Instantly recognizable, the Mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck that is familiar to people all over the world. These adaptable waterfowl are the ancestor of the modern domestic duck and are found everywhere from remote wilderness lakes to suburban backyards.
The male Mallard in breeding plumage is instantly recognizable by its yellow bill and metallic green head and neck. These ornate birds have a white collar ring, a chocolate brown chest, pale gray underparts, and a white tail. Their wings are pale brown with a violet-blue speculum (wing panel).
Both sexes have metallic blue wing bars and bright orange legs, although the female Mallard is far less colorful than the male. Hens appear tan brown from a distance, but closer inspection reveals richly mottled upperparts and a darker crown and eye stripe. Their bills are orange below, often with a darker upper half.
In the late summer, when the breeding season draws to a close, male Mallards lose their bright colors and take on a new set of feathers called eclipse plumage. They look similar to females at this time of the year, with earthy brown feathers. The easiest way to separate the sexes is to compare their bill colors. Males have yellow bills, and females have orange bills.
Juvenile Mallards look very similar to adult females, although they do not have the deep blue wing panel. Very young birds have dark bills, but they soon develop the characteristic yellow or orange bills of the adults.
Male Mallard swimming in a pond
Female Mallard swimming in a pond
Mallards are relatively large dabbling ducks. The males are generally larger than females, and older birds are larger than first-year adults.
Mallards have a total body length of 20 to 26 inches (50 - 65cm).
Adult Mallards weigh 1.5 to 3.5 pounds (700 - 1600g). Females may outweigh males temporarily when carrying eggs.
Mallard Ducks are fast-flying birds with a wingspan of roughly three feet (81 - 98 cm). Males have a larger wingspan than females.
Mallard in-flight over a lake
Both male and female Mallards call, although females are the more vocal sex. Females produce the well-known ‘decrescendo’ call consisting of two to ten rising and then falling quacking notes.
Males produce a softer note during courtship or to maintain contact with their mate. They also call during disputes with other males.
Mallard family near to the river
Mallards have a varied diet that includes both plant and animal matter. In the warmer months, invertebrates like earthworms and various aquatic insect larvae are an essential food source, but they also rely on various plant seeds, acorns, and cereals like wheat and corn.
Mallards find their food on dry land, the water's surface, and below by tipping their bodies and reaching down to the bottom.
Mallard ducklings leave the nest soon after hatching and do not return. They feed themselves primarily on small insects for the first month or so but rely increasingly on plant seeds as they mature.
Female Mallard feeding by the waters edge
Mallards are waterfowl that visit just about any wetland or waterbody, from rivers and lakes to urban ponds and coastal areas. They prefer shallow water with aquatic vegetation, but they are highly adaptable. They also feed far from water in agricultural fields but return to water to roost.
The Mallard is the most widespread duck species on the planet and occurs over most of the Northern Hemisphere. Their native range includes almost all of North America, Europe, and much of Asia and Northeast Africa.
Mallards have also been introduced to various countries, including South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, and the Hawaiian Islands. They are the parent bird of the modern domestic duck and are raised commercially and kept as ornamental and pet birds all over the world.
Mallards spend most of their lives on or near water. They also forage near the water's edge and even great distances away in crop fields. These ducks rarely land in trees or other vegetation because their feet are not adapted for perching.
Mallards are an abundant species and are often the most common waterfowl on lakes, ponds, and other water bodies.
American Birdwatchers can look out for Mallards on just about any shallow waterbody in the Lower 48, Canada, and Alaska. However, they are migratory birds, so they may not be around at all times of the year.
Mallards occur virtually throughout the United Kingdom, although absent from some high-lying areas of Wales and Scotland. They can be seen on practically any shallow water body and at any time of the year.
Female Mallard swimming in the river with her ducklings
Mallards that reach adulthood have an average lifespan of two to three years, although they can live for nearly 30 years in the wild.
Would you like to learn more about the Mallard lifespan? Check out our in-depth guide for more fascinating facts.
Birds of prey and carnivorous mammals are the Mallard’s greatest enemies. Large raptors like Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and Red-tailed Hawks take adult Mallards, while their eggs and ducklings are vulnerable to Crows, Magpies, and Gulls.
Mammals like foxes, badgers, coyotes, and raccoons also take their toll. Mallards are popular with hunters too, although the harvest is regulated to licensed individuals and open seasons.
Mallards are protected in North America by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the United Kingdom.
Mallards are an abundant and widespread species. They are classified as ‘Least Concern.’
