Saturday, May 2, 2009

At the pond... Mallard

MallardMallard, Dawson Creek Park, Hillsboro, Oregon on 6 December 2008 by Greg Gillson.


Nearly everyone is familiar with the Mallard. It breeds across North America, Europe, and Asia. It has been introduced widely throughout the world to city parks with ponds. Mallards are the ancestors of nearly all domestic ducks (more about this in a future post).

Male wild Mallards have brown backs, gray sides, chestnut-brown chests, and metallic green heads with a white neck ring. The bill is yellow, the legs and feet orange. The tail feathers are white. The undertail and uppertail coverts are black. Diagnostically, several black central uppertail covert feathers curve up over the rump (see photo above). In flight, the speculum (colored patch of secondary flight feathers) is purplish-blue with leading and trailing margins of white.

Female Mallards are cryptically colored in brownish streaked plumage like many other female ducks. The bill is mottled black and orange. The legs and feet are orangish, and the speculum is colored the same as in the male.

In the Pacific NW Mallards breed in freshwater wetlands, ponds, and shallow backwaters of larger rivers. They do not nest right on salt water, nor in the higher lakes. In fall, lakes and wetlands throughout the region see a huge increase in birds from the north. These remain well into spring, as long as the water remains ice-free. Thus, in mid-winter, the lower valleys west of the Cascades and Sierra-Nevadas see flocks of tens-of-thousands around favored wetlands.

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