Something I have never seen talked about when it comes to pet ducks, flocks and owners is duck flock inbreeding. So here is my big opportunity.
It is actually a very real thing to consider if you choose to have a male/female mix in your flock. Ducks are like rabbits. In fact if you have ducks, I can guarantee there will be a lot of duck sex, especially in the spring. It’s a rather seasonal thing.
For 6 months they more or less ignore each other in that category. Okay maybe a bit of flirting as they size each other up as mate material. Then the other six months … like rabbits. Of course eggs result instead, which you can choose to eat. Once a number of eggs are laid in a nest, generally about 8, the female duck will sit and brood. Next thing you know, all being well, and you have ducklings. And the cycle starts all over again. It is the animal kingdom at it’s most natural.
But in the duck world, once a duckling fledges there is no more ‘hey you are my sister’, or ‘mother’ or ‘uncle’. It’s about procreation, so any duck is fair game (as it were). Unlike in the wild, where males will often go off to find females in other flocks and thus lessening duck flock inbreeding, in an enclosed flock there isn’t this luxury.
If you have ‘brother and sister’ ducklings, they will grow up to be ‘husband and wife’. Relations and generations mean nothing, it is all about survival of the fittest. So if a female duck is particularly procreative, most of the males will vie for her attention no matter the relatiship. And possibly take, even when not mated with her.
Ratio of males to females is also important. Ducks don’t mate for life. They also are the only bird species that rapes. If you have many males they will even gang up on a singular female and potentially harm her, even sometimes kill her (though it is not the intention). It’s a lust frenzy sort of thing.
In our own flock we are continuously fighting duck flock inbreeding. We started off with Maggie. We brought in 3 siblings, 1 female, 2 males, to party and hang out with her. Sadly then they disappeared (buzzards we think), but not before Maggie took to brooding and sitting on a nest. Of 19 eggs! Very procreative.
13 of her eggs duly hatched and after they fledged we sent most of them off to new homes. We kept 4 of her ducklings; Sir Studly, Sunny, Tequila and Beepbeep, eg 1 male for 4 females a reasonably good ratio. Except they were all related.
The following year, when it came nesting time, only 1 duckling survived. George. Maggie killed all her others. We think they were probably not seen as ‘fit’, at least by Maggie. George lived to tell the tale and stuck himself like velcro to Maggie. He’s still stuck on her 3 years later. This is weird, in the duck world.
None of the eggs that Maggie and George have worked on have ever lived, either to hatch or a few days past hatching. That’s inbreeding.
There is a definite lessening of the quantity of eggs a female lays as she gets older. Her first spring, though not necessarily her first nest, is usually quite prolific in eggs and thus ducklings. And from that point it will lessen in terms of the numbers that will hatch. So it’s part age of the mother that affects the ducklings ability to live. The other part is how inter-related the mum and dad are.
George is Maggie’s son, but is also the son of her other son from the year before. So we are talking two levels of inbreeding. When you think on it, if ducks are a primary example (and they are) of survival of the fittest, then it makes sense that the more levels of inbreeding the less likely is the viability of the possible duckling.
And then we introduced Louis, our white call duck. He has always had a passion for Maggie, but George works hard at deterring him. Still now and then he has his way. Well, maybe more often than less. Last year most of our ducklings were very obviously offspring of Louis. Gabby is prime example, being a piebald mix of white and mallard. Others were simply lighter, greyer versions of mallards.
With only 1 male duck that is not related, and all the other males related, to our now two females, it’s very definitely time to get in some outside blood. A quirky duck fact, the females can actually in a sense reject or at least stop sperm from unwanted males during copulation. As far as we can tell, given the different colour of Louis, this is exactly what our girls did. He wasn’t always their mate, but they let him have his way.
Now our flocks health can’t all hang on Louis’s abilities. We’ve been on the search in consequence for several months for more female call ducks. They are our preference as they are quieter and sweeter in temperament than mallard females. Something that overall will be good for the flock. And we can’t discount they are really beautiful and make pretty pretty ducklings. Also our flock is of the dwarf, or mignon here in France, variety. That is they are smaller than most other ducks. Bringing in larger ducks is not possible as, well, there is certain level of geometry needed in the male reaching certain female parts.
Finally! We found 4 mignon white female ducks. Born in April, so the same age as Gabby. They are related, but as they are all females, and not related to any of our males, for at least the first year we won’t have to deal with duck flock inbreeding. Result!
With no intention of keeping any new ducklings, we should remain a healthy flock going forward. Fingers (or is that wings?) crossed.