Mallard standing on top of the rocks
Mallards usually nest on the ground under overhanging foliage or among dense vegetation like grass and alfalfa. However, they will nest in a variety of sites, including buildings and holes at the base of trees. Some females nest above the ground in the forks of trees or abandoned nests of other birds like Crows.
Mallards nest in the spring and summer, raising a single brood each year. Females lay their eggs between April and July, and they hatch after about 28 days. The hatchlings leave the nest on their first day and are fully independent after about two months.
Mallards lay pale green, buff, or cream-colored eggs. Typical clutches contain 8 to 13 eggs, each measuring approximately 2¼ inches long and 1⅔ inch wide (57 x 41mm).
Mallards do not mate for life. They form new partnerships each breeding season.
Would you like to learn more about Mallard nesting? Check out our in-depth Mallard nesting guide for more fascinating facts.
Female Mallard sitting on her nest
Nest of a Mallard with six eggs
Mallards exhibit aggressive behaviors at all times of the year. Males will threaten or chase opponents but readily resort to pecking, chest-to-chest wrestling, or even wing-striking in full combat.
Mallards generally sleep on the ground, either standing or lying down. They are vulnerable to predators on dry land, so they open their eyes frequently to check their surroundings or even sleep with one eye open.
Female Mallard resting on the rocks by the river
Mallard movements vary across their extensive geographic range. They are sedentary across most of the United States but visit the Southeast only in the winter. Every year, much of the population migrate long distances to nest in Canada and Alaska before returning to the Lower 48.
Mallards are resident in the United Kingdom, although populations that breed in Northern Europe and Iceland visit each winter to escape the harsh northern winters. Mallards are also highly migratory across most of their Asian range.
Mallards are a native species in North America.
Mallards are indigenous to Europe and the United Kingdom.
Male (left) and Female (right) Mallards in-flight during the winter
Mallards include both males and females of a single duck species. Male Mallards are known as drakes, while females are called ducks or hens.
The Mallard is the world's most common and widespread duck species. These well-known birds are the ancestors of the modern domestic duck, which is so common around farmyards today.
All Mallards are ducks, but not all ducks are Mallards. Riddles aside, the Mallard is just one of over a hundred different duck species. Breeding males are easily identified by their bright yellow bills and green heads, although females are similar to other dabbling ducks.
Male Mallards develop their colorful breeding plumage when they are a few months old. Adult drakes will lose these fancy feathers by June each summer after they have mated, and regrow them by September in time to attract a female before the next breeding season.
Male Mallards do not have green heads between July and August each year. They look similar to females at this time, but birdwatchers can still identify them by their bright yellow bills.
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
50cm to 65cm
81cm to 98cm
0.7g to 1.6g
The Eurasian wigeon is a medium dabbling duck that commonly breeds across northern Europe, and winters further south, including in the British Isles and occasionally in North America. Rare vagrant breeding pairs can be found in the United States, and small breeding grounds have also been established in northern England and Scotland.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
Greater White-Fronted Goose
One of several similar wildfowl species in the Anser genus, Greater White-fronted Geese live up to their name with a distinctive white patch on the front of their face. The species is extremely widespread, although there are several sub-species, each with different breeding and overwintering ranges.
Larger than the Common Scoter this elegant European diving duck spends much of its time at sea and is often seen in company with mixed flocks resting on the water’s surface far out from land.
Tundra Bean Goose
The tundra bean goose is the most common species of bean goose, and breeds on Russian tundra landscapes. Winters are spent grazing on open fields, marshes and agricultural land in western and central Europe and East Asia.
The Tufted Duck is the UK’s most common diving duck and a familiar sight on lakes and ponds across the country. Known for their long, hair-like tufts, these small waterfowl are fairly easy to identify but may be confused with other ducks from the Aythya genus.
Fast and erratic in flight, the Teal is the United Kingdom’s smallest wildfowl species. Despite occurring year-round in low numbers, birdwatchers are most likely to spot these tiny ducks in the winter when large numbers arrive from abroad.
Taiga Bean Goose
Taiga bean geese are a common sight on northern taiga marshes of Siberia and northern Scandinavia in spring and summer, before heading south into Europe each winter. Several hundred individuals spend winters in the UK, with rare vagrant visitors occasionally reported in North America.
One of seven American goose species, the Snow Goose is a noisy migrant that visits the Lower 48 states each winter. These beautiful birds have increased dramatically since the second half of the 20th century.
Despite being only a rare winter visitor to the British Isles, the Smew is one of the countrys most unmistakable and easily identified duck species. Breeding across Central Asia and returning to Western Europe during winter months, smews begin to turn up on inland lakes as well as in coastal regions from November onwards.
