Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)


[order] ANSERIFORMES | [family] Anatidae | [latin] Anas platyrhynchos | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] Mallard | [FR] Canard colvert | [DE] Stockente | [ES] Anade Real | [NL] Wilde Eend


Monotypic species


Anas is a genus of dabbling ducks. It includes mallards, wigeons, teals, pintails and shovelers in a number of subgenera. Some authorities prefer to elevate the subgenera to genus rank.[1] Indeed, as the moa-nalos are very close to this clade and may have evolved later than some of these lineages, it is rather the absence of a thorough review than lack of necessity that this genus is rather over-lumped. The phylogeny of this genus is one of the most confounded ones of all living birds. Research is hampered by the fact the radiation of the two major groups of Anas ? the teals and mallard groups ? took place in a very short time and fairly recently, roughly in the mid-late Pleistocene. Furthermore, hybridization may have long played a major role in Anas evolution, with within-subgenus hybrids regularly and between-subgenus hybrids not infrequently being fully fertile.[1] The relationships between species are much obscured by this fact, and mtDNA sequence data is of dubious value in resolving their relationships; on the other hand, nuclear DNA sequences evolve too slowly to resolve the phylogeny of the subgenus Anas for example. Some major clades can be discerned. For example, that the traditional subgenus Anas, the mallard group, forms a monophyletic (in the loose sense, i.e. non-holophyletic) group has never been seriously questioned by modern science and is as good as confirmed (but see below). On the other hand, the phylogeny of the teals is very confusing. For these reasons, the dabbling duck lineages more distantly related to mallard group (which includes the type species of Anas) than the wigeons should arguably be separated in their own genera. These would include the Baikal Teal, the Garganey, the spotted black-capped Punanetta group, and the shovelers and other blue-winged species. Whether the wigeons, which are very distinct in morphology and behavior, but much less so in mtDNA cytochrome b and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 sequences, should also be considered a distinct genus Mareca (including the Gadwall and Falcated Duck) is essentially the one remaining point of dispute as regards the question which taxa should remain in this genus and which ones should not.

Physical charateristics

The handsome Mallard Anas platyrhynchos is the best known wild duck in the world. The male in breeding dress is unmistakable. The glossy head and upper neck are brilliant green, separated from the rich chestnut of the breast by a white collar. The rest of the underparts and the sides are light grey.

The back and wings of the bird are greyish brown, with a purplish-blue speculum, or wing patch, on the wing. The whitish tail has black above and below it. Two central black feathers that curve back above the tail give the breeding male its characteristic curly-tailed appearance. The male has a yellow bill and orange legs and feet.

The female Mallard is a much less colourful bird. Its back is mottled brown, its breast heavily streaked with buff and darker brown. It is best recognized by the white-bordered speculum on the wing, which is similar to that of the male. The female has an orange bill, sometimes blotched with black, and its legs and feet are orange.

Listen to the sound of Mallard


Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 81 cm wingspan max.: 95 cm
size min.: 50 cm size max.: 60 cm
incubation min.: 27 days incubation max.: 28 days
fledging min.: 50 days fledging max.: 28 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 9  
      eggs max.: 13  


North America, Eurasia : widespread


Mallards are one of the first ducks to arrive back on the breeding grounds in spring. They are adaptable and may nest near a lake, pond, river, or even woodland pool. Their preferred habitats, however, are the natural grasslands that surround little reed-ringed sloughs, or marshy areas, and potholes on the prairies.

Even in the heart of many major cities, half-tame Mallards waddle ashore from park lakes to take food from the hands of visitors.

The Mallard is a typical member of the surface-feeding group of ducks, known as the dabblers. It is often seen in the tipped-up position with its tail held vertical. Although the bird can dive in an emergency, it rarely does so.


