So you’ve received your juvenile pair of mandarin or wood ducks and they’ve settled in to their new home. Now you are wondering how to properly breed them and brood your own ducklings. Wood and mandarin ducks can start breeding and laying by their first spring, though fertility results might be better by their second spring. While these beautiful species are incredibly similar, their breeding habits can slightly vary. Learning how to breed and brood your specific species of duck can make all the difference in you having a flock of happy and healthy birds.
Domestic vs. Wild Ducks
Before we go into breeding habits, it is important to understand what you’re dealing with when you own, breed, and raise your own waterfowl. Not all ducks are created equal. Unlike domestic ducks, wild or exotic ducks aren’t necessarily hardwired to live in your backyard and nest via a nest box. While the wood duck is an extremely popular aviary bird, it can also be quite a nervous little guy. Here are some key differences in the breeding habits and behavior of domestic vs. wild or exotic ducks:
- Ornamental ducks nest seasonally, usually in the spring.
- Domestic ducks lay more frequently in the spring, but are known to lay in the summer, fall, and sometimes even as late as winter.
- Due to years of selective breeding, domestic birds produce many more eggs than an ornamental bird in the typical year.
- Domestic ducks can live in small groups (one drake to a handful of hens) and still have great fertility rates.
- The breeding habits of ornamental ducks vary much more than domestics. Some will pair for life, take one mate per season, or take many mates. Some species (like the mandarin and wood duck) will often breed in trios.
- Also keep in mind that exotic and wild ducks raised in captivity may behave differently than they would had they been raised in the wild.
Now that we’ve gone over some of the general differences in the breeding habits of ornamental and domestic ducks, we can go more into specific differences between the wood and mandarin duck species.
It’s important for us to note that selling Wood Ducks or any breed that is native to North America without a Federal Permit. If you are intending to raise Wood Ducks to sell, be sure to inquire about a permit with your local department of natural resources. Since Mandarin Ducks are not native to North America, you do not need a permit to sell them.
Wood Duck Breeding Habits
Wood ducks are some of the most hardy and low-maintenance birds a breeder can own. Breeding these birds in captivity is totally possible with the proper nest box! Nest boxes should be at least 10 wide x 10 long x 24 deep with a 4 entrance hole. A ladder should be used from the ground to the entrance hole if your ducks are pinioned. However, it isn’t recommended to use a ladder if you live in an area where predators are a major issue and your bird is not in an aviary. In order to help give your hen and ducklings some grip on the plywood box, use a wire screen right inside the entrance hole.
Putting down some soft nesting material is not only necessary, but also it’s just the polite thing to do for your ducks. Adequate materials would include sawdust, pine shavings, or some dry leaves. Your hen will also pull some feathers to line the nest.
Breeding season for wood ducks usually starts in April. Your hen will typically lay a clutch of 15 eggs. It’s not abnormal to see multiple hens nest in one box and leave the eggs for one hen to incubate, so please, don’t feel bad for her. If this happens, your clutch sizes will vary. Unlike the mandarin duck, it’s uncommon for the wood duck to breed in trios. Lastly, the freshly laid eggs will hatch in about 28 to 30 days and your ducklings will be flying in about 8 to 10 weeks. These little birds are pretty active and will need a spacious brooder if the hen isn’t raising them. For more info on brooding, please see our mandarin and wood duck brooding post!
Mandarin Duck Breeding Habits
As we mentioned above, the mandarin duck is a very close cousin of the wood duck and they are fine to be raised together. Like their cousin, they need nesting boxes in order to properly lay. Mandarins could use nesting boxes that are similar, if not exactly like the ones described for wood ducks above. The mandarin’s breeding season usually begins in late April. During their breeding season, expect a clutch of 8 to 12 eggs that incubate for about 28 days before hatching. You don’t need a brooder if you want the hen to raise her own young, of which she is perfectly capable and willing. These ducklings will fly at about 8 weeks.
Like the Wood Duck, Mandarin ducks are known to commonly trio. Mandarin ducks get along well with each other and other species in most aviaries, but if you start to overcrowd too many males in one aviary you may start to see territorial disputes. If you have more than just a few pairs, it’s recommended to separate some of the pairs during breeding season as males can become aggressive. This may or may not be necessary depending on your breeding environment.
Once you’ve got your ducks breeding and laying, you need to know how to brood your little ducklings! Stay tuned for our next blog on brooding your Wood and Mandarin Ducks.