Common Mallard – general and interesting facts

mallard in flight

General Information

  • Family – Anseriformes
  • Family – Ducks (Anatidae)
  • Genus – River ducks (Anas)
  • Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

The appearance of a Mallard

The best known and most common wild duck. Quite large and stocky with a large head and a short tail. Body length: 57-62 cm, weight: 1-1.5 kg, wingspan 80-100 cm. There are differences between the sexes, both in size and color.

male and female mallard

The mating male has a shiny dark green head and neck, ending with a narrow white “collar,” a brownish-gray back with small dark strokes, a black supra-tail, a chocolate-brown breast, and a grayish belly with a transverse jet pattern. The wings are brownish-gray above with a bright blue-violet with white edgings, and almost white below. The size of the mirror increases with the age of the bird. The tail has a black curl formed by the middle rudders. The rest of the tail feathers are straight, light gray in color. In summer after molting, the male becomes similar to the female. During this period he can be distinguished from the duck by his chest chestnut and yellow beak. The legs are orange-red with darker webbing.

The female retains a uniform plumage pattern regardless of the time of year. The coloration is a motley combination of black, brown, and red tones in the upper part of the body. The underside, underbelly, and tails are ochre or reddish-brown, with indistinct dark brown spots. Thorax is ochre, straw-colored. The wing has a shiny mirror, a dark stripe across the eye, and an equally light stripe above it. The legs are paler in comparison to the male, dirty or pale orange.

Young birds regardless of sex look more like a female, differing from her dull plumage and less spotty underneath.

The downy chick’s back color is dark olive, with two pairs of yellowish-white spots in the back of the wing and on both sides of the loins. The belly is grayish-yellow, which then acquires yellow-pale tones. The cheeks are reddish. A narrow dark band runs from the upper part of the beak through the eye to the back of the head and a dark spot on the ear. Paws and beak are olive-gray in color.


Mallard is widely distributed in the northern hemisphere. It nests in Arctic latitudes as well as in warm subtropical climates.

Mallards are found throughout the northern hemisphere, from Europe to Asia to North America. In North America, it is absent only in the far north in tundra areas from Canada to Maine and east to Nova Scotia. Its North American distribution center is in the so-called prairie region of North and South Dakota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

It is a partly migratory species. Most birds nesting in northwestern Russia, Finland, Sweden and the Baltics, move to the coasts of Western Europe from Denmark westward to France and Great Britain. Another part, more numerous in warmer years, stays in breeding grounds for the winter. In the rest of Europe, mallards are mostly sedentary.

The mallard has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. It is found wherever the climate corresponds to its northern hemisphere distribution area. In Australia mallards appeared not earlier than 1862 and spread on the Australian continent, especially since 1950s. It is relatively rare because of climatic features of this continent. Mainly inhabits Tasmania, the southeast and some areas in south-western Australia.


Very plastic in a choice of food, easily adapts to local conditions. It feeds in shallow waters by filtration, straining small aquatic animals and plant food through the horny plates of its beak. Often mallards stand upright in the water, tail up, trying to reach the plants growing on the bottom of the body of water.


In sedentary populations, pair formation occurs in the fall, in others in the spring upon arrival at the nesting sites. They nest in pairs or in small loose groups.

The nest is well covered and located near water. It is often placed in thickets of reeds or reeds. On the ground, the nest is a hole in the ground or grass, abundantly lined with down on the edges. The mallard deepens the hole with its beak and smoothes it with its breast, twisting for a long time in one place. They don’t carry the material for covering the hole far away, but take mostly that which can be reached with their beak without leaving the nest.

The laying of eggs starts very early, depending on habitat, in early April-May. Breeding begins with the last egg. The number of eggs in the nest varies from 9 to 13. Incubation time is 22-29 days.

Brood leaves the nest about 12-16 hours after the first chick hatches. By this time the chicks are able to move on land, swim and dive. Nestlings dive well and constantly use this method to escape predators.

mallard with ducklings

At first, the chicks are active only during daylight hours, then they begin to feed in the evening. The chicks completely switch to evening feeding mode, when they develop horny plates on their beak and become capable to get food by means of siphoning.

The chicks stay with the female for 7-8 weeks.

Interesting fact:

The mallard, the largest and most common wild duck, is the ancestor of domestic ducks.

Like all slaty-billed birds, the mallard’s beak is wide and flattened. The blades, located at its edges, allow grasping small animals and sifting food from the water.

The atypical coloring of some mallards is a consequence of their mating with different breeds of domestic ducks. Since the offspring from such mating can reproduce, the original coloration can be passed on from generation to generation.

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