Nearly half of all anatids migrate (move from region to region, seasonally), and most of those that don't tend to wander over a wide area to remain near a plentiful water supply.
Anatids are known for their flock formations, which experts believe may help them in locating food as well as protect them from predators, animals that hunt them for food. Aside from humans, primary predators include red foxes, badgers, raccoons, coyotes, skunks, weasels, minks, owls, skuas, American crows, and black-billed magpies.
Anatids use their ritualized displays to help keep family groups close, convey information about reproductive status, defend territory or mates, and establish pair bonds. They communicate via sounds as well, with whistles, quacks, and honks. They spend a great deal of time in the water, preening themselves. Anatids use their bills to waterproof their feathers with oil secreted from a gland near their eyes. Waterfowl are social and live in flocks of up to several hundred thousand birds.
Although most anatids are monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus; have only one mate), some have several mating partners each season. Those species that are monogamous stay paired for one season, several seasons, or even for life. Breeding season varies depending on region. Courtship displays include vocalization as well as specific swimming patterns and movements. Almost all anatids mate on the water. Nests are then built on land in areas with dense vegetation. Nests are often lined with feathers. Usually the female builds the nest while the male defends her and their territory.
Eggs are laid over a twenty-four-hour period, and average clutch sizes range from four to thirteen eggs. Incubation (warming sufficiently for hatching) lasts from twenty-two to forty days and is done by the female. With a few species exceptions, males also don't help care for their young. Some anatid species lay their eggs in other females' nests. Within hours of hatching, chicks follow their mother on food outings and are often accompanied by their father, who protects his brood from predators. Chicks stay with mothers for five to ten weeks and are ready to mate around the age of one to three years.
In May 2004, a mallard duck hatched thirteen ducklings in the courtyard of Christopher Farms Elementary School in Virginia. Prior to their hatching, school officials were not even aware of the nest.
According to an article written by journalist Mary Reid Barrow and printed in The Virginian Pilot, the mother was able to fly in and out but the babies were stuck inside the courtyard in the center of the school. Teachers and others got behind the mother, who repeatedly circled with her ducklings in front of the main doors, and edged all fourteen ducks through the school via the main hallway and out the door.
The family went straight for a nearby pond without another problem.
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