Mallards can play dead when caught

As I’ve discovered in the last few years, mallards have far more complex behaviors than the casual duck-watcher thinks. For example, they can play dead when caught.  Here are two examples:

This one runs away after a d*g picks it up by the neck and puts it down:

And here’s a fascinating paper, though I object to their sacrificing ducks to assuage their curiosity. Yes, several species, including mallards, feign death when caught by foxes. Click on screenshot to read:

. . . and a figure:


  1. GBJames
    Posted August 19, 2019 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Clever little things!

  2. Posted August 19, 2019 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    You would think the best way to keep your genes intact against terrestrial mammals is to take to the air… maybe they are even more complex, they like the thrill of the chase and running off after the deception.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 19, 2019 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      It might not be an option while molting.

      • Posted August 19, 2019 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        True… there is that. So it’s a case of best practice works most of the time?

        • GBJames
          Posted August 19, 2019 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

          Dunno, but there has to be some reason not to just escape into the air.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 19, 2019 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think so.

      As GBJ says the mallard may be moulting or I think it’s leading a predator away from the nest eggs. I have just read a short piece HERE where a mallard played dead with fixed open eyes while the fox buried it, but it escaped at the first moment the fox was distracted.

      Tonic Immobility [TI] or Thanatosis [I looked those up!] is probably involuntary/instinctive – it involves a whole range of physiological changes that animals can’t voluntarily mimic so rapidly [such as slowed heartbeat].

      Many creatures enter TI as a defence mechanism in the right circumstances including us & I think this passive defence may explain why [as an example] human victims of sexual [or any close in] assault often respond by curling up or in other cases entering a state of unresisting stasis – with people it takes a lot of training to respond with an aggressive defence. It is interesting that in TI the creature can switch back to flight mode in a blink so the mind/brain must remain alert for opportunities while most of the body is in screen saver mode.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 20, 2019 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      Taking off might not be an option while in an “overhead environment” – in scrub or under intermeshed branches through which the duck can’t fly.
      I think I’ve heard that argument before as a justification for fox hunting – the red-coated vermin like being chased over hill and dale, then torn to pieces.
      Cue “The Reluctant Cannibal” as soundtrack.

  3. Posted August 19, 2019 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    An energy cost seems a good start, we have mallards as permanent residences at beach, the population does not exceed 40 or so, I count them, and I have no idea what sustains them. They have a stream they sift through at low tide, possibly for seeds etc and bread, although we have signs saying not to feed them bread.

  4. rickflick
    Posted August 19, 2019 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    You can’t help but to root for the ducks in this situation.

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