Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mallard Ducks - Interesting, Attractive and Entertaining Birds

The mallard duck is an old friend of mine. It was the first duck that I learned to identify as a child and has been part of my life ever since. The bird's confidence around humans and its relative abundance compared to other ducks attracted me both in Britain, where I grew up, and in Canada, where I live now.

Today I always stop to say hello when I find mallards on my walks. Like the pair in my photo below, they don't seem to be too impressed with my greeting, although they tolerate my presence. I never feed them, which I'm sure is the reason for their lack of enthusiasm.

Identifying a Mallard

A male and female mallard that I met on a walk
Photo by Linda Crampton
The male mallard is a handsome fellow when he's wearing his breeding plumage. His head is a rich and iridescent green and his bill is yellow. The white neck ring above a beautiful chestnut brown chest and the silver sides add to his attractiveness. He also has a black curl on his "tail".

The female mallard is attractive too, although her mottled brown coloration and orange and brown bill are less impressive than the male's. Both birds have a blue patch on their wings called a speculum. The speculum is sometimes visible when the wings are folded.

Mallards hydridize readily with other ducks, so some birds are hard to identify. In addition, after the breeding season has finished, mallards lose their bright colour and the ability to fly for a few weeks as they molt. The effect is most noticeable in the males. At this stage the ducks are said to be in their eclipse phase. This is a dangerous time for the ducks, since it's harder for them to escape from predators. They tend to stay hidden from view during this phase and are seen less often.

Mallard Habitat and Diet

It's not hard to find mallards, at least where I live. Ponds and lakes in nature reserves, wild areas, parks and golf courses are good places to look for the ducks. They can also be found in marshes, streams, temporary wetlands on farms, roadside ditches, reservoirs and estuaries. 

An upended male mallard feeding
Photo by David Wagner via
Mallards are dabbling ducks, which means that they feed by upending their body and dipping their head into the water to find food. They rarely dive but do so occasionally. They also feed on land. Mallards are omnivores and eat aquatic and land vegetation, seeds, grain, insect larvae, shrimp, snails and even earthworms.They are often more than willing to accept handouts from humans.

There are many potential problems caused by humans feeding waterfowl. It's best not to feed the birds, but it's an enjoyable activity, expecially for children. Please give a healthy handout if you decide to feed ducks or any other birds. Grain intended for wild birds is good; bread isn't. Both supermarkets and pet stores sell grain for wild birds. Try to buy the freshest grain possible.

Courtship Displays

A female mallard with her speculum visible
Photo by Antranias via
I always enjoy watching mallards. Their behaviour is very interesting, particularly when they start performing their mating displays in the spring. Recording and analyzing this behaviour is a good project for beginning naturalists because it's easily observed. It's also entertaining for everyone.

Mallard courtship is easiest to observe in open areas that have a group of ducks. Luckily, the birds aren't shy about performing in public. When many birds are present, the ducks can get very excited and often put on a great show.

Some More Mallard Facts

  • Only the female mallard quacks. The male makes rasping sounds instead. He also emits a whistle during the mating display.
  • All domestic ducks - except for the Muscovy duck - evolved from mallards.
  • The mallard"s natural range is the northern hemisphere, but it's been introduced to the southern hemisphere as well.
  • According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, mallards can fly up to an estimated 55 mph.
  • The longest known lifespan of a mallard duck is 27 years. Most wild ducks live for a much shorter time, however.


  1. Linda, What an amazing lady of wonder you are. How do you keep up with so many things? I'm in awe.
    I enjoyed the Mallard post. I remember them on the farm!
    I don't know how often I will be able to visit your site, but I will try when I think of it.
    So glad to make your acquaintance through HubPages. Warmly, Essie

    1. Thank you very much, Essie! I appreciate your kind comment.