Love Is In The Air

Courtship in the duck world is well under way, as is Spring migration. Pair bonding starts on the wintering ground, as early as December, and lasts into Spring migration. Many species of ducks form a new pair-bond each year. And this process begins well before they reach their summer nesting range.

The male ducks are adorned in their showy breeding plumage and are trying to win the favor of the female. Afterall, it is the hen that gets to choose the mate. Therefore, competition between the males can be fierce, with each one demonstrating its prowess.

Courtship behavior varies between species with some having elaborate displays and others being more muted. The Northern Pintails perform an aerial courtship flight as part of their display. Often, one hen can be seen in-flight, with multiple to many drakes surrounding it. The hen is checking out the endurance and maneuvers of its potential mate.

A Northern Pintail hen is accompanied by four drakes in a display of aerial maneuvers. © Stanley Buman

Of course, courtship involves more than just flight skills and stamina. Frequently, there are battles on the water with drakes chasing their competition away.

A Northern Pintail drake chases away a competitor that is vying for the attention of the same hen. © Stanley Buman

The courtship flight display is not limited to the pintails. It is performed by other species as well.

Gadwalls also participate in courtship flights with five drakes accompanying this hen. © Stanley Buman

The Hooded Merganser drake takes a slightly different approach to wooing the attention of a hen. It displays his beautiful white crest, pumps its head, completes a series of wing flaps, and vocalizes with pops and growls.

A Hooded Merganser drake displays its big white crest and makes popping noises to attract the females. © Stanley Buman

Drakes of other species, such as the Common Goldeneye, throw their head back to their tail, and thrust forward, kicking up water with their hind legs. This is just one of their multiple displays.

This Common Goldeneye has just thrown its head back and lunged forward in the water, kicking up water behind it. In the process, it is also vocalizing. © Stanley Buman

The winner amongst the drakes will pass its genetics on to future generations. The losers vie for the attention of another female. There is a lot at stake.

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