Mallard: Waterfowl Wednesday

When I choose a bird for a weekly feature, such as Waterfowl Wednesday, I like to pick birds that I feel people might not know much about. It’s exciting for me too, because I can to expand my knowledge of species life history. But with over 800 North American birds, I’ll admit that sometimes I’m not really sure who to write about for the feature. So what do I do about it?

Ask my mom :-).

She’s been one of my readers since day one, and hasn’t missed a post (hi mom!). She (and also my sister, Mary) are budding bird enthusiasts, and I’m impressed with how good their id skills have become and of the knowledge they amassed since they started birding with me. Tonight I asked her who I should write about an she suggested the Mallard.

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A Mallard pair at Palmyra Cove (Image by BirdNation)

What is there to know about the Mallard? We’ve all seen them at our local parks and wetlands. Like Canada Geese, they just happen to be everywhere. Some people even dismiss them because they think since they are so common they are not even worth considering (crazy, right?)! It seems like we already know the basics: they’re dabblers, females are brown/males are gray-brown with green heads, they have lots of cute chicks, they quack a lot. That’s everything, right?

Nope! As common as they are, Mallards are fascinating. The quintessential duck, Mallards are much more interesting than most people give them credit for. Here are 8 magnificent facts about Mallards.

  • Mallards are the most common ducks in the Northern Hemisphere. They are native to North America and Eurasia, but have extended their range to include parts of Africa, Australia, South America, and New Zealand. It’s estimated that there are around 10 million Mallards that are of breeding age in North America alone.
  • Mallards are the main ancestor to most breeds of domestic ducks, with the exception of Muscovy Ducks. They are part of the genus Anas. Mallards hybridize frequently with other members of the Anas family, including American Black Ducks, Northern Pintails, Gadwalls, Cinnamon and Green-winged Teals, and Mottled Ducks.
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Mallard with a domestic hybird at Haddon Lake Park (Image by BirdNation)
  • During flight, Mallards can fly up to 55 miles per hour!
  • Did you know when you hear the familar “quack”  that you are hearing a female? Male’s don’t quack, but makes a quieter rasping call.
  • Sometimes, a  Mallard’s nest will fall victim to being infested by brood parasites (when a female lays her eggs in another bird’s nest). Common parasitic species include Redheads, Gadwalls, Ruddy Ducks, goldeneyes, and even other mallards. A female may accept the egg if it looks similar to her own, but my destroy it or abandon the nest completely if it occurs during egg laying.
  • Once a female Mallard starts incubating her eggs, the male with abandon her to care for the eggs on her own. She can lay beetween 7-10 eggs, sometimes up to 15. The female will incubate them for between 26-30 days. Like other waterfowl species, the yellow and brown fuzzy chicks are precocial, and will leave the nest within a few hours. The mother will tend to her chicks, but they can feed themselves.
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Mallard chicks (Image by HomeinSalem via wikimedia commons)
  • Male Mallards are called “drakes” and female Mallards are called “hens”.
  • Mallards can fly at altitudes between 400 and 2,00 feet, but can fly higher as well.

I can go on and on about how fascinating Mallard are, but we just don’t the time (and you wouldn’t want to read a 4,000 word post haha!). But next time you see one at your local park, just remember that there are so many cool things to know about this common species. Plus, they are fun to party with, I did it once (you can read about that and watch the video hereWarning: mallard parties get pretty chaotic, so be prepared for it to get loud!)

What’s your favorite thing about Mallards? Tell me in the comments below, as well as any bird-related topics you’d like to learn about.

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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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