yes, female ducks can lay eggs without the presence of a male duck. But that laying eggs won’t hatch into ducklings since they’re not fertilized.

However, if you want ducklings, you need a male duck to fertilize the eggs. Remember, only fertilized eggs will hatch after a broody duck incubates them for about 28 days.

Summary Highlights

  • Before mating, ducks do things like head-bobbing, flat-backing, and making special sounds. After mating the male duck often performs a victory lap.
  • Ducks usually breed from late winter through early summer. However, some wild and domestic ducks may breed all year round if the conditions are right.
  • The breeding season lasts from spring to fall. During this time, ducks mate many times. Not every mating leads to fertilized eggs. In fact, only about 25% of the time do they get fertile eggs.
  • During the mating, the male duck mounts the female duck. He aligns with her and extends into her oviduct. The drake often grabs the hen’s neck for balance.
  • Ducks usually do not stay with one mate for life. But, many ducks form seasonal bonds. They pair up for one breeding season and then go their separate ways.
  • Male ducks usually leave after mating and do not help raise the ducklings. Once mating is over, males often molt, losing their bright colors for a while.