The mallard - our best known duck


The mallard - our best known duck

Mallard ducks are the most numerous wildfowl in Britain and can be found almost anywhere there is water, making them Britain's most familiar duck. It is the ancestor of most domesticated, farmyard ducks.

The male, or drake, is very recognisable nearly all year round by its metallic green head, brown breast that is delineated from the head by a white neck ring, grey body and black tail. During the summer months, June to September, the drake moults and looks very similar to the female - this is called "eclipse" plumage - and offers better camouflage until their flight feathers have been fully replaced.

The female, or duck, is mainly brown, with blackish mottling and has a plain buff coloured head with a dark line through the eye.

Both sexes have orange-red legs and a yellow-olive coloured bill, but the duck's bill is much less vivid. Juveniles are similar to the female, but duller. Both sexes have a purple-blue speculum - which is the term for that patch of often iridescent colour on the secondary wing feathers of most duck species - often seen when the bird is preening, or flying.

Mallards are dabbling ducks, so they forage near the water surface or upend to reach food deeper down, but also feed off the ground. Their diet comprises cereals, plants and invertebrates, and less often fish. They are generally confident with people and will visit gardens for food.

The duck has a loud "quack", while the drake's call is a softer, higher-pitched "quork".

In the UK, mallards may be resident breeders or migrants - many of the birds that breed in Iceland and northern Europe spend the winter here.

Though protected in some respects by law, mallard ducks can legally be hunted between specific dates in the autumn.

Further reading

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