Keeping Drakes in your Duck Flock

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Keeping drakes in your duck flock - dealing with aggressive and over mating drakes

I get a lot of questions every day about raising ducks. One of the most frequent duck topics I hear about has to do with dealing with drakes and their behavior. Many of those questions concern mating issues – so I’ll try to keep this post as PG as possible, but fair warning – ducks are just not PG animals.

Drakes are male ducks, and like most male animals much of their life is about mating and protecting. This can make them difficult to live with as pets sometimes. I really think that once you have a basic understanding of what your drake is up to and where he is coming from they can still make a great addition to your flock.

My drake is mating…..All. The. Time.

This is possibly the most difficult aspect of keeping drakes. Male ducks have very high sex drives, they also have a reputation of being very rough on females. If you keep multiple drakes, it can be extra difficult because often when one male notices another male mating the others will run/swim over to join in while the female is restrained. This can result in the female getting injured. Leg injuries, missing feathers from the neck, head, and back, large to small cuts from the drake’s claws or bill, eye injuries, or even death can all happen when a female is over-mated.

It may seem brutal, but this sort of behavior is very common and normal among ducks. A male might pick out their favorite female, but in most breeds the males are not monogamous. Lots of people get upset by the mating, especially when there are multiple males ganging up on one female. It is hard, but try not to put human relationship expectations onto an animal. The drakes aren’t being bad, this is simply what their instincts are telling them to do.

Keeping drakes in your duck flock - dealing with aggressive and over mating drakes

But why is duck mating so rough?

In short, it is to keep the duck population going. In the wild only 20-50% of ducklings will make it to adulthood. Weather conditions, lack of food or shelter, and nearly every predator will snack on ducklings – fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds of prey – all add up to rough odds for ducklings.

Of the ducklings that make it to adulthood, about 53% are male, 47% female. Adult females are also more vulnerable, they can die during gang mating, and are more vulnerable to predators while incubating eggs & raising young. This means as adults the females can afford to be a little pickier because there are more males than females. So only the males with the brightest plumage, the best mating call & dance, will be selected by females for voluntary mating….the rest have evolved some unsavory mating practices. The females have a complicated oviduct system full of twists & chambers, she can actually eject the sperm of a male that she doesn’t want fertilizing her eggs. The males are just trying to hedge their bets by mating a recently mated female, trying to do their part in ensuring the survival of the species.

Can you neuter a duck?

I have had lots of desperate duck owners ask me about neutering drakes. I am not a veterinarian but from the research I have done you CAN neuter a drake but it does not effect his behavior, only the ability to fertilize eggs. Castration will effect his behavior but is a very invasive surgery and can be very dangerous for them so most vets will not perform this on a duck simply to curb a natural behavior. There are hormone shots that are available, but they need to be administered frequently and are costly (and in the long run may not be great for the drake’s health). In short it is not really practical to medically altar a natural behavior in your drake, so the focus should instead be on working with his behavior and making the environment safer for the female ducks.

Keeping drakes in your duck flock - dealing with aggressive and over mating drakes

What can I do to protect my female ducks?

  1. Give him more females. Ideally 3 females per every male in the flock, but 4-5 females provide him plenty of options and eases the strain on each female in the flock
  2. Have a pool or pond for them. Ducks naturally want to mate in the water, it is easier on the female’s legs. They will still mate on land, but given the option, water is better.
  3. Be prepared to separate them. If you notice your female is wounded or missing a lot of feathers, your drake might need a time out so the female can heal. You can separate the wounded female if you have plenty of other females for the male. If you only have two females and you remove one to recover, the remaining female will be the only mating option. In that case, it is better to separate out the male. This can be as easy as dividing the coop with some chicken wire and giving him a small chicken wire pen outdoors.
  4. Have first aid supplies ready. Vetricyn is an antiseptic spray for light wounds. If she has deeper injuries you will need some antibiotic cream, gauze pads, and Vetrap. Click here to read about assembling a duck first aid kit. I don’t recommend using chicken saddles on ducks unless they don’t have access to swimming water. If the saddle gets wet then you just have wet, dirty, fabric laying on top of an open wound. A perfect invitation for infection.
  5. Consider keeping two separate duck flocks – a male flock and a female flock

Will my drake always be like this?

