The Mallard ( Anas platyrhynchos ) is probably the most widely known wild duck in North America. It is a medium-to-large dabbling duck that is most recognizable by the male’s glossy green head and white collar around the neck. The female is an overall brown color, and both sexes have orange feet and a purple-blue speculum with both sides outlined in white. The length of the normal mallard is about 20.5 -28 in.
The mallard duck is found mostly in North America and Northern Central America. They prefer to nest in upland grass cover. Mallards feed by “dabbling” and upending, meaning that they tip their bodies into water, bill first, tail in the air, to forage for food.
They also eat various seeds including corn, wheat, barley, rice, millet, bulrushes, wild rice, primrose, willow, seeds of water elm, oak and hackberry. They will also eat mollusks, insects, small fish, tadpoles, freshwater snails, fish eggs, and frogs. They usually feed at the surface of the water and are known as “dabbling ducks”. They don’t dive all the way under the water, but just tip their heads under to feed.
To breed, the male attracts the female mate by ruffling his bright feathers in a series of displays. But the pair usually does not stay together for long. The male mallard, or drake, leaves the female when she begins incubation and forms a group with other males. Nine to thirteen eggs are laid at daily intervals. Incubation begins when the clutch is complete and lasts for 27 to 28 days. The ducklings all hatch within 24 hours, mostly during the day. Once they are hatched they are led to water. Mallards mature quickly and may breed under 12 months of age. Although mallard ducks have been known to live as long as twenty eight years of age, most of them only live for one or two years.
During the summer, mallards spend a large amount of time resting and preening on mud flats and the banks of wetlands. The mallard has only three defenses- swimming, flying, and camouflage, and is prey to a large variety of mammal and avian predators. Mallards can accomplish some interesting feats. They swim with their tail held above the water and, when they are alarmed, they spring directly out of the water and into the air. The sudden flight of Mallards can make quite a spectacular site.