If you have started raising ducks on your farm or are thinking about breeding ducks, then you may have wondered about their mating habits. The fact is ducks have very unique mating techniques compared to other waterfowl and it can often be a very aggressive affair for the female. They also mate from a relatively young age, so it’s good to be prepared for their mating behaviors.
Unlike the vast majority of bird species, male ducks (drakes) have a penis and females have an intricate vaginal canal that can either accommodate or reject a drake’s sperm. After wooing and forging a bond with a female, males mount the female from behind and grab her neck with his bill. She then lifts her tail feathers to accommodate his sperm into her vaginal canal.
Breeding will only be successful in relaxed and receptive females who have been courted by a wanted suitor. Unfortunately, the competition between male ducks can sometimes turn mating into a violent and sexually aggressive ritual. Read on to find out more about why duck mating can be so brutal, the best mating conditions, and whether ducks can cross-breed with other waterfowl.
How Does a Male Duck Fertilize an Egg?
Male ducks or ‘drakes’ have a retractable penis that extends outwards from an internal sac called a cloaca. When a female is receptive to mating, the male’s penis will extend outwards from the cloacal wall and into the female’s oviduct (vaginal canal), where the sperm and egg combine to create a fertilized egg or a ‘zygote’ which is quickly covered in a protective coating – the actual fertilization process takes less than a second!
Do Ducks Mate in the Water?
Ducks find it more natural to mate in water, but they will also mate on land if this is where drakes and hens find themselves during the mating season. The male’s sexual organs offer a clue as to how well adapted they are to mating in the water – when a drake’s phallus extends in preparation for mating, it is protected by a layer of lymphatic fluid to prevent sperm from being washed away in the water.
Shortly before mating in water, ducks tend to display quirky behaviors and gestures as part of their courtship ritual. These are mostly for the drakes to impress the females but can also be used by females to indicate their interest in a suitor. Look out for the following in your backyard ducks:
- Head-bobbing – males and females typically bob their heads up and down and quack excitedly to indicate interest in mating.
- Feather show – Males evolved to have more colorful, eye-catching plumage than females, so groups of drakes will attempt to dazzle hens by lifting their wings and tail – while whistling loudly – to win over the female.
- Nod-swimming – another strange method of flirting both males and females employ is to rapidly swim by each other for a short distance, holding their necks low so they just graze the water’s surface.
Do Ducks Need Water to Mate?
Ducks don’t require water to mate, but it is where they will find it most natural. Mating in water certainly makes things easier when it comes to performing their courtship rituals. It is also much easier on the female’s back and legs and lessens her chances of injury compared with a male mounting her on land.
If you want to provide your ducks with a body of water in your backyard or farm, you can easily set up a kiddie pool or trough if on a budget or look into building your own DIY pond where they can enjoy swimming, bathing, and mating in greater comfort.
What Month Do Ducks Mate?
The mating season typically begins in early spring for most duck species and ends around late July when the egg-laying season comes to an end. Long before the actual mating begins, the courtship rituals and bonding that help ducks pick out their preferred partners can start as early as winter (December-March). Ducks also pick their mating partners during the spring migration (March-early April).
How Often Do Ducks Mate?
For the best chances of fertilization, drakes normally need to mate with a female once every 4-5 days during the mating season. Unfortunately, overly-eager males will forcibly mate with females – whether they are receptive or not – so some ducks will end up mating several times a day.
According to backyard duck keepers, ducks can sometimes become excited and mate every time their pool water has been refreshed. Mostly though, ducks will only mate during mating season and will seek out a new partner to mate with each year.
How Long are Ducks Pregnant for?
Ducks are typically pregnant for 28 days, after which time the clutch of eggs (12 on average) hatch together over the next 24 hours. Once hatched the ducklings remain in their nest for around 10 hours before being led to water by the hen once their legs gain strength.
How Old are Ducks When They Start to Mate?
Female ducks are normally ready to mate at 4 months old. Essentially, as soon as they begin laying eggs (unfertilized eggs without the need for a male), she is mature enough to begin mating.
Will Different Breeds of Ducks Mate?
Ducks can successfully mate across different breeds, but the offspring will face difficulties finding a mate due to their unique coloring or temperament compared with other ducks in their habitat. Many duck species descend from the Mallard breed, so most crossovers will be compatible and be able to reproduce healthy offspring.
Caution should be urged, however, concerning the Pekin and Muscovy breeds. Muscovies are of a different species to Mallard ducks, so attempting to cross a Pekin male with a Muscovy female will result in “mule” offspring, meaning they are infertile.
Will Ducks Mate with Chickens?
They can mate, but this shouldn’t be encouraged. Roosters mating with a female duck is safe but ineffective (healthy offspring are rarely produced) and the other way round is both ineffective and highly dangerous. A male duck’s long phallus was not meant to accommodate a female chicken and attempts at penetration can risk puncturing a hen’s internal organs, leading to bacterial infection and even death.
Can Ducks Mate with Geese?
Yes, but the resulting offspring will usually be infertile due to their differing chromosomes. Ducks and geese are more sexually compatible than ducks and chickens and won’t be harmed during mating due to their similar sex organs. However, their offspring rarely survives the embryo stage and will be sterile if it does.
Can Swans and Ducks Mate?
No. Swans famously mate for life and are typically very protective of their partners and offspring, so they have no desire to breed with another male, especially one of a different breed. Swans are quite practical and functional in their mating in a way that male ducks are clearly not!
Can Turkeys and Ducks Mate?
No. Their vast size difference makes mating dangerous between turkeys and ducks. Male turkeys (toms) can be vigorous and violent during mating and would inevitably cause harm or even death to female ducks. Vice versa, drakes would not be sexually compatible with female turkeys and neither coupling could produce healthy offspring.
Can Pekin Ducks Mate with Mallards?
Yes. Most domesticated duck breeds – like the American Pekin duck – descend from Mallards, so they are sexually compatible for mating. Pekin and Mallard cross-breeding normally produces healthy, fertile offspring in various color combos of black, white, and Mallard green/brown variations.
Do Ducks Mate for Life?
No, ducks are seasonal monogamist birds, meaning they only bond with partners during the mating season. During this brief time, drakes will defend females from other males but will not be present in raising their ducklings together. Ducks normally seek out new partners every year in the hopes of passing on the healthiest and strongest possible genes to their offspring.
Do Paradise Ducks Mate for Life?
Yes. The Paradise shelducks or ‘Paradise ducks’ found in New Zealand forge life-long bonds with their mating partners and are very protective of their territories – returning to the same nesting spot each year.
Why Do Ducks Mate so Aggressively?
Duck mating can be very aggressive whether it happens naturally or is forced upon the female. During natural water mating, a drake will often bite the back of a female’s neck to steady himself but because drakes take a rough approach to mating, this biting action can result in a hen’s head being submerged underwater and drowning.
When there is a poor ratio of male and female ducks, mating can become fiercely competitive and forced violently upon hens by one or many different drakes. In their desperation to pass on their genes, drakes can severely injure and even kill hens by crushing them to death and breaking their necks on land, or drowning them.
Thankfully though, a hen’s sexual organs are designed in such a way that they can ward off sperm from unwanted mates. If a female is unreceptive to a male’s advances, she will position her body in a way that prevents full penetration and ensures that unwanted sperm is deposited in a ‘side pocket’ within her vaginal canal to prevent pregnancy from aggressive drakes.
Can Ducks Lay Eggs without Mating?
Yes, like hens, female ducks do not need to mate with a male to produce eggs. Ducks will happily lay plenty of eggs, but these will be unfertilized (just as a woman’s eggs are during her menstrual cycle).