Three’s company

With Autumn now in full swing, mallards are turning their attention to finding a mate for the breeding season ahead. Whilst these ducks are usually monogamous, it would appear the mallards here in Aberystwyth have decided to do things a little differently.

One particular female appears to have paired up with two males, something almost unheard of among mallards.

Mallards form their pair in autumn/winter, and usually remain faithful through until the end of the breeding season, during which time males will aggressively defend their mates from others.

Whilst multiple males mating with a single female are a common occurrence, these are the result of forced copulations, with unmated males forcing themselves on a female, whether she is paired already or not. During these events the female and her partner will actively resist and attempt to defend themselves or get away. See this behaviour here

This trio however seems to have a consensual relationship with all three regularly displaying the typical head bobbing courtship behaviour before the female allows one or other male to mate with her.

The two males either side of the female
Both males are currently in their eclipse plumage, which occurs during their annual moult

Each time mating takes place, the male not engaged in the act seems happy to watch on with no sign of aggression, and afterwards the three would resume their swimming, feeding and preening side by side as mated pair would.

One male mounts the female


Males will often grab the females head and neck during mating


Mating as the second males waits close by


Female submerged by the weight of her partner

Below is a brief video of the trio ‘head bobbing’ together. It is difficult to convey this particular behaviour in still images.

These are certainly not the aggressive, frantic encounters of a forced mating so it would appear that the female has either chosen to pair up with both males, or is taking her time in deciding which male to pair with, however the tolerance shown by the drakes towards each other is unusual either way.

Perhaps even more intriguing is that the males have also mated with each other on several occasions, as seen below. Here you can see the one male stretches out his neck and lowers his body to allow the other male to mount, and does not attempt to get away. Not what you would expect if this is just redirected behaviour surely?

If anyone can share any insight into what might be going on here, and the reasons for this strange behaviour, please get in touch!

All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography 2017 ©

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