The mating season is in high gear at the Brighton millpond now. If you spend an hour watching the ducks, you’ll see drakes chasing drakes, flapping fights between rivals, and possibly a swarm of ducks in the water in what is often interpreted as murder-in-progress even though it’s not.
The pairings will continue through early July and some ducks will have two successful nestings by the end of summer. When it’s over, there will be many injured and exhausted ducks not to mention horrified park visitors. Mrs PomPom (above) was the first victim of brutal attacks by domestic drakes. She has been removed from the pond after receiving a severe eye injury last week.
Ducks don’t bond for life. Most barely bond for the entire mating season. In winter and early spring, ducks pair up. You’ll find most ducks are paired now. Hens do the choosing. Their efforts to find an attractive, strong drake last a couple of months before the males pay much attention to their head bobbing and clucking.
Once the drakes hormones start to flow, they bicker with rivals over their selected partners and yet they aren’t particularly effective. There’s lots of partner changing and sneaky dalliances by drakes.
Thirty percent of all duck couplings are forced. If the chosen partner is there, he might just watch because, once a coupling begins, all nearby drakes join the party and he can’t do anything about it. I’ve seen as many as 13 drakes attack one hen in encounters lasting ten minutes. Sometimes females drown, slam into obstacles (including fences and moving vehicles) fleeing males, or become severely injured. Leg and eye injuries are common; feathers are ripped from heads and necks. Hens aren’t the only victims. Weak males are also attacked.
It’s called “duck rape”
Each spring I write several posts about it because park visitors are upset when they witness it. I’ve seen people attempt to stop it – throwing things, yelling, waving their arms – if the ducks are in the water. On land, people rush to separate the participants even kicking drakes. They don’t realize this is natural. It’s what ducks do. Looking at it through human eyes, it’s violent and unnecessary.
“I just don’t want to see any animal get hurt,” was one park visitor’s response when I explained what was going on last week. Sorry. Nature doesn’t consider human needs when it’s ensuring species endure. Male lions kill rival’s cubs; opossums have up to 20-30 babies but only have 13 nipples so many starve; some baby birds shove fellow chicks out of their nests.
The strategies seem unfair to us yet Mallards are prolific. Their mating tactics are extreme, but the species thrives either because of their violent methods or in spite of them.