The scientific name of Mallard is Anas Platyrhynchos. It is a species of duck generally found in the Northern Hemisphere. However, now this species of duck can be found in several other regions as well. A Mallard duck is found in the upper latitudes of North America, southern Mexico, Asia, North Africa, Europe, etc. Interestingly, this duck species are now bred in many other parts of the world. It has also been spotted in parts of Southern Mexico, southern Canada, and even in India.
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Mallard meaning refers to a species of dabbling ducks, which feed on freshwater plants and insects, or small animals near the shallows of ponds, lakes, or rivers. Mallards dive into the shallow waterbodies mostly with their wings open in the search for food. Also, there are 38 other species of Anas and 5 other genera species that are characterized as dabbling ducks. The species of Mallard ducks belong to the Anatinae subfamily of the Anatini tribe, and the Anatidae family of waterfowls(of Anseriformes order) as well. In general, Mallard duck flying is a common vision, as these ducks are observed to take a noisy flight with their wings flapping. Mostly, they are spotted in flocks while swimming and while taking up a steady-level flight. A Mallard duck exhibits a high float in water and can fly swiftly. These ducks are highly gregarious in nature (except the breeding season) and their flocks are known as Sordes.
Characteristics of a Mallard Duck
Mallards are a beautiful species of wild ducks. The male ducks of this species have a vibrant appearance whereas the female ducks have a somewhat dull appearance. The typical characteristics of Mallard ducks are listed below.
The hind toe of a Mallard is unlobed and it has a broad, and flat bill. It is yellow in colour.
The head of the drake Mallard is of shining green colour, and there is a ring-shaped white patch on its neck.
This white ring marks a distinct separation of the head of the drake Mallard duck from its chestnut-coloured breast.
The body of the male Mallard duck has patches of light gray, white, and black.
The common female duck name for Mallard is hen. The female Mallards have a yellowish, light brown coloured body with dull patches spread unevenly on it.
The wings of these ducks are lined with a shining purplish hue, visible from the front. The inner side of the wings of Mallard is white in colour.
The drake Mallards can whistle and make nasal sounds to draw the attention of the flock.
The female Mallards make a quack sound.
Where are Mallard Ducks Found?
Mallard ducks were originally found in the cooler temperate and subtropical latitudes of North Africa, the Americas, and Eurasia. Over the years, this breed of ducks has been introduced and bred thereafter, in the lands of South Africa, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Argentina, Australia, Colombia, Uruguay, Falk Islands. Hence, Mallard ducks are now can be found in various parts of the Northern and Southern hemispheres. This breed of ducks can be spotted in central and southern Alaska, South Korea, Iceland, Siberia, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Palearctic, Scandinavia, Britain, Hawaiian Islands, southern Greenland.
The habitats of this breed of ducks are found across the latitudes of the frigid tundra region, near the Arctic as well as in the subtropical regions. Their natural habitat is generally found in the swampy marshes, or in water bodies like lakes, shallow inlets of seas, and small rivers, parks, ponds, estuaries. The most common habitats for the Mallard with ducklings are the wetlands (fresh-water as well as salt-water), where there is a growth of aquatic vegetation. Mostly, Mallards are found to nest at river banks for easy access to food.
These ducks are usually found to migrate to the Northern parts of the globe and down to the southern latitudes during the winters. In other words, Mallards mostly tend to migrate within the same continent where they locally breed. For instance, the ducks bred in North America are found to migrate towards the southern parts of the continent, that is, towards Mexico and the lower latitudes of the United States, in the winters. Also, in the months of September to May, Mallard ducks are spotted to fly over to the Caribbean lands and Central Americas.
Food Habits of Mallards
Mallards are omnivorous birds that can feed on various types of plants and animals. Their food habits are developed depending upon several factors. Often, there is a competition for food among a flock of Mallards in a particular region, that is, an intraspecific competition or there are flocks of Mallards depending upon the same area for their source of food, that is interspecific competition. The food habits of these ducks surviving the competitions are developed accordingly. The other factors influencing the food habits of Mallard ducks include the availability of food, the variations in the nutrient availability, the stage of life-cycle or breeding cycle they are in, etc.