By late March or early April, the first of the Mallards are back on the prairies, the place in Canada where they are the most numerous. At this time, lakes and ponds are usually frozen, and only meltwater fills the hollows of pasture lands and fields. The early arrivals are usually mated pairs. The female, accompanied by the male, searches for a territory. Most often, she will choose a territory close to where she was born. Some females return year after year to the same site.

The nesting site may be close to a pond but is frequently at some distance and may even be far from water. Normally on the ground, the nest is little more than a depression lined with bits of rushes, grass, weeds, or other material close at hand. It is usually in good cover such as thick grass, or under a buckbrush, brier rose, or other prairie shrub. The eggs, which with different birds may vary in colour from dull green to almost white, are laid daily. Up to 15 may be deposited, but the usual number is between 8 and 12.

Incubation, or warming of the eggs until they hatch, does not start until the last egg has been laid. This ensures that all the ducklings will hatch at approximately the same time. During the laying period, and particularly in the early stages of incubation, the female sheds down, or fine feathers, from her belly to line the nest. This grey down, with white centres, is pulled over the eggs when the duck leaves the nest to feed. It not only supplies warmth but hides the eggs from crows, magpies, and other predators, which are quick to find uncovered eggs.

The female does all the incubating, which takes around 28 days. The ducklings emerge as handsome little balls of down. Their clove-brown backs are relieved by four yellow patches. Faces and underparts are also yellow, with the exception of a dark ear spot and a brown line through the eye.
Mallards may re-nest up to three or four times if their nests are destroyed. Each successive nest will have fewer eggs. However, Mallards do not raise more than a single brood of ducklings each year.

As soon as the ducklings are dry, the female leads them to the nearest water. This may be a long and hazardous journey. Although the female may have nested near a pothole or slough full of spring meltwater, much of this water may have evaporated, leaving nothing but drying mud. On overland trips, straggling ducklings may get lost in the grass or be picked up by predators.
The Mallard is an excellent mother, however. She will stop at frequent intervals to collect and brood, or warm, her young. If surprised by an intruder, she is likely to go flapping and squawking across the ground, as if injured. This feigned injury may not fool a human, but undoubtedly lures predators away.

Once on the water, the female leads her brood to feeding areas. The young find their own food, which at first probably consists of small crustaceans, or hard-shelled creatures, such as water fleas, insects, and tiny plants like duckweed. The young gradually lose their down and grow their feathers. In about 10 weeks they have assumed a plumage that is much like that of the female. By that time, the female has abandoned them. After the breeding season Mallards moult, or shed old feathers, into what is known as an eclipse plumage. The males are the first to undergo this moult.

The males remain on their territories for about the first 10 days of incubation. After that, they desert their mates. They move to larger marshes, where they lose their brilliant breeding plumage and become more similar to the hen, or female. All their flight feathers are shed at once, and for about a month the birds are flightless. They hide in the reeds until their new feathers are grown. When the females have left their broods, they too gather in the reeds to moult. They also become flightless, but the new plumage they assume is little different from the one they have shed. In the late fall the young gain the plumage of their respective sexes. The males, however, may not attain their full brilliance until their second year.

In late summer the birds gather in mixed flocks of young and old. Throughout much of the day they sit idly far from shore. As the grain ripens, the ducks make their flights to the feeding fields. These flights are usually made in early morning and late evening, but in dull, stormy weather may occur throughout the day. They provide the hunter with the best duck shooting.

Feeding habits

Mallards dabble to feed on seeds, rootlets, and tubers of aquatic plants, seeds of swamp and river bottoms. Mallards are one of the few ducks that habitually feed on grain. Barley and wheat are preferred. Most grain is now harvested by combine, and ducks cannot do much damage, except when the grain is left in swaths because of poor weather.

