Bird of the Month

Common Yellowthroat

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

General description:

If you have spent any time around marshes such as those at Camas NWR, you have seen mallard ducks. In North America, the Mallard is the most abundant duck species and the most widely distributed species.

The breeding male Mallard is easily recognized with its iridescent green head separated from the body by a thin white line. He has a flat yellow bill, gray flanks, a brown chest and curly black tail that all make him easily identifiable. The female is a mottled brown, black and white which serves as a great camouflage. After molt, the male looks very similar to the female but the female has a greenish orange bill while the male’s remains yellow. Both sexes have a blue-violet-colored speculum bordered white on both sides. Both sexes also have orange feet.

The Mallard is a large duck, weighing in at up to three pounds and sporting a wingspan of 30-40 inches. Mallards are still far smaller than Canada Geese but larger than the teal and Ruddy ducks.

Behavior and Habitat

You can almost describe Mallard habitat in two words: fresh water. If there is fresh water, be it a stream, river, pond, sewage lagoon, large lake, canal or puddle, there is potential for Mallards to use it. They are a widely adaptable species, eating a wide variety of foods and have adapted well to human activities. They are one of the most common ducks in city parks.

Mallards are dabbling ducks. That means that they do not generally swim underwater to feed. Rather, they “tip up”, with head under water and rear end facing skyward. Thus, they prefer shallow water where they can reach food in this way.

Outise the breeding season, Mallards largely eat seeds, and that makes them common visitors to grainfields. You may see large flocks gleaning fields before and after harvest.

Similar Species

There are a number of ducks that can fool you into thinking they are Mallards, especially during the eclipse plumage. For instance, Black Ducks are similar in size and have a bit of a blue speculum. The Mottled Duck looks like a female Mallard or a male eclipse Mallard.

However, the duck that will cause the most confusion is the Shoveler, The male Shoeveler has an iridescent green head like the mallard and the female is similar to the female Mallard. However, the Shoveler, both male and female, has a broad spoon-shaped bill. The male also has a white chest and sides and this is pretty obvious.

Cool Facts

Mallards are the parent species of every domestic duck currently available with the exception of the Muscovy duck. Mallards are particularly known for hybridizing with other ducks. They hybridize 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. They also cross back with domestic ducks and some of the combinations are pretty interesting looking. You can often see hybrids along the Greenbelt in Idaho Falls.

The standard Mallard duck quack that is so often heard and imitated actually belongs to the female. Males do not quack.

When and where found at Camas NWR:

You will find Mallards at Camas NWR in any waterbody. Look for them as well in open fields and flying overhead.

Threatened/Endangered Status: Least Concern

“Mallards are the most widespread and abundant duck in North America and their populations have been slightly increasing from 1966 to 2014, 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. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the 2014 North American population at around 11.6 million breeding birds.

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.” Source: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mallard/lifehistory

Text by Terry Thomas
Photo by Terry Thomas

(Information source: Cornell’s All About Birds website (www.allaboutbirds.org)

Categories