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Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development


Mating system

  • Short-term, sequential monogamous pair bond (Fullagar et al. 1990; Marchant and Higgins 1990)
    • Pair bond likely maintained briefly (Fullagar et al. 1990)
    • Not precisely known when pair bond breaks down (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
      • Appears to vary in managed care (Phoebe Vaughan, personal communication, 2018)
  • Polygamy observed in managed care; may be due to managed care conditions (Fullagar et al. 1990)
    • Possibly occurs in the wild

Courtship behavior and copulation

  • Courtship displays and pair bond formation (Marchant and Higgins 1990 except as noted)
    • Not well understood; rarely observed in the wild
    • Possibly, several males display to a receptive female (courtship) and to one other (male–male competition)
      • Daytime displays may occur near potential nest sites
    • Female chooses male and pair bond formation begins
      • Male defends female
    • Also see Axle-Grind Display in “Visual communication”
  • Copulation
    • Female responds to male’s courtship display (Fullagar et al. 1990; Marchant and Higgins 1990)
      • Stretches head forward and raises tail
    • Male mounts, grasping female low on neck (Fullagar et al. 1990)
    • Copulation lasts 10 sec or longer (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
  • After copulation, female bathes and both sexes preen (Fullagar et al. 1990)
  • Copulation not often repeated (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
    • Not used to reinforce pair bonds, as is common in Anatidae
    • Short-term pair bonds in Freckled Duck


Sexual maturity

  • By two years of age (in managed care) (Carboneras and Kirwan 2018; Phoebe Vaughan, personal communication, 2018)
  • Not reported for Freckled Duck in the wild

Breeding range

  • Mainly breed in southeastern Australia and inland Australia (Frith 1965; Richard Kingsford, personal communication, 2019)
    • Less common in southwestern Australia

Breeding season

  • Egg laying June-December (Marchant and Higgins 1990) or after suitable rainfall (Pizzey and Knight 2012)
    • More restricted in southwestern Australia (October-December) (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
    • In years with early flooding, can occur during March and April (Frith 1965; Jaensch 2003)
  • Young hatch January-February (southeastern Australia) (Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)
  • Breeding season variable (Braithwaite and Frith 1969b)
    • Like other ducks, timing is strongly influenced by seasonal flooding (changing water levels in marshes) (Frith 1967; Braithwaite and Frith 1969b; Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)
      • Influences food availability
      • Breeding prolonged during years of abundant rainfall (Johnsgard 2010)

Breeding habitat

  • Prefer freshwater marshes with heavy vegetation and newly flooded creeks (Frith 1967; Chapman and Lane 1997; Johnsgard 2010, and as noted)
    • Inland
    • Coast
      • Tea tree (Melaleuca, Leptospermum) marshes (Marchant and Higgins 1990; Jaensch 2003)
  • Nest solitarily
    • Nests spaced more than 100 m (330 ft) apart
  • Also see Habitat

Breeding success

  • Unknown (Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)



  • Shape
    • Bowl-shaped (Frith 1967)
  • Materials (Frith 1967; Carboneras and Kirwan 2018, and as noted)
    • Sticks and twigs
    • Plant debris
    • Feather down (Jaensch 2003)
      • May help to incubate the eggs and/or prevent breakage as parent rotates eggs during incubation (Frith 1967)
  • Diameter of nest
    • 380-480 mm (15-19 in) (n=3) (Braithwaite 1976)
  • Depth of nest
    • 120-170 mm (4.7-6.7 in) (n=3) (Braithwaite 1976)


  • Typically constructed near water (Braithwaite 1976)
    • Built among reed beds, lignum (Muehlenbeckia cunninghamii), or on water (Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)
      • Sometimes on stream banks or in billabong
      • Vegetation around nest creates shelter and concealment
    • Nests probably built close to water level but may become elevated as waters recede (Frith 1967; Johnsgard 2010)
  • Male builds nest (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
    • Sometimes builds before female’s arrival at nest site [observation from managed care] (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
    • Male gathers plant materials from area surrounding nest site (Braithwaite 1976; Marchant and Higgins 1990; Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)
      • Collects as loose debris or by breaking off from plant (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
      • Weaves materials together into well-formed cup (Jaensch 2003; Pizzey and Knight 2012)
  • Female plucks feather down while laying (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
  • Freckled Duck reported to use abandoned nests of other birds, especially coots (Fulica) (Marchant and Higgins 1990; Pizzey and Knight 2012; Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)

