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What is a Mallard?

By J. Uhl
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The mallard is a species of wild duck with the scientific name Anas platyrhynchos. This species is a type of dabbling duck, feeding at the surface rather than diving as most ducks do. The mallard is one of the most easily recognizable species of ducks and is one of two species from which all domestic types of ducks come. Like many other types of birds, the male and female mallards have distinct appearances, and the male is brighter than the female.

The average mallard has a length of 20-23 inches (about 50-60 cm), a wingspan of 30-40 inches (about 75-100 cm) and a boat-like body. The mallard species is dimorphic, meaning that male and females have distinct plumage. Male mallards are known as drakes, and they possess a bright green head, yellow-orange bill and black rear. They have white underparts and two upward-curling tail feathers. The female mallard is known as a hen, and she is light brown with a dark brown bill.

Both the male and female mallards possess a distinct purple or blue speculum with white edging. During the summer, this plumage is shed. During the off-breeding season, the drake loses much of his color, resembling the hen more closely. This species has a long, flattened and tapered bill, and both legs and feet are orange.

The mallard species is a noisy species, though the calls are distinct from male to female. The female has a stereotypical quack sound, and the male has a call that is more nasal. Mallard ducks can be found in most wetland areas, including small rivers and ponds and parks. As a dabbling duck, mallards graze on the water surface for plant food and small animal prey such as frogs, crustaceans and mollusks. Mallards are known to form large flocks during the off-breeding season, and these flocks are known as sords.

In the breeding season, mallard ducks form pairs only long enough for the female to lay her eggs. The drake then leaves the female behind to care for her young. The average clutch size ranges from eight to 13 eggs, and the hen will incubate them for a period of 27-28 days until hatching. Mallard ducklings are precocial, meaning that they are capable of feeding on insects and swimming all on their own upon hatching. They will remain near the hen for protection until they are older.

Mallards are known for interbreeding with close relatives in the same genus, including the northern pintail and the American black duck. This has led to a number of fully fertile hybrids. Most types of ducks do not interbreed in this way, which might explain why the mallard duck has evolved more quickly than other species. This also might explain why the mallard is one of two ancestors to nearly all domestic duck varieties.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Mallard?

A Mallard is a common wild duck known scientifically as Anas platyrhynchos. It's distinguished by its iridescent green head and yellow bill in males, and mottled brown plumage in females. Mallards are dabbling ducks, feeding at the water's surface or tipping forward to graze underwater. They are widespread across the Northern Hemisphere and are ancestors to most domestic ducks.

Where can you typically find Mallards?

Mallards are highly adaptable and can be found in a variety of freshwater habitats, including ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes. They are prevalent across North America, Europe, and Asia and have been introduced to other regions. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they are the most abundant duck species in the Northern Hemisphere.

What do Mallards eat?

Mallards have an omnivorous diet, feeding on a mix of aquatic vegetation, insects, worms, and small fish. They are known for their 'dabbling' behavior, where they feed at the water's surface or tip up to reach food underwater. During breeding season, their diet shifts to include more animal matter to provide extra protein.

How do Mallards reproduce?

Mallards typically form pairs in October and November, and their breeding season starts in the spring. The female lays an average of 8 to 13 eggs, according to the Audubon Society, and incubates them for about 28 days. The ducklings are precocial and can leave the nest within a day after hatching to follow their mother.

Are Mallards migratory?

Many Mallards are migratory, traveling to warmer areas during the winter months. However, their migration patterns can vary widely. Some populations in milder climates may be resident year-round. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service notes that Mallards in the northern regions of North America tend to migrate south for the winter.

What is the conservation status of Mallards?

Mallards are listed as "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), indicating they are not currently at risk of extinction. Their populations are stable due to their adaptability and the fact that they thrive in a variety of habitats, including those altered or created by humans.

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Discussion Comments

By laluna — On Feb 05, 2011

Here are a few more mallard duck facts. They are capable of making a variety of sounds, not only quacks, but also kind of a purr after being fed. They can also cluck, and make several other sounds.

When looking for food, they stick their head under the water and almost vertically stick the tail into the air.

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