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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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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

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

Male utters soft, reedy notes; female, a loud quack.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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