Incubation and Hatching

Egg description

  • Shape
    • Oval (Frith 1967)
  • Size
    • 63 x 47 mm (2.5 x 1.9 in), on average (Frith 1967)
  • Weight
    • 75.9 g (2.68 oz), on average (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
  • Shell (Frith 1967; Marchant and Higgins 1990; Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)
    • Pale creamy-white
    • Glossy
    • Smooth

Egg laying

  • Clutch size
    • 7 eggs, on average (range: 5-10) (Johnsgard 1965; Johnsgard 2010; Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)
      • More eggs many be present in cases of “egg dumping” (when a female lays eggs in another bird’s nest) (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
  • Interclutch interval
    • Unknown
    • One exceptional case of a female in managed care laying 72 eggs over 7 months, with an average of 6 (range: 2-17) days between clutches (Marchant and Higgins 1990)

Incubation and hatching

  • Incubation period
    • 26-31 days (Marchant and Higgins 1990; Carboneras and Kirwan 2018; Phobe Vaughan, personal communication, 2018)
  • Young remain in nest for 24 hours after hatching (Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)
    • Then, taken to water by female

Duckling description

  • Weight at hatching
    • About 40-50 g (1.4-1.7 oz) [needs confirmation] (Frith 1964; Marchant and Higgins 1990; Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)
  • Description
    • Plumage (Frith 1964; Frith 1967)
      • Upperparts light gray-brown
        • No contrasting pattern, unlike young of other Australian duck species
      • Underparts almost white
      • Underwing pale gray
    • Bill
      • Blue-gray with pink spot on tip (Frith 1964; Frith 1967)
        • Blue tone is lost before fledging (Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)
    • Legs and feet
      • Blue-gray with buff-colored webbing (Frith 1967)
      • Claws brown (Frith 1967)
    • Eyes
      • Iris black-brown (Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)

Parental Care

Prior to hatching

  • Male defends a small area around nest site (Fullagar et al. 1990)
  • Both parents attack, chase, or attempt to deceive potential egg predators (Braithwaite 1976)
    • Distraction display
      • Parent pretends to have a broken wing
    • Loud snort-hiss-grunt vocalizations
  • Only female incubates eggs (Johnsgard 2010; Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)
  • Female typically leaves nest to feed in late afternoon (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
  • Male–female pair bond suspected to be short, but may vary (Fullagar et al. 1990; Marchant and Higgins 1990; Phobe Vaughan, personal communication, 2018)
    • Some males leave female after egg laying, some remain during incubation

After hatching

  • Mother very protective of young for about five weeks (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
    • Chases threats away with bill open, wings folded, and shoulder feathers raised (“bristly” in appearance)
    • Gives loud growls
  • Mother leaves young after about 40-45 days, especially if laying more egg clutches (Marchant and Higgins 1990)

Life Stages


  • Description
  • First feathers visible at 14-23 days of age (Frith 1967)
  • First signs of feather color and pattern by three weeks (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
  • Siblings stay together until well after fledging (Marchant and Higgins 1990)


  • Fledge at about 7-9 weeks of age (Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)
    • Siblings stay together after fledging (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
      • Duration unknown
  • Juvenile plumage develops by 9 weeks of age (Frith 1965)
  • Male begins to show red bill base coloration at about 6 months of age (Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)


  • Adult plumage develops at about 6-8 months of age (Marchant and Higgins 1990)



In the wild

  • Unknown (Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)

In managed care

  • At least 18 years old (Slimbridge) (Phoebe Vaughan, personal communication, 2018)

Mortality and Health

Survival rates

  • Young
    • Unknown (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
  • Adults
    • Unknown (Carboneras and Kirwan 2018)


  • Not reported
  • Possibly Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans) (Marchant and Higgins 1990)
    • One Harrier observed hovering over a female Freckled Duck; female attempted to evade the Harrier

Plainly Distinctive

Two Freckled Duck hatchlings

Freckled Duck hatchlings have a uniform light gray-brown color, unlike the strong contrasting patterns of other duck young.

Siblings may stay together after fledging, which occurs at about 7 to 9 weeks of age.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Difficult to Spot

Female Freckled Duck on nest

The Freckled Duck constructs a bowl-shaped nest made of plants and feather down.

Often built among reeds, tall vegetation around the nest creates a "screen" so incubating females are not easily seen by predators.

Image credit: Photograph by Phoebe Vaughan. © Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. All rights reserved.

Image location: WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre (Gloucestershire, England)

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