Do Ducks Mate for Life?

Written by Katie Downey
Published: November 22, 2023
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Ducks are lovely feathered friends who grace our presence on lakes and wherever there is water. They often walk or glide along the water’s surface with their other feathered friends. With some species of ducks, it’s easy to tell males from females; with others, it can be challenging. Do ducks mate for life? Let’s find out the answer and some of their mating habits.

Mates for Life?

Silhouette look on the ducks in the lake water during the sunrise.

Pairs of ducks are commonly seen, but are they mates?

©pablopicasso/Shutterstock.com

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The life of a duck is mysterious in some ways, and mating is one of them. Most people are aware that swans mate for life and can even die of a broken heart after their life partner passes on. But what’s the deal with ducks? Though many types of avians are monogamous, it’s up in the air whether or not that bond lasts a lifetime or just a season.

In the case of most ducks, they are monogamous, but they are short-lived, lasting only four to eight months. After a breeding season comes to a close, most ducks say their goodbyes and hit the road… or air. This is called seasonal monogamy.

Some ducks may return to the same breeding ground year after year and could end up together again. That is not what usually happens, though.

Duck Courtship and Mating

Pair of Mallard Ducks

Mallard ducks only bond as a pair for a mating season.

©Robert Adami/Shutterstock.com

Some courting rituals of ducks are flashy and aim to draw all eyes to them as they put on a show. The female duck will choose her partner based on his plumage and courtship display. Her selection will also focus on whether the drake looks like he would be able to defend her or her eggs. She will view another suitor’s courtship display if she isn’t impressed. When a male and female duck meet in the water, they bob their heads at one another. This signals their interest in each other. From there, the female will typically stretch her neck out while gliding in the water, which signals to the male that she’s ready to mate.

During the actual act of mating, the male will position himself on top of the female, but this is generally a catastrophe while they try to balance and float simultaneously. After they are finally situated, it’s over pretty fast, followed by a loud honk from the male, who may occasionally do a few laps around the female.

The Strange Anatomy of Ducks

Unlike more birds, male ducks have penises, and females have vaginas. This is where it gets even stranger. The duck’s penis is corkscrew-shaped and counterclockwise in direction. The female’s vagina is also corkscrew-shaped but is clockwise, so as you can imagine, there’s some exciting maneuvering to get into the correct position. To combat unwanted sexual attacks by drakes, the females have a pocket inside their vagina where unwanted sperm will go instead of fertilizing their eggs.

Sure, ducks, like the Welsh harlequin ducks, can switch sexes. The hermaphrodite ducks can grow penises and mate with females, just as a male would. This typically takes place if there aren’t any males around for reproduction. These females will have a strong emotional bond and mourn the passing if one dies.

Male Mallard Duck Aggression

Male mallard ducks tend to outnumber the females, and the ones who do not get paired can be aggressive. It doesn’t matter if a female is in a bonded pair already or if the female is being pursued simultaneously by other males. The males are driven by the desire to mate and sometimes gang up on a female. The mating is aggressive, and the female sometimes drowns. Ducks do not follow the same ethics as humans, so it is seen as nature being nature.

Female Duck Aggression

Though not typical for all female ducks or species of ducks, sometimes some females mount other females. They may form bonded pairs and lay unfertilized eggs. There are also times that female ducks appear to go through the courting behavior that the males and females go through when initiating bonds. When female ducks are seen doing it with each other, it is a territorial form of aggression. Sometimes, males also form all male-bonded pairs, though it is uncommon in all species.

A Whole New Way to View Duck Love

Close up ducks, see the details and expressions of ducks

Ducks are exciting and come with tons of secrets about their love lives.

©SIM ONE/Shutterstock.com

Ducks are interesting. They have strange, exciting love lives and can sometimes even be hilarious. Mallards may be the most aggressive males and are commonly witnessed attacking females with forced copulation. There’s no need to have both sexes if you are raising ducks since they will take care of that part for you! Each duck species has a slightly differing mating ritual, with some being less aggressive than others. Next time you visit a pond and see a few mallard ducks floating around, you may look at them differently!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Rudolf Ernst


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About the Author

Katie Downey is a writer for A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, arachnids and insects. Katie has been writing and researching animals for more than a decade. Katie worked in animal rescue and rehabilitation with handicapped cats and farm animals for many years. As a resident of North Carolina, Katie enjoys exploring nature with her son, educating others on the positive role that insects and spiders play in the ecosystem and raising jumping spiders.

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