Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Aggressive Drakes or Drake Shaming?

Long before I had ducks of my own I'd heard tales of how horrible drakes were. Nasty comments about how drakes were rapists, how they aggressively tried to mate with people's poor helpless chickens, and how they would try and drown female ducks.

As the length of days increases and the temperatures rise, mating behaviors are on the rise in my little backyard flock. And, while I'm fairly new to duck keeping, my observations are at odds with conventional wisdom or popular opinion. Now it may be that my large heritage  breed ducks are less aggressive than some other breeds, I hold that open as a possibility, but I think there are other factors that need to be considered. 

After reading about how horrible drakes were I thought about the source. It seemed that most of the people weighing in on online forums and fb pages were women. I wondered how comfortable they were with their own sexuality or if they had had negative human experiences that colored their perceptions of duck interactions. Were these same women slut shaming other women? Were these same women generally negative about men? Maybe, maybe not, I have no way of knowing, but the thought did cross my mind.

Having watched my female ducks splash and posture in the pond to attract the attention of the drakes, my conclusion is that the females are willing participants. My drakes only attempt to mate in the water, which isn't true for all ducks, that means the females in my flock are choosing to get into the water with the males. The can usually get out of the water if they've had enough. Moments later you'll find them contentedly preening their feathers.

It seems to me that people are anthropomorphizing ducks. Ducks aren't humans, ducks interact very differently than humans do. Their mating rituals may make you uncomfortable, but they are just ducks being ducks. The drakes aren't trying to drown the females, really, they aren't. 

But what about those drakes harassing chickens?
I recently read an article that stated how a drake can kill a chicken by attempting to mate. This person's solution was to drink whiskey. However, I have a more proactive solution. If your drake is bothering your chickens it's time to separate your ducks from your chickens. My flock hasn't had issue with this, however, I do provide my chickens with perches. My ducks can't fly and don't perch. By giving my chickens a variety of places that are out of duck reach, I give them the opportunity to escape if they need to.

Our domestic poultry rely on us to provide for their needs. If we have drakes then it's up to us to provide them with an adequate number of female ducks. It's up to us to provide them with adequate space and activity. Foraging, swimming, and post swim preening provide drakes with something to do other than pursuing females. Adequate space also gives the females a better opportunity to evade advances if they aren't interested. Too many drakes and over crowding can also be an issue in wild ducks, as mentioned Here

Another concern is keeping ducks of different sizes together. And again, it is our responsibility as poultry keepers to protect smaller ducks from the advances of large drakes. Talking online about how that big nasty drake hurt your cute little call duck doesn't tell me your drake is the problem. You are creating the problem situation, which, at the very least, makes you responsible for the problem, not the drake.

If we have a particularly aggressive drake then it's up to us to assess how best to proceed. That may mean getting rid of that particular drake or taking measure to "light neuter" his by keeping him in a totally dark box 14-18 hours a day, as suggested in Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks. The solution to the problem may vary, but it definitely requires an assessment of the duck habitat and inhabitants.

Hopefully people who raise ducks will start looking at duck behavior as just that, duck behavior, and stop villainizing drakes. It's up to us to provide ducks with an optimal environment and suitable flock so that their natural instincts and behaviors can be expressed.

UPDATE:  Having talked to some other duck owners, I do think that part of the reason my drakes are less sexually aggressive is that they are large breed ducks. I would be curious to hear about what breeds you have and how sexually aggressive they are, or aren't, in the comments below. Do you think what I've said makes sense or do you think I have a skewed view of the situation because of the particular ducks I have?

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