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Mallards commonly feed on insects like lepidopterans, worms, gastropods, crustaceans, dragonflies, plant roots, seeds, tubers, other plant matter, beetles, caddisflies, etc. As the name, dabbling ducks (Mallards) dabble into the shallow wetlands or water bodies to catch their animal prey and to graze on the plant matter. However, in very few instances, this breed of ducks has been observed to prey on animals like frogs and large vertebrates as well.
The following few trends have been observed and noted in the food habits of Mallards.
The non-laying female Mallards are noted to be feeding on 63% plant materials and 37% animal materials.
During the mating season, the drake Mallards are observed to be consuming 62.4% of plant materials, and 37.6% of animal material.
However, the egg-laying female Mallards are noted to consume only 28.1% plant materials and 71.9% animal materials.
These ducks consume a greater amount of plant material in their regular diet during the months of their migration, that is, from autumn to winter.
Breeding of Mallards
The mating season begins in the months of October and November and the moulting season begins in the month of June, for Mallards in the northern hemisphere. During the mating season, the male and female Mallards make a pair and after the female lays the eggs in the nesting season (in the Spring), the drake leaves the nest, and the female waits with her eggs till the moulting season. The male Mallards are sexually potent till the moulting season, and may flock around with other drakes or may mate with other female ducks of the same or different species. Also, in case of unusually warm and humid weather, Mallards can mate in autumn. If a brood or the nest itself fails, Mallards are likely to pair up and mate another time till the mid-summer.
The drakes as well as the female ducks tend to be very aggressive during the mating season, so as to drive away their competitors. Mostly, the drakes fight more aggressively as compared to the female ducks. There are instances where these ducks rip off the feathers or even skin from one another in the competition for mating. The female ducks tend to trigger the drakes to put up a fight with their inciting displays. In this way, they fathom the strength of their potential mates.
The female Mallards choose the nesting sites to be mainly in areas typically covered with thick vegetation. The main reason behind such a choice of nesting sites is that the female Mallards plumage gets a proper camouflage in those surroundings. Often, the nest survival of Mallard eggs and ducklings is threatened, due to various natural and man-made causes. The eggs or the newly-hatched ducklings are at the risk of being preyed on by other predators. However, the nest survival of these ducks is longer in regions where they are naturalized, than in their natural habitats. In general, a female Mallard lays eggs on alternate days. However, the female Mallards have also been spotted to nest with eggs in spots like boathouses, balconies, roof gardens, hollow trees, and other dry regions. In such cases, it is challenging for the hatched ducklings to follow the parent Mallards back into the water from the dry nesting areas.
On average, a female Mallard lays about 8 to 13 eggs, that are range in colour from white creamy to greenish-buff. Mostly the Mallard eggs are not speckled. The Mallard eggs are usually 2.3 inches long, 1.3 inches wide. The 27 or 28 days long incubation for the eggs begins right after the clutch is nearly complete. Interestingly, the ducklings are quite pre-developed and are capable of swimming soon after they are hatched.
The brood of newly-hatched Mallard ducklings is observed to remain quite close to the mother duck, so as to learn the reactions to various acquired stimulus, and other behavioural attributes. This is due to the phenomenon of filial imprinting that is common in psychology. The ducklings stay together with the mother duck to seek protection, warmth and they follow the mother duck everywhere, to develop their skills to find food and learn the way to their nests or habitat. The ducklings take about 50-60 days to learn to fly, this period is known as the fledging period. On growing up, these ducklings begin to learn and follow the parent Mallards to their migratory lands along with the other flocks. In this way, they learn their traditional routes of migration.
Did You Know?
In 2018, a drake Mallard duck was spotted on the island of Niue, a quite uncommon migratory location for this breed of ducks. This male Mallard was named Trevor and it attracted a lot of attention from the media across the globe.
The male Mallards have been spotted to consume a greater amount of Echinochloa crus-galli during their mating season.
In 2017, Mallards were observed to feed on big vertebrates for the first time. In Romania, a flock of Mallards was spotted to prey on Black Redstarts and Grey Wagtails.
In New Zealand, Mallards have been introduced and their breeding has been naturalized over the years. Here, the egg size of Mallards, as well as their clutch size, is larger as compared to the regions where these ducks have their natural habitat.
Mallards are often an easy target by brood parasites, that is, the birds having eggs similar to that of Mallards. They hatch and nurse the young ones of the brood parasites.