Bird of the Week #16: Mallard

Mallard with Grass on his Head

I was torn on whether or not to actually do a post on the Mallard. There is not a more ordinary duck out there and possibly not a more well-known bird in America. When people say “duck,” they think either of the white Aflac duck or of the Mallard… or maybe Donald or Daffy. Mallards are ubiquitous throughout most of the United States, with only a few southern parts being their wintering range when migrating. The bulk of the continental US, including Kansas.

Mallards are exceptionally adaptable birds, with Mallards being spread out around the world and finding ways to live in a variety of environments. Mallards particularly seem to have a talent for learning to live among humans, with Mallards seeming to occupy every park, pond, lake, or body of water they can find. For instance, I have a group of Mallards that visit my backyard every single afternoon because, on occasion, the rains produce deep puddles in the field just behind my house. They stop by now even without puddles because they know there’s gonna be deer corn. Mallards love corn.

Mallard female and her duckling

Speaking of, corn is a healthy snack you can feed Mallards and other waterfowl at the park. A lot of people like to bring bread with them to feed the ducks, but please do not do this. Bread has zero nutrition and is actually difficult for the ducks to digest. It is not good for them. Instead, bring dried corn or oats.

If you want Mallards in your backyard, you’ll need water. Build a pond or any other natural body of water where the ducks can reasonably swim and they’ll likely stop by. You can increase your odds of a Mallard visitor by also having something for them to eat, such as corn.

Mallards are social birds, preferring to hang out in groups. If they aren’t in a group, they’re generally seen as a male/female pair. Contrary to popular belief, Mallards do not mate for life. They’ll mate for a single breeding season and then the male will take off as soon as the female lays eggs. This is why you’ll never see a male and female leading a group of ducklings around.

There isn’t a delicate way to put this next bit of information: Mallards are kinda rapey. If a male Mallard is not successfully paired, he will actively seek out a female that does not have a clutch of eggs or ducklings and attempt to rectify this by force. During the peak of their mating season, they will even force themselves upon ducks of other species or even other male Mallards. Groups of unpaired males will even hunt down a female and proceed to take turns copulating with her. This process is not pleasant for the female, but unfortunately, nature is not always pleasant.

This Mallard let me get nice and close. Just look at the complex patterns his feathers form and the iridescent hues on his head.

We kind of want to have this almost “Disney” view of birds as these happy creatures, but it’s hard being a bird. They’re gorgeous, fun to watch and listen to, and fascinating for us, but it’s easy to forget that they’re just out there trying to survive. Some are doing better than others and the Mallard is one of the ones doing well. Their crude mating habits are one reason why they’re such a successful species. I’ll do a post at some point about the “dark side” of birds, but for now, we’ll leave it at that.

Sorry my normally fun posts about your favorite birds got a little on the dour side! On another less-than-happy note, I don’t believe I’ll have new photos for the Friday post. I’ll still post an update, but don’t expect new pictures. My week has been insanely full!

Audubon Society page on Mallards

Cornell Lab page on Mallards

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