The sight of a mother duck with a brood of fluffy offspring following obediently behind her is almost certain to elicit an "awww" response. The task of raising all those young might be minimal compared to what Mama went through during the breeding season. Most wild and domestic ducks are decendents of mallards, known for their aggressive and sometimes violent mating rituals.
Ducks are read to mate during their first year of life and the process is usually initiated by the female. When she is ready to breed, she'll swim with her neck extended just above the surface of the water. The attention of a male, or several, leads to her swimming toward the male of her choice, quacking rapidly and shaking her beak. A ritual of wing flapping, preening and head pumping ensues, leading up to copulation.
What's Love Got to Do With It?
While a female selects the male that she desires for the sire of her offspring, it's not unusual for several males to rape her when she is in heat. Female ducks are often drowned, defeathered or bloodied in the process, which may involve several males holding her down and pecking her while another mounts. Although the males are able to complete the act, her long twisted vaginal barrel has false chambers, which prevent his penis from penetrating far enough to fertilize her eggs, and it is rare for a forced entry to result in pregnancy.
How Babies Are Made
When the mate of her choosing mounts she relaxes, allowing him to extend his long spiraling penis fully to the area where fertilization occurs. Until copulation, the male's penis rests inside out and compacted within his body. Unlike mammals, he does not get an erection before sex. Rather, the penis fills with lymph fluid, extending almost explosively into her and ejaculating his sperm in a matter of seconds. The fluid-filled penis remains flexible as it courses along the twists and turns of her vaginal tract. After ejaculation, the penis retracts over the course of several minutes as the lymph fluid recedes.
The Next Generation
The female expels unwanted sperm from the chambers within her body, leaving only the sperm of consensual mating left to do the fertilizing in 97 percent of matings. The female prepares a nest by scraping an indentation in the ground about 9 inches long and up to 6 inches deep. When she lays her daily egg, she lines the nest with leaves and grass that is within her reach, as well as feathers plucked from her chest. In seasonally monogamous ducks, the male stays nearby to guard the area but has no role in feeding or rearing the ducklings.
- U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey: Help...There's a Duck Nest in My Flower Pot!
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Mallard
- Discover Magazine: Ballistic Penises and Corkscrew Vaginas -- The Sexual Battles of Ducks
- The Slate Group: Why I Study Duck Genitalia
- Stanford University: Duck Displays
- Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images