When do Mallards learn to fly?
I tried to find this out on the internet but most information is either conflicting or anecdotal. I would say it depends on circumstances and each duck’s individual personality. Some sources say they fly at 3-4 months, others say 6-8 weeks. I believe this earlier age (6-8 weeks) refers to when they are just beginning to learn flying – since they would be still growing at this stage and not fully fledged yet. Other sources say that mother ducks normally stay with their young till they are 8-10 weeks old, so I assume too that this is the period where they learn to fly only just well enough to get away from predators (i.e. get a few feet off the ground), but perhaps not well enough to make long distance flights, like for winter migration.
Our ducks are 48 days old – almost 7 weeks, and they aren’t flying yet, though they are starting to practice flapping their wings while standing on the spot, or running across the garden. They do very nice duck stretches too – like ballet dancers they balance on one leg while they stretch the other leg and the corresponding wing.
As to when ducks will fly “away” from their breeding ground, I suppose that is subjective. Some mallard ducks disappear the moment they are fully fledged – perhaps because they have found better sources of food, or a nicer pond. Others never leave, because they have friends who can’t fly (e.g. a domestic duck who they grew up with). I read on a online forum how a mallard hen raised 9 ducklings in someone’s yard, where they were fed by the humans. After fledging, 2 of the young ducks flew away and the rest stayed put. Maybe some ducks are naturally more adventurous, and others less motivated to get out of their comfort zone. 🙂
Ducks like to live in flocks – cooperative groups – they look out for each other, and chase away any strangers not part of their group, so I assume it’s likely that duck families, like our 5, will stay together for some time. If one leaves the group, he will be at the mercy out there not only from predators, but other groups of ducks who view him as a stranger and will attack him. I’ve read that many (foolish) humans dump their unwanted domestic pet ducks at a lake or pond, thinking they will survive well, like the wild ducks who live there. Unfortunately, many don’t know how to find food, can’t fend for themselves and die soon afterwards from predator attacks, or starvation from being ostracised and/or attacked by other ducks.
Our ducks are full-blooded wild mallards, and still have all their wild instincts – I have not really had to “teach” them anything at all. From day 1, they already seemed to know how to forage and find their own food. However this doesn’t mean they aren’t spoiled rotten, they get treats from us like frozen peas, cabbage and tomatoes all the time, and scorn food that most wild ducks enjoy – e.g. clover and dandelion. I am a bit afraid they might never leave if we keep feeding them! But if they do, at least the choice is theirs, and if they stay, we’d be happy for their very entertaining company.