Female and male Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), Truckee River near Riverside Drive, Reno. Jan 2015. Photo: K. Fitzgerald.
- Female: mottled brown/beige.
- Male: Dark green head, white neck ring, brown chest, brownish-gray body.
- Both sexes: iridescent blue/purple patch on upper wing.
- Ducklings: Born May-June.
- Call is a well-known “quack”.
Mallards are North America’s most abundant species of duck, and common along the entire Truckee River throughout the year (see ebird database). During the summer breeding season, Mallards feed mostly on insects, including midge larvae, diptera, dragonflies, caddisfly larvae and earthworms . After the breeding season, Mallards switch to a herbivorous diet of plants, aquatic vegetation, and crops such as corn, rice and barley (Drilling et al. 2002). They are “dabbling ducks”, and spend much of their time in water with heads submerged and tails tipped up to the sky (All About Birds 2014).
Unlike Canada geese, which mate for life, Mallards form new mating pairs each year. “Extra-pair copulation” (or in human terms, “cheating”) is very common, and male Mallards typically desert their mates when incubation begins (Drilling et al. 2002). Without aid of her brightly-colored companion, the better camouflaged female Mallard builds a simple nest in an upland area, generally close to water and under cover of dense vegetation. The female doesn’t carry material to the nest, but form a shallow depression in moist dirt and supplements it with whatever is directly within reach (Drilling et al. 2002). During the month-long incubation period, the female mallard spends over 22 hours per day on the nest. To keep the eggs at the right temperature, she will pull feathers from her breast to cover the eggs, and rotate the eggs from the inside to the outside of the nest (Drilling et al. 2002).
Mallard ducklings begin to make noise (clicks and cries) from inside the eggshell approximately 24 hours before hatching, and hatch within hours of each other. After hatching, the female leads her ducklings directly to water. They remain with their mother until they learn to fly, usually less than two months (Drilling et al. 2002).
If you are watching a Mallard, it is probably watching you: Mallards have the ability to sleep with one eye open, or may open their eyes every few seconds while they sleep — keeping an eye out for predators (Drilling et al. 2002). They normally sleep on the ground, sitting or standing. Mallard predators include mink, coyotes, raccoons, owls, red-tailed hawks, bald and golden eagles, dogs and humans (Drilling et al. 2002).
References & Links
All About Birds. 2014. Mallard. Available online at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/mallard/id
Drilling, Nancy, Rodger Titman and Frank Mckinney. 2002. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://0-bna.birds.cornell.edu.innopac.library.unr.edu/bna/species/658 doi:10.2173/bna.658
Beedy, Edward C. and Pandolfino, Edward R. 2013. Birds of the Sierra Nevada. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Floyd, Ted; Elphic, Chris; Chisholm, Grant; Mack, Kevin; Elston, Robert; Ammon, Elisabeth; and John Boone. 2007. Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Nevada. Reno: University of Nevada Press.