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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Mallard

Anas platyrhynchos ORDER: ANSERIFORMES FAMILY: ANATIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

If someone at a park is feeding bread to ducks, chances are there are Mallards in the fray. Perhaps the most familiar of all ducks, Mallards occur throughout North America and Eurasia in ponds and parks as well as wilder wetlands and estuaries. The male’s gleaming green head, gray flanks, and black tail-curl arguably make it the most easily identified duck. Mallards have long been hunted for the table, and almost all domestic ducks come from this species.

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Keys to identification Help

Ducks
Ducks
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Mallards are large ducks with hefty bodies, rounded heads, and wide, flat bills. Like many “dabbling ducks” the body is long and the tail rides high out of the water, giving a blunt shape. In flight their wings are broad and set back toward the rear.

  • Color Pattern

    Male Mallards have a dark, iridescent-green head and bright yellow bill. The gray body is sandwiched between a brown breast and black rear. Females and juveniles are mottled brown with orange-and-brown bills. Both sexes have a white-bordered, blue “speculum” patch in the wing.

  • Behavior

    Mallards are “dabbling ducks”—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.

  • Habitat

    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.

Range Map Help

Mallard Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Male

    Mallard

    Male
    • Large dabbling duck with glossy green head
    • Black hind end with white tail
    • Silvery-gray sides and chestnut brown breast
    • Bright yellow bill
    • © Robinsegg, Utah, February 2005
  • Female

    Mallard

    Female
    • Large dabbling duck
    • Streaked brown and tan overall
    • Dark blue patch on wing
    • Dull orange and black bill
    • © TheWorldThroughMyEyes, Maryland, May 2009
  • Male in flight

    Mallard

    Male in flight
    • White under-wings
    • Bold blue patch on upper-wing
    • Glossy green head
    • Bright yellow bill
    • © Jessie H. Barry, Russell Station, Rochester, New York, January 2008
  • Female in flight

    Mallard

    Female in flight
    • Mostly dark, streaky brown
    • Pale head
    • Bold blue patch on upper-wing
    • © Pat Kavanagh, Coaldale, Alberta, Canada, November 2009
  • Female and chicks

    Mallard

    Female and chicks
    • Female dark brown and tan patterned overall
    • Iridescent blue patch on wing
    • Chicks dark brown on top, golden-yellow below,
    • Chicks have dark cap and eye-stripe on yellow face
    • © ashockenberry, Ontario, Canada, September 2008
  • Chicks

    Mallard

    Chicks
    • Dark brown overall with yellow patches
    • Yellow face with dark eye-line
    • Dark bill
    • © Nick Chill, San Diego, California, April 2009
  • Male and female

    Mallard

    Male and female
    • Males have bright yellow bill
    • Females have orange bill with dark "saddle"
    • © tsiya, Florida, January 2009
  • Eclipse male

    Mallard

    Eclipse male
    • Males enter eclipse plumage in late summer
    • Bright yellow bill
    • Faded chestnut breast
    • Dark blue wing patch
    • © Reid Barclay, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, August 2008
  • Male Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid

    Mallard

    Male Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid
    • Often hybridizes with American Black Duck
    • Dark-bodied
    • Partially green head
    • © Colin Clement, New York, February 2009
  • Male

    Mallard

    Male
    • Glossy green head
    • Bright yellow bill with black "nail" on tip
    • Chestnut breast
    • © soderlis, Wood Lake, Richfield, Minnesota, November 2009

Similar Species

  • Male

    American Black Duck

    Male
    • Similar to adult female or eclipse male Mallard
    • Body darker overall
    • Black borders on blue wing patch
    • Dark tail
    • © Bryan Hix, Carpentersville, Illinois, January 2011
  • Male

    Mottled Duck

    Male
    • Similar to adult female or eclipse male Mallard
    • Very pale face with unmarked, buffy throat
    • Dark tail
    • © Jay Paredes, West Dixie Bend, Pompano Beach, Florida, March 2009
  • Adult male

    Gadwall

    Adult male
    • Head "puffier" and more blocky than rounded head of Mallard
    • Black bill
    • Finely patterned silver-gray body
    • Warm brown, wispy wing coverts
    • Two-toned head darker above, paler below
    • © Christopher L. Wood, New York, November 2009
  • Adult female

    Gadwall

    Adult female
    • Similar to female Mallard but smaller and more delicate
    • Head more blocky and less rounded than Mallard
    • White patch sometimes visible on folded wing
    • Thin, two-toned bill black above, pale orange below
    • © Christopher L. Wood, New York, September 2008
  • Male

    Northern Shoveler

    Male
    • Similar to adult male Mallard
    • Very broad, spatulate bill
    • White chest with chestnut flanks
    • Sky blue wing patch
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Pittman, Henderson, Nevada, February 2010
  • Adult female

    Northern Shoveler

    Adult female
    • Large, spatulate bill distinctive
    • Paler and buffier overall than female Mallard
    • Broad pale edges on wing coverts and flank feathers
    • © Jim McCree, Presque Isle, Maine, May 2010
  • Male

    Red-breasted Merganser

    Male
    • Similar to adult male Mallard
    • Very different shape with shaggy crest and thin, serrated bill
    • Bold white collar on neck
    • White stripe on sides separates gray flanks from dark back.
    • © Kim Taylor, March 2011

Similar Species

The American Black Duck of eastern North America looks like a female Mallard but has a darker body, greenish-yellow bill, and a purplish “speculum” patch in the wings that does not have white borders. Identification is complicated by the frequent occurrence of hybrids between the two species. The Mottled Duck of the coastal Southeast also resembles a female Mallard, but is somewhat darker, with less black on the bill (just a small black spot at the base), and lacks the broad white borders to the speculum. Female Gadwalls have a slimmer bill with a thin orange line along the edge and often show a white patch on the folded wing. Northern Shovelers have a bill that is noticeably larger and wider than any other duck’s. Its body pattern is different from a Mallard’s, too: the belly and sides are chestnut, set off by a white breast and undertail. Female Northern Shovelers, in addition to their very large bill, are paler overall, with lots of buffy and tan tones to the body. The green heads of Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Mergansers superficially resemble a male Mallard’s, but these birds’ shape and behavior are much different: mergansers are streamlined ducks with slender bills, and they dive instead of dabble.

Regional Differences

A subspecies of the Mallard called the “Mexican Duck,” Anas platyrhynchos diazi, occurs in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. Both males and females closely resemble female Mallards, although the body color is somewhat darker than a typical female Mallard. Mexican Ducks were once thought to be a full species, but they hybridize extensively with typical Mallards in the northern parts of their range.

Backyard Tips

If you have a pond or marshy area on your property Mallards might be attracted to your backyard. Occasionally, Mallards have been known to show up in people’s swimming pools.

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

Look for Mallards at local city or suburban parks, where they’re likely to be accepting food handouts from humans. If you want to see them in a more natural setting, visit a nearby pond or lake—Mallards are likely to be the ducks you most frequently see.

Get Involved

You can help scientists learn more about this species by participating in the Celebrate Urban Birds project.