One look at the bill of a northern shoveler should be enough to provide you with an accurate species identification: their flattened shovel-like bills are unique among waterfowl and allow them to feed on tiny plankton by sweeping their heads across the water’s surface.
A large colourful duck, often found in coastal areas, the shelduck, is an established breeding waterbird in the UK. British wetlands are also a major wintering ground for the species, hosting up to 30 percent of Europe’s shelduck population each autumn.
A medium-sized diving duck, the greater scaup is known simply as the scaup in Europe, and locally as the ‘bluebill’ in North America. Only a handful of scaup breed in the UK, making it the rarest breeding duck in the British Isles.
A striking and fascinating little diving duck with an unusual courtship display, the Ruddy Duck is a widespread migrant in North America.
Colourful and instantly recognisable diving ducks, red-crested pochards are present in the UK in small numbers, believed to have initially been introduced into the wild from private wildfowl collections. Some breeding does occur in Britain, although the best chance of a sighting comes with the arrival of several hundred migrants each winter.
A speedy migratory wildfowl with a hardcore hairstyle, the Red-breasted Merganser is widespread in coastal and estuarine habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
During the winter the population of this rare resident breeding duck increases by 55 times to that of the summer, with the influx of many thousands of others overwintering, having arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern Pintails are distinctive migratory waterfowl. Drakes in breeding plumage are particularly attractive, although the drabber females and non-breeding males are still identifiable by their long necks and graceful form.
Although the pink-footed goose does not breed in Britain, it is a common winter visitor, with over half a million migrating individuals arriving each autumn from breeding grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard peninsula.
One of the world’s heaviest flying birds, and one of the most beautiful too, the Mute Swan is a majestic waterfowl with a mean reputation.
Sightings of wild Mandarin Ducks in the United States cause quite a stir, and it’s easy to see why. These small but eye-catching waterfowl are, in fact, native to the Far East of Asia, although their popularity as an ornamental species has resulted in their introduction to many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.
One of the most distinctive duck breeds, thanks to their extended streaming tail feathers, the long-tailed duck is a coastal waterbird that spends winters at sea, foraging for crustaceans in marine waters, after breeding on Arctic tundra landscapes.
The Greylag goose is the largest grey goose from the Anser genus of the Anatidae family of waterbirds. A stout, robust and heavyweight bird, the Greylag goose is the closest wild relative and ancestor to the domestic goose. Greylag geese are distributed across much of Europe and Asia, extending into eastern Russia and China. Most populations migrate, but some are sedentary, including in much of Northern Europe.
Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, the common merganser is the largest of the saw billed fish eating ducks. There are three sub-species with the Eurasian variant frequently known as the Goosander.
Goldeneyes are distinctive diving ducks that thrive in cold environments, breeding in boreal forests across Canada, northern Scandinavia and northern Russia. Only when the lakes and coastal areas on their summer territories begin to freeze over as fall approaches do they begin to head south to milder regions where they spend winter months foraging on inland lakes and around sheltered bays.
The Gargeney is a dabbling duck, slightly smaller than a mallard, and considered a rare breeder in the UK, with just over 100 pairs recorded. A fully migratory species, all garganeys spend winters in southern Africa, leaving breeding grounds as early as July, so your window for spotting one on British waters is only a very brief one.
The Gadwall is a widely distributed dabbling duck of the Anatidae family that breeds in the Northern Hemisphere. This hardy duck breeds as far north as Siberia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and coastal Alaska and is found across both the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large and widespread sea duck that is perhaps best known for its valuable insulating down feathers.
Regarded as being sacred by early Egyptians, this native goose of the African continent was introduced into Europe and elsewhere as an ornamental wildfowl species in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The word scoter is often used to define northern sea ducks. There are six different species of scoter, all of which are monotypic and three of which are confined to North America. The Common Scoter like the Velvet Scoter can only be found in Europe and Asia whilst the Stejneger’s Scoter is a native of Asia alone.
Once decimated through overhunting and habitat destruction, the Canada Goose has rebounded to become one of North America’s most abundant and familiar wildfowl.
A small goose species with a short, stubby bill, the brent goose (or brant, as it is known in North America), breeds in the high Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Siberian Russia and northern Europe’s Arctic islands. Brant spend winters along North America’s Pacific coast, part of the east coast of the US, and in north-western Europe, from the British Isles to Denmark.
A subspecies of the North American tundra swan, Bewick’s swans breed in Siberia and arrive in the UK each autumn. Worrying declines have been observed in the European population in recent years, and today only around 4,350 individuals migrate to the UK each winter.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.