Wild South Florida — Mallard Duck
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Mallard Duck
Male mallard duck, photographed at a Central Florida park, March 2014.
Mallard Duck  

The mallard, Anas platyrhynchos, might be the most recognizable of all North American ducks, in part because it is the most common duck on the continent. It's also arguably the most common duck in the world, found in Europe and Asia, with forms found in Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. They are members of Anatidae, the duck and goose family.

A bright green head, white neck ring, bright orange legs and feet make male mallards — called drakes — easy to identify. Females and juveniles are a bit more more difficult. Females are mottled brown but have a dark purplish blue patch on their wings.

They are large ducks, going two feet in length, with a wingspan that can approach or exceed three feet. They're hefty birds as well, going two to three pounds.

A part of the mallard population is migratory, flying in summer to Alaska and northern Canada to breed, heading south in the fall to warmer climes found in the southern United States, Cuba, Mexico and Central America.

Others spend the year in a wide swath of the continent that include coastal Alaska and Canada, through the Northwest, California, across the rockies, Great Plains and into the Mid-Atlantic states.

It is a winter visitor to Florida. It prefers shallow waters, but can be found pretty much anywhere — ponds, lakes, marshes, rivers, coastal areas, inland areas, in the wild, in your backyard.

Mallards are dabblers, submersing their heads in water, their tail ends sticking up, in order to feed. Their menu includes aquatic vegetation, small fish and invertebrates. During breeding season, mallards eat more animal matter; during migration, they'll hit a farmer's field for seeds.

Mallard Duck  

Mallards form pairs, beginning in the fall and winter, and produce one, sometimes two, broods a year.

They nest on dry ground in dense vegetation usually near water, sometimes on stumps and in tree hollows. Both males and females scout for the a nesting site. Females use the vegetation on hand to build the nest, and line it with down from their breast. They lay as many as 13 eggs, although seven to 10 is more common. Average incubation time — only the female sits on the eggs — is about four weeks, give or take.

Once hatched, the young take to the water within 24 hours. They are able to feed themselves but follow their mother for protection. Males take no part in the rearing. Young mallards are able to fly after about two months from hatching. Rarely, mallards will raise a second brood in a season.

Mallards are a favorite target of duck hunters and are the source of almost all domesticated ducks. They can be quite tame and approachable in park settings, but wary of humans while in the wild.

Photographs by David Sedore
Mallard Duck   Mallard Duck  

There are about 20 duck species worldwide that are member of what's called the mallard complex. They're closely related and similar in size. Among them: Florida's mottled duck.

Mallards readily mate with members of the complex, creating hybrids. In some cases, such as the Hawaiian duck, they're considered a separate species, while others are considered subspecies.

There is concern that feral mallards — pets released into the wild — are taking a toll on mottled duck populations through interbreeding.

Links for Mallard Duck Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology National Audubon Society National Geographic Society
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