Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Apple #77: Mallard Ducks


The other morning, I saw a male mallard duck sitting in a parking lot, in an empty parking space. I pulled up near it, to the space where I wanted to park, and the duck did not move. He eyed my car with some suspicion, but he did not even stand up. I thought he might have been hurt, or perhaps just holding the parking space for someone, but after quacking softly to himself for a while, eventually he stood up, flip-flapped his duck feet a ways away from me, and then took off, flying high over the buildings.

These ducks are from Fergus Falls, Minnesota

  • Mallards are the most common duck in the United States and Europe. They have the largest breeding range of any bird in North America.
  • Mallards live near water, in areas throughout North America and Europe, where the climate is not too severe.
  • In the winter, they migrate as far south as the Tropic of Cancer, and also to Africa, as far as South Africa.
  • Taxonomists recognize seven races of mallards.
  • The males are called "drakes" and the females are called "hens."
  • Mallards are among the most vocal of all waterfowl. The hen makes a variety of quacking noises, and the drake's quacking has a higher, reedier pitch. During mating season, he also makes a single or double-noted whistle.
  • They eat seeds from all kinds of plants, especially from trees that grow alongside water, but they will also eat corn, wheat, and barley. In addition to seeds, they eat snails, insects, small fish, tadpoles, fish eggs, and frogs. They may travel up to 25 miles to find food.
  • Their method of dunking their heads under water to eat has earned them the nickname "dabbling ducks."

These ducks are from Scotland

  • After the drake and hen mate, the hen lays her eggs and the drake takes off. At this time, she forms a group with other drakes, and they all guard the nest while she lays one egg a day, from 9 to 13 days.
  • The eggs are gray-green and are incubated for about 28 days. The ducklings all hatch within 24 hours of each other, mostly during the day. Hatching typically occurs between late April and early June.
  • If a predator (possum, skunk, raccoon, crow, snake, fox, largemouth bass, or snapping turtle) destroys her clutch, the hen may lay another the same summer.
  • The ducklings are led to water soon after they are born. In general they mature quickly, sometimes mating as young as 12 months old.
  • Later in the summer, the ducks move to larger waters, where the drakes molt and then court the females. Once they've paired off, the ducks eat like crazy in preparation for the fall migration. After the winter spent in warmer climates, the ducks return north to nest.
  • In the wild, mallards can live from 7 to 9 years.
  • Most domesticated ducks, the kind that people buy as pets especially in the springtime, are descendants of the mallard. Also, many domesticated ducks have interbred with wild ducks, so that it is now difficult to find a pure, wild mallard.

Here are some mallards in downtown Branson, Missouri

Ducks of the World, page by Maurice Houston Field, Curator of the Waterfowl and Chenoa, University of Tennessee
BBC Science & Nature Wildfacts pages, the Mallard
Chuck Fergus, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Mallard Ducks
Ducks Unlimited Canada, The Life Story of the Mallard
Christyan's page on the Mallard Duck, Warner Elementary School

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