|Female mallard watching over eleven ducklings,|
When most people think “duck,” they think mallard.
They are found in the temperate zone north of the equator in North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa. Most varieties of domesticated ducks are descended from mallards. So it is safe to say they are successful.
The breeding male (called a drake) is unmistakable: green iridescent head, white ring around neck, black rear and yellow bill tipped in black. Female mallards (called hens) are camouflaged light brown with streaked feathers.
In late fall, mallards form flocks made up of both sexes. In these flocks the drakes exhibit elaborate and complicated display behavior. (They’re showing off to impress the ladies.)
There’s considerable preening, splashing, shaking, tail wagging, quacking, it’s all a well-planned, highly choreographed performance on the part of the drakes. Human males do similar things but it is not well planned or highly choreographed; it’s mostly goofy. Go to any local nightclub where young males flock together and you’ll see.
A female mallard tends to choose a mate that does more than an average number of displays. They like the best performers, the show boaters. Pair formation occurs in the fall with courtship rituals lasting throughout the winter. The mated pair will spend weeks together, swimming about as a couple. During this time the male is highly territorial and protective of his mate. After a courtship that lasts several months, nesting begins as soon as late February.
Mallard mating is a bit tough to watch. A bit brutal. It appears he's attacking and trying to drown her, biting the back of her neck.
After the ordeal, she fashions a nest somewhere hidden along the shoreline and over the course of several days she can lay half her body weight in eggs, up to fourteen.
As a committed father, he's a drop out.
The male’s attentiveness fades and he joins flocks of other males, abandoning the female when she starts to incubate. She alone cares for the ducklings, also rather exhausting.
The pair is considered seasonally monogamous but the male is lackadaisically lazy, choosing to hang out with the boys.
Should a rain/high water event or marauding raccoon wipe out the clutch, then the drake will rush in to re-mate with the hen. More torture. And she may produce a second brood to care for and raise.
And even though the green-headed, grandiose males get all the attention, get their portraits on the Duck Stamps, the females do all the work. This species is successful because of the mamas.