The Mallard- a wild duck ?

Mallards belong to the Anatinae which is a sub family of Anatidae {swans,geese, ducks}, and the Order Anseriformes, they are placed in the genus Anas.

The specific name of platyrhynchos, means- broad bill .

There are records {fossils} of this wild duck that date back to the 8th century. They are distributed widely and they breed throughout the sub-tropical areas of north America, Asia, Australia and Europe. 

with the exception of the Mucovy duck, the mallard gave rise to most domestic ducks. It has been introduced to New Zealand and is now the commonest duck species residing there, indeed it is classed as a pest species in many areas of New Zealand. 

"If there is a puddle a mallard will land on it", ok this may be an exaggeration, but, this familiar duck may be encountered on most water bodies. It will, without doubt, be the the "local" duck when the that most common of activities-feeding the ducks- is practised. They may be encountered on farmland ponds, village ponds, town parks and even city parks, along with lakes, canals and rivers and salt water bodies. 

It once had the Latin name of Anas boschas. When most people say the word duck it is almost certainly the mallard they will be referring to. 

Description of the Mallard.

The mallard is the largest wild duck, at least of the species that frequent this country. Although the flesh is not, according to some, the most delicate, compared with smaller ducks, it was once a common sight hung in markets for the table.

In archaic times it was from the female that the general name of duck is taken, while mallard referred to the male {Drake}.  The length of a full grown mallard is about 2 feet {60 cm} with a wing span of 3 feet { 90 cm}, they weigh about two and a half pounds. However, individuals may at times, weigh heavier, than this. 

The head and neck of the Drake are of a bottle green colour, which has a glossy sheen and consists of very fine feathers. The bill of the Drake is yellowish in colour, it is relatively broad and and has a blackish tip. below the head and neck there is a white collar, and the head breast and shoulder is of a purplish brown colour. The breast of the drake in the breeding season is a beautiful chestnut brown with a purplish sheen. 

The scapular {shoulder } feathers are a mixture of silver white and rust colour finely streaked with wavy lines of brown. The wing coverts are ash coloured with white and black on the tips and the primary quills are dusky black. The wing feathers are of a rich purple with a metalic sheen of blue-green.

The lower back, the rump, the tail coverts and the four middle tail feathers, which are curled up in the drake are black with green reflections on the rump and purple on the tail. The drake in his breeding attire is a very handsome bird. 

Mallard taking off. Courtesy of the USFW

The duck {female} is much duller which helps to keep her concealed in vegetation, especially when she is sitting on eggs.

Photograph by Dal.

When the male moults, after the breeding season, he takes on a similar colouring of the female, but can always be told by his yellow bill { as opposed to the females brown bill.} . the legs and feet are orange with a hint of red {both species}.

The female {duck} has a general colour of rusty brown lined and mottled with black and the curled tail feathers prominent on the drake are absent. She may some times have blue in her wing plumage.

In relation to their body size the wings are medium length, the tail short, neck medium, bill medium long and the legs short. Movement--- the mallard has a direct fast, flight with wings not coming below the body and making a swishing sound. They rise steeply from the water and descends again in a long glide, finally breaking with the wings held back, and, dropping almost vertically on the water. When landing on land the mallard sometimes pitch right over !. The walk resembles the farmyard duck, but less waddling and more horizontal. Mallards do not normally perch on high objects except when nesting in tree { which they occasionally do }.

Swims steadily and feeds by both dabbling on the surface and upending in shallow water.  Adults may sometimes dive and juveniles tend to dive more often. They are very social birds and tend to make up flocks of paired birds.

Male in elclipse plumage

Not in the public domain Copyright belongs to Yann  CC BY-SA 3.0 license.


This species is a very opportunist feeder and is omnivorous,  and as previously stated, feeding by dabbling or upending in the water, on land they commonly graze. They feed on seed, aquatic vegetation, terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, occasionally small fish or even amphibians, and, of course bread and other food items such as sweet corn given to them by humans. Fish eggs and tadpoles are also favoured.

Breeding and Young.

Mallards tend to pair up long before the breeding season. As the season approaches elaborate courtship displays are carried out by the males. At this time any unpaired males will gather around a female, swimming close to her and constantly seeking her attention and much squabbling will ensues. These unpaired males will force themselves on the hapless female and they may all mate with her.

However, in the main, mallards are monogamous and once the pair has settled down the business of starting a family begins. The nest may be located in vegetation near the water but this is not always the case. They have even been known to nest high, in the hollow of a tree. The nest is an open structure of dry grass,rushes,leaves etc and generally lining it  with down from her own breast.

The eggs are most commonly encountered in April and May, but often much earlier. They have a smooth surface and of a greyish-green colour as a rule, but they do vary a great deal, some being decidedly blue, others yellowish,white with no green. The full set   consists of 8-12 eggs.

Incubation is carried out by the female  alone and it takes around 27-28 days. By this time the duck has been abandoned by the drake. If she has to leave the nest for any reason she tends to cover them up with down or vegetation.

The ducklings when they emerge are precocial { able to swim and feed as soon as they are born}, however, they do stay close to their mother for protection and warmth during the night and during inclement weather. The young ducklings have many enemies including the heron and pike who take many ducklings at this early stage in their lives.

Herons are visible and thus have to work hard to catch a duckling. The pike on the other hand is a ferocious unseen predator that attacks from below the surface. The jaws of this fish can open particularly wide and a baby duckling can be swallowed whole ! Apart from a certain amount of turmoil on the water's surface as the duckling is taken  there are few signs that anything is amiss. The duckling can one minute be swimming happily, the next gone--the pike is that quick.

Those ducklings that survive fledge at about 60 days. Mallards normally raise just one brood per year.The young are capable of breeding at one year old. It is thought the typical lifespan of the mallard is three years. In captivity they have been known to live for more than 20 years.

Mallard  with ducklings.

Photograph by Dal

Conservation issues.

Mallard numbers fell in the 1990s for reasons not clearly understood. Threats to mallards include habitat,degradtion,wetland drainage, peat extraction and lead poisoning. In the UK they are listed on the Amber list of conservation concern because of a 25-50% in the UK wintering population.

According to the BTO there is between 63,000-158,000 pairs in summer {2000}. However, the population in England is steadily increasing according to the BTO's long term trends.  

In Depth article -Tufted duck.

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Reuse of images.

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UK conservation status 2021.

UK-Amber list-due to declines in population/distribution of over 25% in the last 30 years or so.

Europe-Species of  least concern. 

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