Our Wild Neighbors

Mallard

Anas platyrhynchos

Water dweller

Image of a Mallard taking flight, mounted and seen in profile with its head to the right, with cattails on its left.

Description of the animal

  • The male is recognizable by his brilliant green head and neck feathers, and by a yellow beak that can sport a black mark. A white collar separates his head and neck from his brown chest. The Mallard’s back, wings, underbelly, and sides vary from grey to brown.
  • Whitish tail with black above and below it.
  • The female has a more modest appearance with a mottled back and streaked chest in shades of brown, and an orange beak.
  • Different looks for different purposes: the male’s appearance is intended to seduce, while the female’s is to protect herself and her young during brooding.
  • The wings of both males and females have a purplish-blue speculum, or wing patch.
  • Both sexes have orange legs and feet.

Habitat and needs

  • Belongs to the subfamily of dabblers. The Mallard is one of the most adaptable ducks. As long as there is water nearby, it will adapt to different environments, although it prefers marshy areas.
  • Builds its nest in depressions protected by herbaceous plants and lines it with bits of grass and rushes.
  • Lays an average of one egg per day for about nine days and then incubates them for close to one month. The female uses her own down to cover the eggs when she leaves the nest to feed. In addition to keeping the eggs warm, the down also serves as camouflage.
  • Ducklings spend the first 24 hours under their mother, who then commands them to walk towards a body of water. If a threat appears, she lures predators away by flapping her wings and squawking as if injured.
  • Feeds on seeds and invertebrates found in marshes, farm fields, and compost matter. Nocturnal insects that emerge from water are an important food source. When feeding, the Mallard filters the surface water and rocks its body forward to reach underwater plants and insects. In the spring, the female Mallard switches from a plant diet to one rich in protein (insects), necessary for moulting and egg production and incubation.
  • The Mallard spends several hours a day preening its feathers. Using its beak and tail, the Mallard smoothes and waterproofs them by covering them with an oily and waxy secretion produced by the uropygial gland located at the base of its tail.
  • During moulting, the Mallard sheds all its flight feathers, rendering it incapable of flight during the month that follows. It must then hide in reeds until new feathers grow.

Relationship

  • The Mallard is the ancestor of all domestic ducks, with the exception of the Muscovy duck. The Mallard was domesticated more than 2000 years ago in South-East Asia, and nearly 1000 years ago in Europe.
  • The Mallard is at times responsible for the closing of public beaches resulting from contamination due to fecal coliform and disease-causing bacteria. In one day, a Mallard produces as much coliform as five humans.
  • Agricultural activities occasionally destroy the Mallard’s nest. Ingesting various contaminants, especially white phosphorus and lead shot used by hunters and fishermen, can pose a problem to the Mallard. It has also been negatively impacted by the introduction of predators by humans, such as the American mink.

Living with them

  • Mallards should not be fed, since food eaten by humans cannot provide the bird with proper nutrition. Feeding creates a dependency and encourages Mallards to flock together, increasing the risk of disease. Contact between humans and Mallards promotes the spread of avian flu, among other diseases.
  • People who feed Mallards must stop doing so on a progressive basis, so the bird can learn to manage on its own.
  • To prevent a flock of Mallards from settling on a water garden or shoreline, ensure constant movement or noise. Install banners, weather vanes, flags, scarecrows, or moving lights.
  • Ways to preserve the Mallard:
  • Support wetland conservation and restoration organizations.
  • Raise awareness of conserving Mallard habitats among people you associate with.

Participating cities where this animal has been seen