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The mallard is undoubtedly the most recognized waterfowl in the world. On the male, the notable characteristics are the green iridescent plumage on the head and neck, and curled black feathers on the tail. The female's plumage is drab brown. Both sexes have an iridescent blue speculum on the wings.


After the breeding season, mallards form flocks and migrate from northern latitudes to warmer southern areas. There they wait and feed until the breeding season starts again. Some mallards, however, may choose to stay through the winter in areas where food and shelter are abundant; these mallards make up resident populations.

The familiar "quack" of ducks is from the female mallard and is called the "decrescendo call”. This call can be heard for miles. A female will give the call when she wants to bring other ducks to her, such as her ducklings.

Food Habits

Mallards consume a wide variety of foods, including vegetation, insects, worms, gastropods and arthropods, although they are not restricted to these. They also take advantage of human food sources, such as gleaning grain from crops.


Most mallard hens breed as yearlings, but they may not have much success; studies show that older hens have much lower duckling mortality than yearlings. Pair bonding starts as early as October and continues through March. Mallard males leave the hen soon after mating occurs. The hen usually lays nine to thirteen eggs in a nest on the ground near a body of water. When the ducklings hatch after 26 to 28 days, the hen leads them to water and does not return to the nest. Young become independent at 52 to 70 days.

Population Status, Threats & Conservation

Mallards are the most abundant and widespread of all waterfowl. Every year millions are harvested by hunters with little effect on their numbers. The greatest threat to mallards is loss of habitat, but they readily adapt to human disturbances.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Animal Diversity Web