Trigger warning: sexual violence in wildlife
I’ve been distressed by what I had witnessed two days ago in my backyard: a duck rape. I later learned that it is called forced copulation in scientific terms. Sure. In my anthropocentric eyes, it still looked like a fucking rape.
It happened right after a fight between two male ducks: one that had already been paired with a female duck; another who challenged to steal her. My objective was just to stop the thief, but all three of them flew away together. Another pair of male ducks rushed to the feeder and took the chance to get their share. Momentarily the female duck ran up the hill and quacked at them with rage, approximating “get the fuck away from my food!” The male ducks wouldn’t have it and quacked back. One of them got so upset he started chasing her. He pressed down his body on top of her forcefully, holding her neck with his beak. As I tried to deter the imminent assault, she flew away and he followed. I went after them, clutching a long wooden stick I had just found nearby. I was able to spot their chase from one roof to another until they went too high and too far for me to reach. I walked back home, feeling hopeless and useless, and set down the stick by my door in case I need it to intervene another duck rape in the future.
The following evening, a male duck showed up at our feeder. He stood with his back to it, facing the creek and cried out loud calling for his mate, who never showed up. We gave him some food in an attempt to soothe his loss. By then, my mind had already imagined a tragic murder of the female duck by the rapist. She was gone.
This morning, I delved into the internet for information on duck behaviors. I wanted to understand what had really happened. What I found out was astonishing:
Ducks have penises, unlike 97 percent of birds.
And their penises are the longest of all vertebrates in terms of the ratio to their body size. For example, the 1-pound, foot-long Argentinian lake duck has the longest penis that is 4 inches longer than its body.
Duck penises regrow every mating season. They shrink and regress during the off-season and emerge only during copulation.
The duck penis spirals counterclockwise from its base to its tip like a corkscrew.
The mediocre guys, who didn’t get chosen by a female, attempt forced copulations. They organize “gang rapes” with several males pursuing one female, which often results in the female’s injury or death.
Such male behavior to spread their own sperms actually works against them because it harms the female victim and the whole specie’s propagation.
In response, female ducks have developed elaborate reproductive canals with twists and turns which work like teeth to prevent these mediocre guys from inseminating during forced copulations.
I still feel saddened by what the female duck in my backyard must have experienced: one or more rapes and perhaps a brutal death. But I feel better now knowing that the evolution led by generations of women ducks might have allowed her one last fight before her death by biting back with her toothy vagina.