Mallard Moment

Mallards mating (Anas platyrhynchos)

Bird sex generally is not a romantic affair. Many species do have elaborate and prolonged courtship rituals, but the act of copulation can best be measured with a stopwatch. In the video above, all the reproductive contact takes place in the first seconds. He grabs her by the back of the neck, repeatedly pushes her head under water as he mounts her, and moments later he’s done and rolls off her. She washes her head, flaps her wings, and takes off, with him in hot pursuit. Soon he’ll try again. Only one in four Mallard copulations results in fertilization, scientists believe.

Mallard sex is not for a PG-13 audience. Most bird species mate with what’s called a cloacal kiss. Both sexes have an all-purpose vent, the cloaca, where wastes exit. The cloaca also serves all the reproductive functions: ejecting sperm from the male, receiving it by the female, and then pushing out eggs. In Mallards and many other duck species, it’s more complicated. The female has an actual vagina. It’s twisted and full of kinks, and the female can open or shut it with muscular control. The male, unlike 97 percent of birds, has an actual penis. It also is twisted and kinked to try to match the female’s opening. The penis goes from slack to full erection and ejaculation with explosive speed measured in milliseconds.

Although Mallards pair up in what looks like monogamy, Mallard reproduction is commonly a Wild-West affair. Males and females, although paired, will copulate with others, and unpaired males are notorious gang rapists, sometimes killing the female in the process. Since this is a family column (?!), I’ll refer you to these more explicit sources:

The Twisted Sex Lives of Ducks — University of Melbourne
The Extraordinary Sex Life of the Common Mallard — St. Albert Gazette
The Unspeakable Sex Lives of Puddle Ducks — Canadian National Public Radio
The Horrible Thing You Never Knew About Ducks — NY Post

Mallards mating (Anas platyrhynchos)

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One thought on “Mallard Moment

  • April 15, 2022 at 1:21 pm
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    Surely one more reason to be pleased to be human!!
    Still, we can still love our feathered friends from afar!!

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