Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version

February 1968


Published in Natural History 77:2 (February 1968), pp. 58–63. Copyright © 1968 The American Museum of Natural History. Used by permission.


The courtship of ducks is unusual in several aspects. In temperate zones it generally begins very early, usually on the wintering grounds, so courtship is not a manifestation of territorial proclamation and defense as is the case with many songbirds. Nor, because of its early initiation, is courtship closely correlated with gonad growth and fertilization; rather, pair formation is normally completed prior to the period of maximum gonadal activity. Therefore, reproductive behavior in ducks may be conveniently divided into an early phase of conspicuous displays associated with actual pair formation, followed by the later and less elaborate behavior patterns concerned with pair bond maintenance and fertilization. Two possible advantages of the considerable time lag between pair formation and egg laying are that it decreases the likelihood of uncorrected mismatings between species and, furthermore, provides the female with the protection of a mate to ward off unmated males that might attempt to rape her. An appreciation of the distinctly different functions of early versus later phases of sexual behavior in ducks will help to explain their widely differing behavioral characteristics.

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