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Species Description

Mallard

Anas platyrhynchos


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Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae

Description

The plumage of the male and female Mallard is quite different. The male has a green head, brown chest, small white neck band, brownish gray body, white outer tail feathers, and a violet-blue speculum (the secondary feathers located on the back inner portion of the wing). The female is a variable brown, and also has a violet-blue speculum. Other things to look for: This abundant species interbreeds with many other duck species, causing a high degree of variation in Mallard plumage (see similar species, below). 50-70 cm (20-28 in) long.

Life Cycle

Mallards begin to find mates as early as August prior to the breeding season, with most birds being paired by early January. Nesting normally begins in early to late April, with a peak in May. The female builds a nest of cat-tails (Typha) and other vegetation near the edge of a shallow pond, marsh, or lake. She lays 7-10 eggs, which she incubates for approximately 28 days. After incubation has begun, the male leaves the female and joins a male flock. The young are precocial. The female is left to care for the young by herself. Within 12 hours of hatching, she leads them to water. The female will continue to care for the young for 42-60 days after hatching.

Natural History

The Mallard eats plant material (seeds, grains, acorns, sedges, grass shoots), insects, and aquatic invertebrates. A surface feeder, it finds food in the water by "up-ending" (putting its head underwater and its tail end in the air) and by dabbling. It feeds on land by taking things from the ground. Both the male and female usually molt in late summer or early fall, which renders them flightless for around 33 days.

Range

Mallard Region Map The Mallard occurs extensively throughout North America. During the breeding season, it most often is found in the upper one-third of the continent. The Mallard is a resident in the northern United States all year, and is a winter resident in the South. The northern winter range in the United States is limited by availability of open, unfrozen water. Many escaped domestic Mallards breed in the wild in the eastern United States.

Conservation Status

Mallards are a game species in the United States, and hunting contributes to the mortality of this species. Some additional deaths have been caused by lead poisoning. Overall, this species is abundant.

Similar Species

Many Mallard in the East are of domestic origin or have bred with domestic ducks. This interbreeding has caused a high degree of variation in Mallard plumage. The female Mallard would be more easily confused with other species than the male. One distinguishing characteristic of the female Mallard is its orange bill with black markings.