- Size: 23” long, 35” wingspan.
- Color: males in breeding plumage have bright green head, chestnut chest, white neck bank, and yellow bill; females are brown with dark eye stripe, orange bill; both have a broad blue wing stripe bordered by white.
- Habitat: shallow ponds, lakes, marshlands, flooded field.
- Where and when to observe: year-round in nearly every park with just a small amount of water.
A familiar favorite at local duck ponds everywhere, the Mallard is probably one of the first birds we can recall as children. Certainly I was captivated at a very early age by their tame nature, charming waddle, laugh-like quacking, and colorful feathers!
Our largest of the dabbling ducks at 23” long with a 35” wingspan, they also might be the most widespread, found in nearly any wet habitat – shallow ponds, lakes, marshlands, even flooded fields – from a city park to the tundra.
In the familiar breeding plumage, males sport a yellow bill, bright green head and chestnut chest, separated by a white neckband, and curly tail feathers. Females are more muted in brown with a dark eye stripe, and an orange bill with a touch of black in its center. Most visible in flight, the wings of both males and females have a broad blue stripe called a speculum bordered by white.
They feed on vegetation just below the water’s surface by upending themselves with tails in the air, but Mallards also forage in fields and add insects, aquatic invertebrates and grain to their diets.
Spring brings the enjoyable sight of ducklings under the protective watch of the female who raises them on her own. After mating, she builds a nest on the ground around dense vegetation, though some occasionally choose odd spots like building roofs as evidenced by periodic new stories. She lays one brood consisting of 7-10 buff, greenish or grayish eggs measuring 2 ½” long. Eggs are incubated for approximately 28 days. Ducklings are precocial – able to feed and keep themselves warm — and fledge in 42-60 days.
Though predators exist, particularly nest raiders like skunks, Mallard populations look stable. They live year-round in our region and are regular residents of nearly every pond or wetland.
Tempting as it may be, when paying the ducks a visit at the local pond, don’t offer them bread which is not a nutritious food source, and may create other problems like attracting nuisance animals like rats. Instead, just relax and spend the time admiring these lovely ducks, while reminiscing about childhood visits with these feathered charmers!
- All About Birds: Mallard by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, accessed on 1/16/09 at: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Mallard_dtl.html.
- The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye, Simon and Schuster, 1988.
- The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley, Chanticleer Press, 2000.
- What do I feed ducks? by Ducks Unlimited, accessed on 1/23/12 at: http://www.ducks.org/about-du/frequently-asked-questions/conservation-faqs.
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