the most familiar duck North America, the Mallard is a large
and heavy bird. Males have gray bodies with chestnut-brown breasts,
white collars, iridescent-green heads, and yellow bills. Females
are mottled brown-and-black with lighter brown heads and necks
and yellow bills mottled with black. They have a black stripe
running horizontally through the eye. Both sexes have orange
feet and a blue speculum, or wing-patch, bordered in white on
two sides, best seen in flight. From June to September, immatures
and males, which are then in non-breeding (eclipse) plumage,
look much like females.
marshes are the preferred habitat, although Mallards are found
virtually everywhere there is open water, from city parks to
subalpine lakes. Although they favor fresh water, they are also
often found in sheltered bays and estuaries along the coast.
forage by up-ending in shallow water and by grazing on land.
Mallard pairs form in the fall and winter, and remain intact
through the winter and into spring. Pair bonds tend to break
up, however, when the female begins incubating eggs.
are omnivorous, eating seeds, stems, and roots from a variety
of aquatic plants, especially sedges, grasses, pondweeds, and
smartweeds. Insect larvae and other aquatic invertebrates are
also part of the diet, especially the diet of young birds. In
many places, humans provide Mallards with food year round.
female usually picks a nest site that is close to water, but
may be over a mile away. Typically situated on the ground under
dense vegetation, the nest is sometimes on a stump, platform,
or even up to 10 feet off the ground in a tree. It is usually
a shallow bowl of plant matter, lined with down. The female typically
lays 7 to 10 eggs, which she incubates for 26 to 30 days. Within
a day of hatching, the young leave the nest. The female leads
the young to the water and continues to tend them, and they feed
themselves. The young first fly at 52 to 60 days.
will remain as far north in winter as conditions permit, and
many populations that are fed by people do not migrate. Those
that do migrate do so early in spring. Most birds are heading
from wintering grounds to breeding areas in February and March.
The fall migration is more drawn out. Males leave their mates
when incubation begins (as early as mid-March) and gather in
large wetlands where they molt into their non-breeding or eclipse
plumage and go through a flightless period. The actual migration
movement begins in late August and lasts through December, with
peak movements in October and November.
numbers fluctuate considerably and are probably reduced from
historical levels, the Mallard is still one of the most abundant
ducks in the world. It is a generalist and has adapted to living
in close association with humans. Numbers have increased historically
in eastern North America.