Video Mallard


copyright: youtube


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
This duck is breeding throughout northern Eurasia and North America. For practical reasons its populations of the European Union can be subdivided in three distinct sub-populations, separated by their wintering quarters. The first, totalling about 5000000 individuals and apparently stable, is wintering in the Atlantic regions from Denmark to the British Isles and Aquitaine. The second population is estimated at 1000000 individuals, and has nearly doubled during the last 20 years. It winters around the western Mediterranean, from Italy to Iberia. The third population is still estimated at 2250000 individuals, but has probably declined by 60-75% during the last 20 years. It winters in the Black Sea regions and the eastern Mediterranean, e. g. in Greece
Mallard status Least Concern


Partially migratory, northernmost breeding populations generally winter much further S, but sedentary in temperate regions (most of Europe, parts of N America). Many records outside range, but perhaps majority attributable to escape.

Distribution map

Mallard distribution range map


Title Pair formation among experimentally introduced mallards Anas platyrhynchos reflects habitat quality
Author(s): Poysa, H., Sjoberg, K., Elmberg, J. & Nummi, P. 2001
Abstract: Using data from two independent field experiments,..[more]..
Source: Ann. Zool. Fennici 38: 179-184

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Abstract: Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) breeding densities in..[more]..
Source: The Auk 100: 689-698. July 1983

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Title Vocalizations of the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Author(s): Abraham, R. L.
Abstract: Qualitative descriptive information on both vocal ..[more]..
Source: The Condor 76(4):401-420

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Title Forced copulation in captive mallards (Anas platyrhynchos): II. temporal factors
Author(s): Cheng, K. M.; Burns, J. T.; McKinney, F.
Abstract: A study of temporal trends in forced copulation wa..[more]..
Source: Animal Behaviour 30:695-699

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Title A Genetic and Cytogenetic Map for the Duck (Anas platyrhynchos)
Author(s): Yinhua Huang, Yonghui Zhao, Chris S. Haley, Shengqiang Hu, Jinping Hao, Changxin Wu and Ning Li
Abstract: Molecular genetic maps will provide insight into t..[more]..
Source: Genetics 173: 287-296 (May 2006)

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Title A Comparison of Two Methods to Establish the Prevalence of Lead Shot Ingestion in Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) from The Netherlands
Author(s): J. T. Lumeij and H. Scholten
Abstract: Two collection methods for screening the mallard (..[more]..
Source: Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 25(2), 1989, pp 297-299

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Title On the eclipse plumage of the mallard (Anas platyrhyncha platyrhyncha)
Author(s): Arthur Walton
Abstract: It is a peculiarity of most species of ducks that ..[more]..
Source: J. Exp. Biol., Oct 1937;14:440-447

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Title Activity budgets of mallards and american wigeon wintering in east-central Alabama
Author(s): Richard E. Turnbull AND Guy A. Baldassarre
Abstract: Mallards (Anus pkztyrhynchos) and American Wigeon ..[more]..
Source: Wilson Bull., 99(3), 1987, pp. 457464

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Title Testosterone and testes size in mallards ( Anas platyrhynchos)
Author(s): Angelika G. Denk and Bart Kempen rs
Abstract: The steroid hormone testosterone (T) mediates the ..[more]..
Source: J Ornithol (2006) 147: 436-440

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Title Male and female reproductive tactics in mallards (anas platyrhynchos l.): sperm competition and cryptic female choice
Author(s): Angelika G. Denk & Bart Kempenaers
Abstract: Mallards, Anas platyrhynchos, are among the most c..[more]..
Source: Dissertation der Fakultat fur Biologie der Ludwig-Maximilian-Universitat Munchen

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Title Elevated artifi cial nest sites for Mallard Anas platyrhynchos in Latvia
Author(s): Arturs Laubergs and Janis Vksne
Abstract: The use of elevated covered nest sites for Mallard..[more]..
Source: Acta Universitatis Latviensis, Biology, 2004, Vol. 676, pp. 107-118

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Title Prior knowledge about spatial pattern affects patch assessment rather than movement between patches in tactile-feeding mallard
Abstract: Heterogeneity in food abundance allows a forager t..[more]..
Source: Journal of Animal Ecology 76 (1), 20-29

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