Photo: Karen Bonsell/Great Backyard Bird Count

Mallard

Anas platyrhynchos

Abundant over most of the northern hemisphere, the Mallard is the most familiar wild duck to many people, and the ancestor of most strains of domesticated ducks. In many places this species has managed to domesticate itself, relying on handouts in city parks. Although barnyard and feral ducks may be dumpy and ungainly creatures, the ancestral wild Mallard is a trim, elegant, wary, fast-flying bird.
Conservation status Still one of the most abundant ducks in the world. Numbers fluctuate considerably, and population of northern Great Plains is probably permanently reduced from historical levels. Status of wild birds is clouded by large number of feral populations.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Marshes, wooded swamps, grain fields, ponds, rivers, lakes, bays, city parks. May occur in any kind of aquatic habitat, but favors fresh water at all seasons; only sparingly on coastal waters, mainly in winter on sheltered bays and estuaries. Most abundant in summer on prairie potholes and in semi-open country north of the prairies. Most abundant in winter on swamps and lakes in lower Mississippi Valley.
Abundant over most of the northern hemisphere, the Mallard is the most familiar wild duck to many people, and the ancestor of most strains of domesticated ducks. In many places this species has managed to domesticate itself, relying on handouts in city parks. Although barnyard and feral ducks may be dumpy and ungainly creatures, the ancestral wild Mallard is a trim, elegant, wary, fast-flying bird.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult female
  • adult male, molt
  • adult male, nonbreeding
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult female with ducklings
Feeding Behavior

forages in water by dabbling, submerging head and neck, up-ending, rarely by diving; forages on land by grazing, plucking seeds, grubbing for roots.


Eggs

7-10, sometimes 5-15. Whitish to olive buff. Incubation is by female, 26-30 days. Young: Leave nest within a day after hatching, are led to water by female. Young are tended by female but feed themselves. Age at first flight 52-60 days. 1 brood per year, perhaps rarely 2.


Young

Leave nest within a day after hatching, are led to water by female. Young are tended by female but feed themselves. Age at first flight 52-60 days. 1 brood per year, perhaps rarely 2.

Diet

omnivorous. Majority of diet is plant material, including seeds, stems, and roots of a vast variety of different plants, especially sedges, grasses, pondweeds, smartweeds, many others; also acorns and other tree seeds, various kinds of waste grain. Also eat insects, crustaceans, mollusks, tadpoles, frogs, earthworms, small fish. Young ducklings may eat mostly aquatic insects.


Nesting

Pairs form in fall and winter. Displays of male include dipping bill in water and then rearing up, giving whistle and grunt calls as he settles back on water; raising head and tail while giving sharp call; plunging forepart of body deep in water and then flinging up water with bill. Nest: Female, accompanied by male, seeks and chooses site for nest. Site may be more than 1 mile from water; usually on ground among concealing vegetation, but may be on stump, in tree hollow, in basket above water, various other possibilities. Nest is shallow bowl of plant material gathered at the site, lined with down.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Fall migration extends over long period; migrates relatively early in spring. Since pairs form in fall and winter, male probably follows female to breeding areas. Feral populations may be permanent residents, but all wild Mallards in North America are probably migratory.

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Migration

Fall migration extends over long period; migrates relatively early in spring. Since pairs form in fall and winter, male probably follows female to breeding areas. Feral populations may be permanent residents, but all wild Mallards in North America are probably migratory.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Male utters soft, reedy notes; female, a loud quack.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Duck-like Birds Surface Feeding Ducks

Mallard

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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