We get asked a lot whether ducks mate for life. Let's delve into the topic at PumpjackPiddlewick

I get asked a lot ~ ‘Do ducks mate for life?’ The answer is Yes. And, no. Like most things in life, it’s not a straight forward answer. It depends on the breed of duck, the circumstances of birth, are they wild or tame, and the whole nurture nature argument. So in other words, it varies.

I have had mallards, call ducks (those little all white ducks) and some piebald mixes. Mallards are particularly known for not being monogamous, at least beyond a season. Call ducks, even though all white, are actually part of the mallard family, so inherently the same applies. Normally this means that, if they live in a flock, they pick a new mate each year.

In practise it’s not quite so simplistic. It really comes down to survival of the fittest. Ducks can be cruel to protect the flock and oust or even kill a weak or ill duck. I have had this happen in my own flock. And yet, they can also support injured or even blind ducks if the disability is not holding them back from reproduction.

Because reproduction is essentially what it all comes down to. Strong (and prolific) males will generally rise to the top of the pecking order. And the fight to the top is always about the choicest female.

Females will start laying eggs within their first year, but that doesn’t put them top of the dating circuit. Rather a little age, wisdom and history plays more of a part. The female who is most desirable is one that they know is already a good egg layer.

My Maggie was not above 3 or 4 nests a year. Prolific, or if you prefer, read – fertile. She was a terrible Mum when it came to looking after her hatched ducklings, but she had no issues with making nests. And the boys went mad for her.

George was Maggie’s mate, for life. She had no choice in it. He was like Velcro and never left her side. He was actually one of her ducklings who survived. She had had 4 hatch, and she killed the other 3. It could be there was something wrong with them. It could be they were females and she didn’t want the competition. For whatever reason, she let George live. Or maybe George had enough ambition that he fought to live.

He grew up by Maggie’s side and simply never left it. He fought continuously to keep that position. Depending on the season, he sometimes had to do a lot of fighting. If too many males were ganging up on Maggie, and George, I sometimes separated them from the flock. Or truth be told, Maggie separated herself by coming in the house.

She knew how to climb stairs and taught George. Only one of our other ducks learned to do that, Louis, a call duck. He was an ardent admirer of Maggie from his introduction into the flock. Her second lieutenant if you like. It is not uncommon for a some ducks to have polygamous relationships. Much depends on the number of males to females, but also how fertile the female is.

When I brought some female call ducks into the flock, Louis divided his attentions. Not because they were call ducks, but simply female. I think he was not sure if he was a mallard or a call duck, having grown up with our mallards as the only white duck amongst the lot. He was just one of the ducks. And there were no mirrors in the duck enclosure. He has since paired off with Macey and they are now in their 3rd year together.

Sir Studly was Maggie’s mate her first year, before George came along and ousted him. Studly then mated with Sunny and stuck by her for two years before a fox took her. He mourned her loss. Then he became BeepBeep’s mate, my blind duck. He stuck by her side for 3 years, being both partner and seeing eye duck for her.

A duck can live to be around 12 years old. Over time I have found, taking into account nature, that 6 years is an average. George and Maggie were together for 4 years and were like an old married couple. Honestly. They bickered. A lot. But still where there was one, you’d find the other. Until Maggie passed away. And George feeling her loss and grieved for her.

However, according to studies of wild ducks they don’t mate for life. Instead they form seasonal monogamous relationships, eg one partner for the season. So it is maybe a more nurture versus nature circumstance.

Personally, I for one think it has more to do with personalities and circumstances, and so suspect there are more ducks that stick together in the wild than really recognised. Here at Pumpjack & Piddlewick I can say categorically that amongst a pet duck flock – yes, ducks can mate for life.

PS.

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2022-07-04

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