Mallards are undoubtedly the most recognized waterfowl in the world. They have a typical duck body with an iridescent blue patch on the wings in both sexes. On males the notable characteristics are the green iridescent feathers on the head and neck and curled black feathers on the tail. Females are uniformly a speckled brown color. The male duck's bill is yellow, while the female's bill is orange with black markings. Both males and females have orange legs, webbed feet, and dark colored eyes.
Mallards can be found in many regions throughout the Northern Hemisphere, native to the Nearctic, Palearctic and Oriental regions. They are the most common duck species of the Northern Hemisphere and are found in Asia, North America, and many islands.
Mallards live in a variety of habitats. Most often they live along waterways with plentiful vegetation, such as marshes, ponds, small lakes, coastal bays, and estuaries. They graze in stubble fields and nest in grasslands away from the water's edge.
Most mallard females breed when they are 1 year old, but they may not have much success; studies show that older females have more success in breeding. Mating occurs from March through June. Females lay from 5 to 14 eggs in a nest on the ground near a body of water. Eggs hatch after 26 to 28 days of incubation.
Newly hatched Mallard Ducks are capable of swimming, walking, and communicating with their mother. Once hatched the female leads her ducklings to the water and abandons the nest. The young ducklings stay with their mother for about 8 weeks, then become independent.
The oldest recorded wild Mallard lived to be 26 years and 4 months old. Most Mallards probably live much less than this, perhaps from 5 to 10 years.
After the breeding season mallards form groups called flocks and migrate from colder, northern areas 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 there is enough food and shelter. Mallards are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day.
The familiar "quack" of ducks is from the female mallard--it is called the "decrescendo call", and can be heard for miles. A female will give the call when she wants to bring other ducks to her, such as her ducklings, and as a result it is also known as the "hail call". Mallards also use a variety of other calls to communicate amongst themselves. They have a good sense of vision.
Mallards consume a wide variety of foods, including aquatic vegetation, insects, and worms, although they are not restricted to these. They also take advantage of human food sources, such as collecting grain from crops.
Mallards are preyed upon by a wide variety of predators, including humans, raccoons, cats, domestic dog, skunks, weasels, hawks, crows, ravens, magpies, turtles, snakes, and fish. They are watchful and escape to the water when startled, including the young ducklings.
In areas where they are very abundant people may consider Mallards a nuisance as they are noisy and their droppings may accumulate on the ground.
Mallards are an important game bird. The money generated by duck hunting license fees pays for the management of Mallard populations, and those of other ducks, and is used to protect important habitats. Also, money spent on hunting equipment is a significant addition to the economy.
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 easily adapt to human disturbances.