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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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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
19.7–25.6 in
50–65 cm
Wingspan
32.3–37.4 in
82–95 cm
Weight
35.3–45.9 oz
1000–1300 g
Relative Size
A fairly large duck, noticeably larger than teal but much smaller than a Canada Goose.
Other Names
  • Canard colvert (French)
  • Pato de collar (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Mallard is the ancestor of nearly all domestic duck breeds (everything except the Muscovy Duck). Domestic ducks can be common in city ponds and can be confusing to identify—they may lack the white neck ring, show white on the chest, be all dark, or show oddly shaped crests on the head.
  • 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.
  • Mallard pairs are generally monogamous, but paired males pursue females other than their mates. So-called “extra-pair copulations” are common among birds and in many species are consensual, but male Mallards often force these copulations, with several males chasing a single female and then mating with her.
  • Mallard pairs form long before the spring breeding season. Pairing takes place in the fall, but courtship can be seen all winter. Only the female incubates the eggs and takes care of the ducklings.
  • Ducks are strong fliers; migrating flocks of Mallards have been estimated traveling at 55 miles per hour.
  • The standard duck’s quack is the sound of a female Mallard. Males don’t quack; they make a quieter, rasping sound.
  • 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.
  • Many species of waterfowl form hybrids, and Mallards are particularly known for this, hybridizing with American Black Duck, Mottled Duck, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, and Canvasback, as well as Hawaiian Ducks, the Grey Duck of New Zealand, and the Pacific Black Duck of Australia.
  • The oldest known Mallard lived to be at least 27 years 7 months old.

Habitat


Lake/Pond

Mallards can be found in almost any wetland habitats, including permanent wetlands such as marshes, bogs, riverine floodplains, beaver ponds, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, city parks, farms, and estuaries. They also occur in prairie potholes and ephemeral wetlands; they may be found feeding along roadside ditches, pastures, croplands and rice fields.

Food


Seeds

Mallards are generalist foragers and will eat a wide variety of food. They don’t dive, but dabble to feed, tipping forward in the water to eat seeds and aquatic vegetation. They also roam around on the shore and pick at vegetation and prey on the ground. During the breeding season, they eat mainly animal matter including aquatic insect larvae, earthworms, snails and freshwater shrimp. During migration, many Mallards consume largely agricultural seed and grain. In city parks, they readily accept handouts from parkgoers.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–13 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
2.1–2.5 in
5.3–6.4 cm
Egg Width
1.5–1.8 in
3.9–4.5 cm
Incubation Period
23–30 days
Egg Description
Unmarked creamy to grayish or greenish buff.
Condition at Hatching
Newly hatched birds are covered in down and alert; they are ready to leave the nest within 13–16 hours.
Nest Description

The female forms a shallow depression or bowl on the ground in moist earth. She does not carry material to the nest but rather pulls vegetation she can reach toward her while sitting on nest. During egg-laying phase, she lines the nest with grasses, leaves, and twigs from nearby. She also pulls tall vegetation over 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 is about a foot across, with a bowl for the eggs that is 1–6 inches deep and 6–9 inches across.

Nest Placement

Ground

Mallards nest on the ground on dry land that is close to water; nests are generally concealed under overhanging grass or other vegetation. Occasionally, Mallards nest in agricultural fields, especially alfalfa but also winter wheat, barley, flax, and oats. Both urban and wild populations readily nest in artificial nesting structures. Pairs search for nest sites together, typically on evening flights circling low over the habitat. Occasionally nests are placed on floating mats of vegetation or woven into plant stems that rise out of the water.

Behavior


Dabbler

Mallards are an abundant city and suburban park duck and because of constant feedings by park visitors, they can become very tame and approachable. In more natural settings and where Mallards are heavily hunted, they can be very wary of approaching people. They commonly associate with and may hybridize with other dabbling ducks. Mallards have a huge variety of displays that can be fascinating to watch and decipher. Most displays are ritualized versions of common motions: males may face off with a head-bob, threaten an aggressor with an open bill, or push against each other, breast to breast. Paired males defend their territories with vigorous acrobatic chases. Males court females by shaking or flicking the head side to side, looking over their shoulder, or raising up in the water and flapping their wings. Several males often gather around a female to display. A female encourages a male by nodding her head back and forth or paddling with her head held low.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Mallards are the most widespread and abundant duck in North America and their populations have been slightly increasing every year since 1966, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. 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—visit www.flyways.us to see summaries of duck numbers and hunting statistics. 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.

Credits

Range Map Help

Mallard Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident to medium-distance migrant. Mallards occur year-round across much of the United States. Populations that breed across Canada and Alaska leave in fall for wintering sites in the southern United States and northern Mexico, typically traveling along well-known migration flyways.

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.

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.