Mating Behaviors of Mallard Ducks
Early in the spring flocks of mallard ducks begin their annual spring migration, starting in the Central Mississippi Valley in mid-February, and arriving in their breeding areas from the northern United States and Canada to Alaska . By this time, many of them have already paired up.
Although “breeding” occurs in the spring, the mallard’s mating behavior begins long before, some as early as August or September. Even the “juveniles” begin the courting rituals by September . By November all drakes are quite serious about courting. At this time, some of mallards break away from the nature of most species to breed with their “near relative, the black duck”.
According to an author some mallards pair up in flight when the female selects a mate from her circling and noisily quacking suitors by touching him with her bill. Unrequited suitors may have to move on to the waters in search of romance.
Each unpaired mallard drake begins his pursuit of a hen by swimming, his head “sunk” and his neck “drawn back” alongside other drakes around the hens. He then performs a choreographed ritual to impress the observant hens. His water ballet, performed alongside his competitors, consists first of wagging his tail; next, dipping his bill and flicking water by the quick upward movement of his head, creating a showy stream of water droplets as well as a low-tone whistle.
After that catchy introduction, he moves to the “head-up, tail-up” movement , showing the best of his colors. He may repeat the flicking and rocking stages of the “ballet” several times, alternately and a hen may join him at this point, rocking more gently. If the two are so inclined, the intensity of the dance will increase , and the drake has found success.
If a hen has not joined him in his rocking, the ballet concludes with a delicate approach to the hen, as he holds his bill away from her, indicating his friendliness, and trying to lead her away. If, however, the hen shows no interest in his performance, he may respond by shaking or ejecting himself from the water. Enroute to the nesting area (usually the birthplace of the mother), males may become confused and try to pursue hens other than their mate. This rarely results in the break up of a pair, however.