The good news is no, he won’t always be like this. Ducks in captivity can live for 10 years or more. The older they get, the less testosterone they will have and their drive will get less. The worst time will be his first mating season as a fully mature drake. Mating season for domestic ducks in the northern hemisphere usually begins around mid February and eases around July. His first season he will be full of youthful energy and the drive to reproduce. Each season after that should get a little better. During mating season is when you are most likely to see the disturbing over mating, rough mating, gang mating. You will still see it during the other half of the year but it will be less.

Keeping drakes in your duck flock - dealing with aggressive and over mating drakes

Other drake concerns – aggression

While mating questions are the ones I get most, drakes can also sometimes be aggressive. In the poultry keeping world, drakes tend to be more tame than some of the other males (roosters, ganders, and turkey toms are usually the more aggressive poultry), but that doesn’t mean they don’t get aggressive. Especially during mating season when their hormones are raging they can get protective of their food, their space, their females. Sometimes they take that aggression out on their human caretakers, other animals, or even on the female ducks.

If he is getting aggressive with the female ducks outside of a mating context, it’s time to separate him. Give him his own space until he calms down.

Just like people, all ducks are different. Some handle the hormones and stresses of duck life with ease, and others get stressed out, scared, and defensive. Nearly all aggression towards human caretakers can be traced to dominance. He is trying to assert his dominance and show everyone that he is in charge, he is so big and strong.

Your drake is likely to be the natural head of your duck flock – if you have multiple males there may be some squabbles over which male is the head honcho. The females, for the most part, aren’t going to be challenging the male for the role of leader. Having conquered the duck flock, your drake is going to turn his attention to the other living being they interact with daily – you. If your drake is attacking and acting aggressive towards you it’s likely because he wants you to know he is in charge. That is not ok, he needs to know that you are actually top dog or the aggressive behavior is going to continue.

Keeping drakes in your duck flock - dealing with aggressive and over mating drakes

First, you need to act like a leader. Leaders don’t run away. They don’t act timidly around their challenger. If you have an aggressive drake, it can be helpful to have a long handled net near the entrance of your duck enclosure. This can be used as a deterrent to push him away from you, or can be used to easily & safely catch him for the following.

Pecking or biting is a common way that ducks establish dominance, so anytime your duck is doing this to you, it’s something to discourage. When they are young, ducklings will naturally “mouth” everything, like most young animals they explore their world with their mouth. I am not talking about that, I am talking about obviously aggressive, non curious pecking or biting. If he pecks you, you “peck” him back with your finger. Don’t go overboard, you aren’t trying to hurt him. You are just letting him know that you are actually the one in charge.

Another thing to try is picking him up and carrying him around under your arm. This is a submissive position for him. If he is trying to peck you while you carry him, use your free hand to gently hold his bill.

In the wild, male (and female) ducks establish pecking order by pinning the other to the ground. You can gently pin him down, holding his head to the ground. Hold him like that until he stops struggling – it may take a few minutes but it’s important that you not release him until he submits otherwise in his mind he has won. Again, be gentle. You are much bigger & stronger than he is! You don’t want to hurt him, you don’t want him scared of you, you just need him to respect you. For some drakes this might be a one time thing, he will accept you as alpha and never challenge you again. Some ducks will need reminders. Be ready to give him reminders as often as he needs them. Consistency is key when dealing with an aggressive drake.

Keeping drakes in your duck flock - dealing with aggressive and over mating drakes

Why keep a drake if they are this much trouble?

Honestly, unless you are intending on breeding ducks, most people only end up with a drake because ducklings can be hard to sex when they are young so they are often sold as straight run (unsexed). Likewise if you hatch your own duck eggs you have no control over what sex you get. Once you have a drake your choices are to rehome him (which can be difficult), eat him, or keep him and learn to live with his behaviors. I have multiple drakes (all from either straight run or hatching), but my go to hatchery for getting pre-sexed ducks is Metzer Farms. They have a great selection of breeds and can ship as few as 2 ducklings all over the US. Click here to visit their website

Drakes can still be very lovely and wonderful pets. Once you understand the reasoning behind the behavior, once you start thinking like a duck, it’s much easier to live in harmony with your drake.

29 comments

  1. Mickie Harrington says:

    A little over a month ago, we hatched four baby ducklings. As I have read on multiple duck sites, our Drake became VERY overprotective of his females, resulting in aggressive behavior toward the ducklings. Sadly, this resulted in the death of one of our babies. Since this occurred, we have kept our Drake separate from the flock while the babies grow and develop. When is it safe to re-introduce him again? We definitely don’t want any of our ducklings getting hurt. Thank you for your help and advice. Sincerely, Mickie Harrington ?

