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The Mallard


The mallard , Anas platyrhynchos a dabbling duck can be found throughout the Americas, Europe and North Africa and has been introduced to New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. The male birds or drakes have a glossy green head and are grey on wings and belly while the females called hens or ducks are a mottled brown colour all over.

Adaptable to almost any wetland environment the Mallard is not only  one of the most recognisable ducks , it’s also one of the most widespread. Unlike many waterfowl, mallards have benefited from human alterations to the world. They are a common sight in urban parks, lakes, ponds, and other man-made water features in the regions they inhabit, and are often tolerated or encouraged in human habitat due to their placid nature towards humans and their colourful markings.



The mallard is omnivorous with the majority of the mallard’s diet made up of invertebrates such as  beetles, flies, lepidopterans, dragonflies, and caddisflies, crustaceans, worms, together with varieties of seeds and plant matter.Plants generally make up the larger part of a bird’s diet, especially during autumn migration and in the winter, however they have also been known to eat frogs and small birds.


6C50E98E-4444-4F06-9786-F32A67D75842Mallards usually start to  form pairs in October and November and remain together until the female lays eggs at the start of the nesting season, which is usually around the end of March. During the mating season both male and female birds can become extremely aggressive, especially the male and will attack other birds to defend their territory and mate. Once the eggs are laid the males usually then join up with other males and leave the females to raise the chicks on her own.

They prefer to nest near water. Females generally make their nest in a place well covered in vegetation or in a natural hole in a tree. Mallards exploit any open water where food is plentiful, however. This sometimes results in the choice of less than perfect nest sites, particularly in towns. Nests have been found in boathouses, wood piles, old crow’s nests, hay stacks, roof gardens, enclosed courtyards and even in large flowerpots on balconies several floors up!   Town ponds with an abundant and reliable food supply often attract more mallards than are able to nest close by. In these situations, many female mallards nest well away from the pond to avoid competition and harassment from others.

The female normally lays between 7-12 eggs. As the last egg is laid, the female starts to incubate. She sits very tightly, and her brown plumage blends her perfectly to the background. She rarely leaves the nest apart from short breaks to feed and stretch her legs. About 28 days later the eggs hatch together. This takes about 24 hours.

The ducklings stay in the nest for at least 10 hours while they dry and get used to using their legs. Then, usually in the early morning, the female leads them to water. Bad weather may delay this exodus, but the sooner the ducklings get to water to feed, the better their chances of survival. They cannot survive without their mother, and take 50-60 days before they fledge and become independent. The nest is abandoned, although if it is close to the feeding area, the family may continue to use it for brooding and roosting.

If the nest is some way from water, this first journey can be the most perilous time in a duckling’s life. Where a nest is high up (up a tree or on a balcony) the birds must first jump to the ground. Being very light and covered in down they usually come to no harm during the fall. If the landing area is very hard and there is cause for concern, placing something soft like straw or a blanket underneath will cushion the fall. Next, they will have a long and potentially hazardous walk before they can reach water. The mother duck knows where the nearest water is to take her young to, although it may be a couple of miles away.

Young ducklings can feed themselves as soon as they reach water, but must learn what is edible. They depend on their mother for warmth for a few days. She broods them regularly, particularly at night, as they easily chill in cold weather.The down of the ducklings is not naturally waterproof. They get the waterproofing for their down from their mother. She also protects her ducklings from attacks by other mallards. Ducks do not tolerate stray ducklings close to their own brood, and females kill small strange young they encounter. Ducklings take 50-60 days to fledge (fly) and become independent. They are able to breed when they are a year old.


Mallard duckling


Mallards of all ages are prayed on by large fish such as pike, Domestic and feral cats , the Red Fox  and large birds of prey like the peregrine falcon. During the breeding season the ducks can be attracted and killed by protective swans. The Mallards predation-avoidance behavior of sleeping with one eye open, allowing one brain hemisphere to remain aware while the other half sleeps is believed to be widespread among birds in general.



Wild birds including the Mallard and their nests are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in England, Scotland and Wales, which states that it is an offence to intentionally (or recklessly in Scotland) kill, injure or take any wild bird, or to take, damage or destroy (or otherwise interfere with in Scotland) its nest, eggs or young.

The mallard has been rated as a species of least concern on the Red List of Endangered Species due to an increasing population worldwide. While most are not domesticated, mallards are so successful at coexisting in human regions that the main conservation risk they pose comes from the loss of genetic diversity among a region’s traditional ducks once humans and mallards colonise an area. Mallards are very adaptable, being able to live and even thrive in urban areas which may have supported more localised, sensitive species of waterfowl before development.



Full name,               Anas platyrhynchos

Length                      50-60cm

Wingspan                Upto 95cm

Weight                      750-1300g

Diet                            Omnivorous

Life expectancy      3 to 4 years

UK population         60-140,000 breeding pairs


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