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What is a Mallard?

J. Uhl
J. Uhl

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.

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Discussion Comments


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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