    • Liz says:

      Unfortunately that is all too common in wild and domestic ducks. The females do all the incubating and raising of young and the males sometimes just see the babies as a intrusion taking up too much time of their female. I would keep him separated until the ducklings are feathered out and big enough to handle being chased and an occasional peck, usually around 8-9 weeks

  2. Erin Gervin says:

    This post could not have come at a better time—I mean it’s UNCANNY! This is our first go-round with ducks, and we foolishly went with 10 straight run (instead of spending the extra 3.50 per bird for sexed females). In spite of the arduous cleaning commitment and the obliteration of our budget on account of their bedding requirements, my daughter and I are hopelessly enchanted by them, and utterly charmed by their antics. We are nearly at week 13 with our Saxonys, though, and the arrival of their head coloration has finally confirmed just how many drakes we’re hosting. For the past month I’d been musing about it to my husband, and trying to begin discussing it with our 11year old. Being ABSOLUTELY sure how many boys and girls were brought up signified that the question (of what to expect for our flock’s interpersonal dynamics come adulthood) was at hand. It has begun to loom inescapably large that four of our five boys will need to go be processed if ever a peaceable flock is to be achieved, and (apparently) even still there will be drama…
    I am extremely grateful for an experienced voice to tell us what and why is ahead of us, and to vindicate the unsavory truth I’ve been telling our child all along, that we cannot keep all of them even though we love them.

    • Liz says:

      I am glad to be of help! Unfortunately I would say you are going to need to get rid of some of those drakes before next spring. But now you can at least be more prepared!

  3. Kimberly says:

    What a great site this is! I’m new to ducks and ended up with 2 drakes that are now about 5 months ago. I’ve noticed lately they they’ll start to argue sometimes and try to pick at each others wings. Is that normal? Are they actually fighting? Otherwise they stay side by side with no problems.

    • Liz says:

      That is totally normal. They need to decide between them who is alpha. It doesn’t mean they don’t like each other, their hormones are just telling them it’s time to dominate.

  4. Rachel Ward says:

    Thanks for this, it’s come just at a time when I’ve discovered that four out of five of my magpie ducks could be male. At this time all is peaceful. Would I really have to get rid of any of the boys? couldn’t I just seperate the female from them? I love them all and really can’t face having to get rid of any of them.

    • Liz says:

      You definitely don’t have to get rid of your boys! All you can do at this point is wait and see how they interact with each other. Many drakes get along great with drakes, some are just jerks and constantly causing fights. I have three drakes right now and they all get along very nicely, we have 9 females and that seems to keep everyone fairly happy. If you don’t have the space or desire to add another dozen females to your group you are definitely going to need to keep the males & females separate. You will want to get at least one more female so your lone girl has someone to hang out with though. Keeping 4 males and 1 female all together once they are fully mature is going to be a recipe for injury and fighting.

      • Rachel Wrad says:

        The situation has become worse since I last contacted you. This morning I let them out as usual and two of the older boys (I had 3 from first hatch and two from 2nd a month later, the girl is one of the younger two) started on the girl. As soon as they were out. Relentlessly. These have been removed to a neighbouring allotment. The remaining older boy, younger boy and girl are getting on peacefully. If I have to do another seeration I’ll have the room. Feeling heartbroken right now, but I know this was the best thing to do. I had no room to do anything else.

          • Rachel Ward says:

            Update – My allotment neighbour found the drakes being picked on by some of his mascovies, so I had to take them back! Sooo… they are now at the end of my fruit beds with a partition between them and the other three. Just as well this hapened really, they were quacking frantically for their brother, he was doing the same and the whole thing was too awful to listen to. All is now settled and I feel better! And this is the setting I’ll be sticking to.

  5. Vanessa says:

    We can only have 2 ducks in the city we live in, and bought unsexed ducklings in April. We ended up with 2 drakes! They have been housed with the chickens we got at the same time, but it is abundantly clear they need their own space since the older they get the more aggressive they are with the poor sweet chickens. We are awfully attached to both of them, and cant give them away. So my poor long suffering husband is building a duck run within the chicken run to keep them separated. Hoping it means we can keep both chickens and ducks happy!

  6. Rachel Ward says:

    Update – My allotment neighbour found the drakes being picked on by some of his mascovies, so I had to take them back! Sooo… they are now at the end of my fruit beds with a partition between them and the other three. Just as well this hapened really, they were quacking frantically for their brother, he was doing the same and the whole thing was too awful to listen to. All is now settled and I feel better! And this is the setting I’ll be sticking to.

