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Mallards usually form pairs (in October and November) only until the female lays eggs at the start of nesting season which is around the beginning of spring, at which time she is left by the male who joins up with other males to await the moulting period which begins in June. During the brief time before this, however, the males are still sexually potent and some of them either remain on standby to sire replacement clutches (for female Mallards that have lost or abandoned their previous clutch) or forcibly mate with females that appear to be isolated or unattached regardless of their species and whether or not they have a brood of ducklings.
The nesting period can be very stressful for the female since she lays more than half her body weight in eggs. She requires a lot of rest and a feeding/loafing area that is safe from predators. When seeking out a suitable nesting site, the female's preferences are areas that are well concealed, inaccessible to ground predators, or have few predators nearby. This can include nesting sites in urban areas such as roof gardens, enclosed courtyards, and flower boxes on window ledges and balconies more than one story up, which the ducklings cannot leave safely without human intervention. The clutch is 8 - 13 eggs, which are incubated for 27-28 days to hatching with 50-60 days to fledgling. The ducklings are precocial and fully capable of swimming as soon as they hatch. However, filial imprinting compels them to instinctively stay near the mother not only for warmth and protection but also to learn about and remember their habitat as well as how and where to forage for food. When ducklings mature into flight-capable juveniles, they learn about and remember their traditional migratory routes (unless they are born and raised in captivity). After this, the juveniles and the mother may either part or remain together until the breeding season arrives.
When they pair off with mating partners, often one or several drakes end up "left out". This group sometimes targets an isolated female duck, even one of a different species, and proceeds to chase and peck at her until she weakens, at which point the males take turns copulating with the female. Lebret (1961) calls this behaviour "Attempted Rape Flight" and Cramp & Simmons (1977) speak of "rape-intent flights". Male Mallards also occasionally chase other male ducks of a different species, and even each other, in the same way. In one documented case of "homosexual necrophilia", a male Mallard copulated with another male he was chasing after the chased male died upon flying into a glass window. This paper was awarded with an Ig Nobel Prize in 2003.
Mallards are opportunistically targeted by brood parasites, occasionally having eggs laid in their nests by Redheads, Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Cinnamon Teal, Common Goldeneyes, and other Mallards. These eggs are generally accepted when they resemble the eggs of the host Mallard, although the hen may attempt to eject them or even abandon the nest if parasitism occurs during egg laying. Mallards of all ages (but especially young ones) and in all locations must contend with a wide diversity of predators including raptors, mustelids, corvids, snakes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, turtles, large fish and felids and canids, including domesticated ones. The most prolific natural predators of adult Mallards are Red Fox and hawks, although both kill far fewer than human hunters.
January 11th, 2013
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