Keith McCutcheon, Wildlife Biologist
Waterfowlers know all too well the excitement and hope that each winter brings when temperatures plunge after the fields have turned brown. Misunderstood by the majority of humans, those who choose to hunt the wild ducks and geese of this world truly eagerly await the harshest of winter’s weather. For on the approaching winter winds also ride the wings of a true duck or goose hunter’s most memorable moments outdoors - waterfowl season. They try rationally to explain their excitement to others, but can’t. It’s something from within that makes them go. That’s just the way it is. Before daylight, standing in freezing water, they know not which whistling wings will come their way.
Some ducks will dart, some will glide, and all will mesmerize those in pursuit. Yet as many avid waterfowlers will attest, few situations in a duck blind exceed the excitement created by a once seemingly endless circling of interested, but wary, wild mallards as they set their wings on that final pass. In the duck hunter’s world, it’s what dreams are made of.
Wild mallards are indeed one of the most highly regarded species of waterfowl on our continent, considered by many to be the “reigning king” of the waterfowl world. A ranking this high in a diverse group containing over 40 species is a difficult level to achieve. Yet, in an “all-around attributes” competition, it would be difficult not to select the mallard as the “best of field.” Though not quite possessing the streaking agility of a rocketing teal or the ultimate grace of a swan, the mallard has few flaws as a game bird. Mallards are quick, yet graceful in flight, and characteristically wary in their approach. They are extremely beautiful birds of iridescent colors, a trait perhaps only less reveled because they are so numerous.
As table fare, the mallard again gains points. Anyone who enjoys wild duck for dinner will attest that it would be difficult to find a better replacement with equal proportions. Economically, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually in pursuit of the species. From the hunting angle, mallards dictate the gold standard on which a fairly large portion of waterfowling is based. Much of the equipment utilized in waterfowl hunting, such as duck calls and decoys, or the corn crops planted, are catered to what a mallard would want, rather than some other species. Ask any duck hunter which duck he attempts to imitate most using a call. The number one answer? You guessed it. The mallard call is universal in the waterfowl world.
To sum it all, the wild mallard’s attributes as the “bread and butter” species of waterfowling could go on and on. An adaptive and successful species, mallards are currently sustaining an annual continental breeding population ranging between 7.5 to 9.5 million strong, and supporting a recreational harvest of 5-6 million annually. In North America, the wild mallard can indeed make a strong case for being our duly crowned king of wild waterfowl.