  7. Lucy says:

    I hatched 2 female Welsh harlequin ducks two years ago and recently introduced a young drake bought from a neighbouring farm. Unfortunately one of the girls keeps quacking whenever he comes near her, even though he only seems to wants her company at the moment. My worry is that she’s getting very stressed and her feathers are also quite ruffled. The other female is wheezing a lot after quacking so much and she seems really lethargic. I’m wondering whether it was such a good idea to get a drake and whether the girls will ever accept him? Any advice would be much appreciated

    • Liz says:

      They will accept him eventually. When the girl is quacking at him does she seem aggressive? Is she chasing him off? If she is just quacking and bobbing her head she could just be “talking” to him. Having a boy in the flock just changes the dynamics, between the girls and the boy and even between the two girls. You might notice them quarreling a bit. It’s just an adjustment, but eventually they should all settle down

  8. Debbie says:

    I have a mixed bag of ducks: 4 pekins. one Silver Appleyard, 10 Khaki Campbells. In that, I have one pekin drake, the Silver Appleyard is a drake, and two Khaki Campbell drakes. I don’t have any serious issues between the Silver Appleyard and the pekin, but the Khakis are a different story: the males began sparring this spring to the point that injuries — especially to the eyes — were occurring to the consistent loser, I took him and one female and now have them segregated in a stall in the barn. Do you think that now that breeding season is over that they will be able to co-exist? If not, down the road after the testosterone levels begin to drop, will it be possible for me to put them back together?

    • Liz says:

      I have seen a huge difference in my drakes since early August as far as mating/fighting, and that seems to be when the hormones start to settle down. I would give it a try and put them together again. Keep in mind they might fight a bit normally the first week they are together as they reestablish the pecking order. But each passing year should get better with them, so hopefully they will be able to coexist peacefully

  9. Linda says:

    I have new duck, initially 2 drakes and 1 female. Unfortunately we lost one of our drake (Bubs, our favorite) to a fox. The remaining couple is getting along fine but d/t mating Twinkles (the girl) has a callous bald spot. After reading your article we have decided to separate the two but allow them to be close so they don’t get lonely. Our hope is that he chills out but it is September and he is still a pain in the butt. We hope that as he gets older his making behavior will chill or he will find himself in a separate pen every spring and summer and Twinkles will get a female playmate. .

  10. Matt & Andrea says:

    Hi Liz, great post. We have two Indian runner drakes – Freddie and Bailey – they are the best! We’re in the Southern Hemisphere (Sydney, Aus) and they’re entering their first Spring/Summer (6 months old). We’ve noticed in the last week they’ve really gained independence and exploring a lot around the yard – they discovered the pool and tend to be there all day. Is there a time with drakes where you stop nurturing them with daily food and ‘forcing’ them to their coop and allow them to be independent during day and night? The obvious fear is predators (we have possums and neighbouring cats, not foxes). Also, can drakes be gay or are their hormones simply crazy without a female in sight? We’ve witnessed plenty of ‘action’ in the water of late. Thanks!

    • Liz says:

      No, you will want to force them into the coop where they can be locked up at night for their entire life. The only exemption is if you have a totally secure run attached (covered on all side, buried wire, and solid roof). If you have a secure run, you can allow them to be in there at night and go in and out of the coop as they like. Even as full grown adults they don’t really have the defenses to be able to escape or fight off predators so they need your help. Same with the food, my ducks free range all day but I still supplement by giving them feed everyday. While I definitely think there are gay animals out there, so I won’t rule that out for your ducks, it’s really hard to say unless you have females and they still just prefer each other. But far more likely is that what you are seeing between them is not actually mating, but a dominance display. It’s totally normal for drakes (and I have even seen my female ducks do it to each other) to mount each other as a sign of dominance as they work out who is in charge.

  11. David says:

    I have 11 ducks. 4 khaki ( 1 male) 7 pekin ( 2 are male). Im worried the 2 male pekin are to be to big for the khaki and i know i have one too many males.

    Should i house the 2 male pekin separately at night but allow them all togeter during the day or should i just keep the 2 large male separate indeffentaly? And if i do seperate permanently can they be in sight of the females

    • Liz says:

      Hi David, are you having issues with them injuring the khakis now? Pekins are bigger than khakis, but they should still be able to mate without issue. I would keep on eye on it and let them live together for now. It’s also a good thing they have more girls that are their size, they will probably naturally gravitate towards them anyway. If you could add a few more larger females that would be even better (Pekins or Silver Appleyards are great large birds)

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