Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo Credit: Carrie Threadgill

SCIENTIFIC NAME:Anas platyrhynchos platyrhynchos

OTHER NAMES:  Greenhead (drake); gray duck (hen); susie (hen)

STATUS: Breeder. Common in winter, fairly common in spring and fall, and uncommon in summer in all regions. Breeding birds are probably feral or birds released by sportsman's clubs. Lowest Conservation Concern.

DESCRIPTION:  A large duck, averaging 20 to 24 inches in length and 2.60 pounds in weight.  The drake (male) has a green head and chestnut breast separated by a white neck-ring.  The body is grayish with black rump and tail.  The hen (female) is mottled-brown in color, which provides protection from predators while nesting.  Both drakes and hens sport a violet-blue iridescent speculum bordered by a pronounced white stripe on the front and back.

DISTRIBUTION:  The most abundant and widely distributed duck in the Northern Hemisphere, Mallards range from the Arctic to the subtropics of Europe, Asia and North America.  They are most abundant in mid-America, between the Appalachians and Rocky Mountains.  Most forms of domestic ducks owe their origin to the Mallard.

HABITAT:   Prefer shallow water areas such as marshes, small ponds (often referred to as potholes) and even flooded timber. They can also be found along lake, river and creek edges.

FEEDING HABITS:  A dabbling duck (feeds by tipping face down in the water with its tail and feet upward as opposed to diving for its food), mallards are adapted to foraging on a variety of foods, both natural and agricultural.  Since they frequent many varied habitats, the native food plants taken are numerous and diverse.  More than any other duck, they have been able to utilize waste grain associated with agricultural fields as part of their diet.  In the northern breeding grounds they feed on waste wheat and barley.  As they migrate southward to the central areas, they encounter corn and sorghum.  When they reach the southern areas, they utilize rice, soybeans and peas.

LIFE HISTORY:  Mallards develop pair bonds as early as August and September, with most having paired by late January.  Very few wait until they reach the breeding grounds before they actually pair.  The bond between drakes and hens is short in duration, as the drakes usually leave within the first few days of incubation.  Nesting begins in April across their range.  Hens typically lay an egg a day until clutch is complete.  Clutch size ranges from 1 to 18 eggs per nest and incubation lasts 26 to 30 days.  Ducklings begin flying between 40 and 43 days after hatching.  In the fall, they are usually the last ducks to migrate and are reluctant to move any farther south than necessary to find food and open water.  The last big flights south typically leave in mid-November.


Bellrose, Frank C. 1976.  Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America.  Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA  543 pp.

Collins, Henry Hill Jr. 1981.  Complete Field Guide to North American Wildlife.  Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.  New York, NY  714 pp.

Author: Mitchell Marks