I have been watching Mallards for over 20 years. The similarities between them and humans is astounding. Here I’m going to share some of my Mallard stories and observations.
The Need of a Female
The first thing I noticed is that male Mallards always have a female to take care of. One female. It seems to be bred into them. They seem to need a purpose. They don’t know what to do with themselves if they don’t have one.
I’ve noticed that this plays out in one of several ways.
For the most part, the male will just join another couple and help guard the female. I’ve seen 6 males surrounding a female. I have never seen one male taking care of several females. And only a couple of times have a seen a male alone.
The other thing that happens Is the fight over the female. I saw this happen once and it was quite the violent thing. There was a young couple in the lake and an older male decided to try to take the female. The younger male got the female to hide and then commenced to fighting and squabbling both in the air and in the water. I suspect that if they were closer in age, the other male might have just joined them. But he was older. He probably didn’t want to share. And because he was older, the younger probably found him very threatening.
You see it in the movies all the time. There’s some sort of crisis, or threat. The man says get behind me to the woman, and she does because what else can she do? Once a man gets into that space, there’s no talking to them. By God, they’re going to protect you!
Mallards are the same way.
I was waling up University Ave one day and I came upon a Mallard couple in the doorway of a barbershop. It was clear that he’d had it and wasn’t going to take it anymore. Raising hell with everyone who walked by, flapping his wings, carrying on. Clearly, the barber was going to have no customers that day.
The female just sat there looking like “Here we go again. I’ll just let him get it out of his system. Yep, you’re solving all the problems of the universe. Just keep flapping.”
Sometimes they get riled at the female.
I was at Greenlake for a walk. Someone had a bag of bread they were feeding to the ducks. The female wanted to join the fray and get some bread. The male had other ideas and raised hell and flapped around at her until she agreed to leave.
They rose into the air; he was in front. About 50 feet up, she turned and came back leaving him to fly away by himself. She got herself some bread and I never did see him come back.
Females Don’t Need the Males
I have rarely seen males alone, but I have seen females alone, usually in weird places. Like the next-door neighbor’s flower garden. Or in some bushes. It always looked to me like they’d finally gotten away from their males for some rest and relaxation since they are usually frolicking around happily.
Mallards in Community
Like humans, the nuclear family, or expanding nuclear family seems to rule. With the males “in charge.” But like humans, things can change when in community.
When I was working for Orrtax in Bellevue, there was a park behind our building where I used to take walks. Now it was a man-made park so it was more grid like than natural, but it still was nice. At the center was a large pond.
One day, I was on the bridge looking at the pond, and a huge flock of Mallards flew in. There must have been about 60 or more of them. I never saw so many together. Usually it’s the youngsters who gather together until they mate. But no, this was a community of youngsters and elders.
The landed and then segregated themselves with the males out in the center splashing around with the females closer to shore.
Suddenly, the biggest and oldest female decided she was going “that way”. All the females lined up with her and off they marched.
It took a minute for the males to realize they’d left and when they did, they fell into a frenzy. In a panic they rushed out of the pond and caught up with the females so they could surround them as guards.
Humans and Mallards
Watching that flock made me realize that humans and Mallards are quite a bit alike. In nuclear families, it’s often the male in charge. In community, it’s often the females. And yet, it’s more complicated than that. Females, of both species, seem to allow males to have power. And males, of both species, seem to need to protect and provide for the females. Power dynamics is rarely what it seems.
If the park was open, I’d go back down and watch the Mallards more. There is wisdom there.