Fight or flight

It’s now mid May and for many birds the breeding season is now in full swing. Down in the harbour waters of ‘the Gap’ the mallard ducks have already begun to pair up, however as is common among many duck species, males outnumber females quite considerably.

For those that are unsuccessful in winning a mate you might think their breeding chances for the year are over, but this is far from the case. The single mallard drake has come up with a cunning, and rather ruthless strategy to ensure his own breeding success whether by fair means or foul (or should that be fowl?).

These male ducks begin a relentless pursuit of any lone female and even a paired female is not safe if her mates fails to adequately defend her. The harbour is currently a noisy, chaotic placed filled with the sound of frantic quacking, splashing and flapping wings as females engage in fight or flight in an attempt to escape these unwelcome advances.

If a female is able to take to the air she might just be safe. Left vulnerable on the water however the females find themselves trapped in the vice like grip of the male’s beak as he mounts and then mates with her, despite her efforts to resist.

Forced mating attempts can be brutal and missing feathers and minor injuries often result from the scuffles. Occasionally and tragically females can drown in the process, particularly if more than one drake is involved.

Fortunately in most instances the females do emerge unscathed from their ordeal. This behaviour is a fairly common occurrence at this time of year and although this period of aggression does not last more than a few weeks, it never gets any easier to witness…

All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © 2021

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