Mallard

Common Name: Mallard

Class:  Aves

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

Genus: Anas

Species: Anas platyrhynchos

photo M. Noonan

Taxonomy/Description

The Mallard is in the family Anatidae.  This family is made up of ducks and duck-like waterfowl.  The members of this family share adaptations to life on the water including webbed feet, flattened bills, and feathers with special oils to prevent water absorption.  The family Anatidae is broken up into three subfamilies of which the Mallard is included in Anatinae.  This subfamily is comprised of dabbling ducks.  This means they feed by inverting their body on the surface of the water instead of diving.  This group is also characterized by its gregarious nature and ability to move well on land.  The Mallard’s Latin name, Anas platyrhynchos, can be translated to mean “broad-billed duck.”  This references its wide bill, which is common to many members of the family Anatidae.  The Mallard is a dichromatic species.  This means that the male and female have different colorations.  The male Mallard has a shiny green head with a yellow bill and white neck ring.  It also has a gray body with a chestnut chest, blue-purple speculum, and white tail.  Its legs and feet are orange.  The female Mallard is mottled brown in color with a blue-purple speculum and white tail.  Its legs and feet are orange and its bill is orange with a brown saddle.

Habitat/Diet

The Mallard can be found marshes, lakes, ponds, streams, and swamps.  It is one of the most common ducks and can be found in almost any temperate or sub-tropical region in the world.  It is native to North America and Eurasia, but can also be found in Australia, Africa, Central America, the Caribbean, and New Zealand.   The Mallard migrates from its northern breeding range to a wintering range that can extend far south.  In North America, the Mallard will breed from Alaska and Quebec to the southern United States and northern Mexico.  Its wintering range extends from the United States to the West Indies and Central America.  The Mallard is an omnivore that has very generalist tastes.  This means that the Mallard will eat a variety of different foods.  During the breeding season, the Mallard will consume mostly animal foods such as insects, aquatic invertebrates, and earthworms.  When it is not breeding, it consists on seeds, acorns, aquatic vegetation, corn, and wheat.  Mallards who live in urban areas may also fully depend on human food such as bread and seeds to survive the winter.

photo M. Noonan

Behavior/Reproduction

The Mallard is a dabbling duck that can run and walk on land with agility.  They are extremely social animals that can be aggressive.  During the winter, the Mallard is territorial and will show aggression over resting areas with other Mallards as well as American Black Ducks.  In the breeding season, the male will defend its mate.  Mallards are prey for Red Fox, Coyote, Raccoon, and the Great Horned Owl.  Ducklings are also prey for fish, Snapping Turtles, and Black Crowned Night Herons.  When a predator is close, the Mallard will defend itself using persistent quacking, mobbing, and faking death.  In preparation for the breeding season, pair bonds are formed each year on the wintering grounds.  The Mallard is largely monogamous, but males will force extra-pair copulations.  The female will create a nest in upland areas near the water.  The nest is made up of what the female can reach while sitting on the nesting area.  This usually includes grass, leaves, twigs, and other plant litter.  The clutch includes 1-13 eggs that are smooth ovals with a creamy, gray, or greenish buff color.  The eggs are incubated for 23-30 days and the hatchlings will leave the nest with their mother the morning after hatching.  The female Mallard will stay with her brood until the ducklings can fly.

photo M. Noonan

Vocalizations:

A very generic "quack". 

Where to see them in WNY

The Mallard is a very successful duck that can exist almost anywhere there is open water.  Look for then in marshes, parks, ponds, rivers, and lakes around Western New York.  Mallards are also common in wetlands so look for them in local marshes such as those in the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

ConserveNature.org is a program of Canisius College, Buffalo, NY.                                                  Web Design by Ivan Andrijevic