Mallard

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Image:Mallard.JPG

Common Name: Mallard
Scientific Name: Anas platyrhynchos

Size: 20-26 inches (50-65 cm); Wingspan: 32-39 inches (81-98 cm)

Habitat: Worldwide; breeds throughout the temperate and subtropical Americas, Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and has been introduced to New Zealand and Australia.

Mallards can live in almost any wetland habitat, natural or artificial. Look for them on lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers, and coastal habitats, as well as city and suburban parks and residential backyards.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 5,000,000 to 11,000,000 individuals. Mallards are the most widespread and abundant duck in North America. Their numbers increase during wet periods and decline when there are droughts in the middle of the continent—over the last 50 years their estimated numbers have cycled between about 5 million and 11 million. Mallards are also the most heavily hunted North American ducks, accounting for about 1 of every 3 ducks shot. State and federal wildlife agencies keep close track of the numbers shot. Like other waterfowl, Mallards can be poisoned when they ingest lead shot while feeding. In 1977, a mandatory switch to steel shot along the Mississippi Flyway helped greatly alleviate lead poisoning in Mallards. This species can also be affected by poor water quality, including mercury, pesticide, and selenium pollution, wetland clearing or drainage, and oil spills.

Diet: Seeds, rootlets and tubers of aquatic plants off swamp and river bottoms.. They feed in the water by tipping forward and grazing on underwater plants. They almost never dive. They can be very tame ducks especially in city ponds, and often group together with other Mallards and other species of dabbling ducks.

Nesting: Mallards are large ducks with heavy-looking bodies, rounded heads, and wide, flat bills. Males are significantly larger than females. The male mallard's white neck-ring separates the green head from the chestnut-brown chest. It also contrasts with the gray sides, brownish back, black rump and black upper- and under-tail coverts. The speculum is violet-blue bordered by black and white, and the outer tail feathers are white. The bill is yellow to yellowish-green and the legs and feet are coral-red. The male utters a soft, rasping "kreep."

The female mallard is a mottled brownish color and has a violet speculum bordered by black and white. The crown of the head is dark brown with a dark brown stripe running through the eye. The remainder of the head is lighter brown than the upper body. The bill is orange splotched with brown, and the legs and feet are orange. The female is especially vocal with the characteristic series of quacks.

Mallards have one of the most extensive breeding ranges of any duck in North America, extending across the northern third of the United States and up to the Bering Sea. The highest mallard densities occur in the Prairie Pothole Region of Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and North Dakota.

Mallard pairs form long before the spring breeding season. Pairing takes place in the fall, but courtship can be seen all winter. Mallards are generally monogamous, but paired males may have extramarital affairs. While these affairs do happen among many species of birds, they are for the most part, consensual. Male Mallards break this pattern, often forcing copulation, with several males chasing a single female and then mating with her.

Mallards are known for hybridizing with American Black Ducks, Mottled Ducks, the Gadwall, Northern Pintails, Cinnamon Teals, Green-winged Teals, and Canvasbacks, as well as Hawaiian Ducks, the Grey Duck of New Zealand, and the Pacific Black Duck of Australia.

Pairs search for nest sites together, typically on evening flights circling low over the habitat. The female forms a shallow depression or bowl on the ground in moist earth. She does not carry material to the nest. Instead, during the egg-laying phase, she lines the nest with grasses, leaves, and twigs from nearby. She also pulls tall vegetation overhead to conceal herself and her nest. After incubation begins, she plucks down feathers from her breast to line the nest and cover her eggs. The finished nest has a bowl for the eggs that is 1–6 inches deep and 6–9 inches across. Female mallards lay an average of 9 eggs. Only the female incubates the eggs and takes care of the ducklings. Both urban and wild populations readily nest in artificial nesting structures, and occasionally in agricultural fields (especially alfalfa, winter wheat, barley, flax, and oat fields), on floating mats of vegetation, or nests may be woven into plant stems that rise out of the water.

Mallards, like other ducks, shed all their flight feathers at the end of the breeding season and are flightless for 3–4 weeks. They are secretive during this vulnerable time, and their body feathers molt into a concealing “eclipse” plumage that can make them hard to identify.

Cool Facts: The name “Mallard" is derived from the Old French malart or mallart "wild drake", although its ultimate derivation is unclear. It may be related to an Old High German masculine proper name Madelhart, clues lying in the alternate English forms "maudelard" or "mawdelard".

The Mallard is the ancestor of nearly all domestic duck breeds (everything except the Muscovy duck). Mallards are strong fliers; migrating birds have been estimated traveling at 55 miles per hour.


The widespread Mallard has given rise to a number of populations around the world that have changed enough that they could be considered separate species. The "Mexican Duck" of central Mexico and the extreme southwestern United States and the Hawaiian Duck both are closely related to the Mallard, and in both forms the male is dull like the female. The Mexican Duck currently is considered a subspecies of the Mallard, while the Hawaiian Duck is still given full species status.


The oldest known Mallard lived to be at least 27 years 7 months old.


Found in Songbird Remix Waterfowl Volume I: Dabbling Ducks

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