Mallard

Anas platyrhynchos

50-65cm

Appearance

This is the most familiar and common duck, likely to be seen in habitats across the UK. It is a large and bulky-looking bird with a long body and a wide bill. The sexes look different, but both of them show a white-edged, purplish-blue speculum. The male's head is dark green with a yellow bill, a white collar around his neck, a predominately grey body, a purplish-brown breast and black upper tail feathers with a curl in an otherwise white tail. His back is greyish brown, grading to reddish-brown. The female is less patterned and colourful; she's a mottled brown with a dark crown and eye-stripe, and a pale breast. Her bill is orange-brown and her legs are a dull orange. Juveniles are similar to females but their flanks are more finely streaked.

Habitat

The Mallard can be found throughout the region, anywhere near water but excluding high mountains. It can live on lakes of varying sizes or slow-flowing rivers with some shelter and shallow edges for feeding. Tends towards park lakes, coastal marshes and reservoirs. Flocks may visit larger bodies of water in the winter and may even be seen on the ocean.

Character

Due to the long-running domestication of Mallards, a range in plumages have developed, from almost black to pure white. This bird is most often seen in small flocks. It has the ability to rise directly out of water if disturbed; adults dive occasionally and ducklings also dive, usually to avoid danger. Some males are polygamous; rape and promiscuity are quite normal behaviours. They can be tamed where they live in close proximity to humans.

Food

Feeds on both land and water. The bird does up-end, and also finds food by submerging its head and neck. Its diet includes leaves, shoots and seeds of water plants, cereals, insects and their larvae, bread and other foods from humans. Occasionally eats small fish, mammals and birds.

Breeding

Provided the weather is mild, Mallards begin nesting in February. Locations for nesting sites include hidden spots amongst vegetation such as nettles or brambles, or occasionally in trees in woodland. Females lay 11-14 eggs and during incubation (27 days), the males desert. Young are quite independent soon after hatching; they can soon feed themselves, swim and dive, and are completely independent after 50 days.

Population

There are both resident and migrant Mallards in Britain. Up to 146 000 pairs breed in the UK and over 10 000 in Ireland (most often resident and sedentary). Many birds that breed in Iceland and northern Europe head to the region for the winter, which increases the numbers to around 710 000 individuals in the UK and 38 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

It's worth noting that the male in eclipse plumage may look similar to the female, and the female is easily confused with other large duck species.

Voice

The female utters the familiar 'quack', often repeated quickly, several times. The male has a range of whistles and throaty calls, uttering a raspy 'crrrib'.
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