Which duck species mate for life?
July 6, 2004 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Which species of ducks mate for life? My info tells me so far that most do: Mallards, Mandarins, Whistling Ducks, Maned Ducks, not to mention geese and swans. But Emperor Ducks are not monogamous? Any other species? And I've read that a surviving Mallard will "remarry" if its mate dies. Is this true, true for both sexes, and do the other species do the same?
posted by Shane to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Shane, I hate to break this to you, but you're looking for love in all the wrong places...
posted by five fresh fish at 11:31 AM on July 6, 2004

Ehh, could be worse.

Seriously though, a writer, supposedly an amateur naturalist, wrote a story for an online mag I like, and she claimed that Mallard drakes are philanderers. To the best of my knowledge, nearly everyone knows geese are monogamous and thinks ducks probably are too. I can't believe the writer'd get away with an error like that. And at first I thought she hadn't specified species of duck, but now that I look at it, she specifically said "Mallards".

Oh well.
posted by Shane at 11:58 AM on July 6, 2004

fwiw, most Canadian Geese mate for life. That's all I've got.
posted by Hankins at 12:23 PM on July 6, 2004

I know mallards will engage in rape and gang-rape, if that's of any use to you. Heck, mallards have even been known to engage in necrophiliac homosexual rape.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:46 PM on July 6, 2004

* A really interesting Google answer on animal fidelity (with lots of links). The thesis: "social Fidelity" is far more common than "genetic fidelity". In other words, animals may appear to pair-bond, but there's lots of fooling-around going on in the bushes. Brief mention of ducks.

* a PhD student claims that "..it is allegedly promiscuity, as opposed to monogamy, ... is the predominant mating system in waterfowl" (scroll to very end---"My Project in the Wild")

that's it for me.
posted by bonehead at 12:55 PM on July 6, 2004

Thanks, folks. Interesting stuff.

Most websites and books say Mallards mate for life, but I'm sure there's plenty of variation in the wild.

Here is a person distraught because a Mallard drake refuses to leave the side of his dead mate. Evidently it is a common sight, as here is a joke about widowed ducks.

However, this site says ducks are not necessarilly monogamous. And, as noted, I think some sites report ducks as staying in monogamous relationships, yet fooling around on the side.

A general Google search for "mate for life" yields interesting results on different species.

Blackbirds and wolves and other species that have "helpers" fascinate me, too. Red Winged Blackbirds, for example, are monogamous, but are serious flock animals, and unmated birds often help raise the young of mated couples. Farley Mowat, in Never Cry Wolf, has a great story of an unmated helper wolf who babysits when the mother is tired or while mom and dad hunt at night. Evidently wolves sometimes also adopt orphaned baby wolves.
posted by Shane at 1:25 PM on July 6, 2004

But you know...I've spent quite a bit of time the last two years observing Canadian geese here in Montana...and everyone *says* that they mate for life and are monogamous...but seriously, how the hell would any of US know? Geez, they ALL LOOK THE SAME! I don't think that even the geese can tell each other apart!

posted by davidmsc at 2:11 PM on July 6, 2004


DNA analysis. Sparrows, for instance were thought to be completely monogamous. The zoology world got a real shake not so many years ago when someone found out that up to a third of sparrow chicks did not share DNA with their "father". Many "monogamous" species have turned out to have cheatin' hearts.
posted by bonehead at 4:36 PM on July 6, 2004

Davidmsc: feel free to kill as many Cdn geese as you can lay your hands on. Those fuckers are like New York rats and cockroaches.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:20 PM on July 6, 2004

I saw a turkey vulture this morning. He was about 3' tall, standing perfectly upright and motionless like a statue on the berm of the road as if he had no clue a million cars were passing right next to him.

Okay, that was totally off-topic.

But, you know, it was weird.
posted by Shane at 6:31 AM on July 7, 2004

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