Mallard

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Female mallard with ducklings                          Male Mallard

Photos by: Jerry Mercier

Species: Mallard

Scientific name:Anas platyrhynchos

Status: common

Description: This duck is sexually dimorphic (meaning the males and females look different). Both genders are large, with rounded heads, wide-flat bills, long body and short tails. Both genders also have white tails, white underwings and a blue speculum bordered by white on both sides (patch on the inner wing).The male is distinguished by its iridescent green head and neck, yellow bill, brown chest, and white collar that separate its head and chest colours. Females are much less colourful. The female are mottled brown, similar to other Anas species. Female mallards have an orange bill with black.

Habitat: Mallards can live almost anywhere there are bodies of water. They can be found in any wetland habitat type including marshes, bogs, floodplains, ponds, lakes, city parks, and farms.

Breeding: This water bird forms a mating pair, which will remain together until the female lays eggs at the start of nesting season (early spring). Mallards are ground nesters. The female will make a nest, hollow depression on the wet ground, and pull surrounding vegetation into the nest. The vegetation she will pull into the nest includes leaves, grasses and twigs that she can reach while continually sitting on her nest. The female will also use taller vegetation for camouflage by pulling it over herself and her nest. Once the female is nesting, the male will leave her and join other males elsewhere. However, there is a short period of time where males will remain to mate with females that have lost or abandoned a clutch, or will forcibly mate with females that look unattached (ducklings (baby ducks) following a mom will not stop another male from forcibly mating with her). Nests are often near water, but urban nest sites are common. Urban nest sites include roof gardens, courtyards, flower boxes, ledges, and balconies. Many of these urban sites will need human intervention to relocate mom and ducklings to suitable habitat for the rest of the summer. The female incubates her eggs (8-13) for 20-30 days, and then they will hatch. The ducklings are precocial (young are mature and mobile at birth) and can swim soon after hatching. Ducklings will fledge; leave their mom, 60 days after hatching.

Diet: Mallards are generalists and eat a variety of food. They “dabble” for plant food by tipping forward in the water. They also eat vegetation and prey on the ground. Breeding season diet consists of insect larvae, earthworms, snails and shrimp. During migration they will eat agricultural seed and grain. Favorite dietary items include snails, beetles, flies, worms, seeds, roots and tubers.

Threats to species: Their populations are quite abundant, but at are risk of death due to collisions with cars (e.g., mom and ducklings crossing a street), poor water quality (e.g., mercury and pesticide pollution), habitat destruction, oil spills, and lead poisoning (through ingestion of lead shot while feeding). 

Threat to humans: This duck is little to no risk to humans. They may be a nuisance in some areas, but tend to be friendly when people feed them.

Fun facts:

Large flocks of mallards are called sords.

Mallards are monogamous, but males will pursue other females during mating season-called extra-pair copulation. Males will rape other females if they appear to be unattached.

Mating pairs meet in fall, but courtship can be seen all winter.

Mallards hybridize with other duck species including American black duck, mottled duck, gadwall, northern pintail, cinnamon teal, green-winged teal and canvasback.

Sources:

Dunn, J., and Alderfer, J. 2008. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

The Cornell lab of Ornithology- http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mallard/lifehistory

 

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