MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: In the fall why are the male mallards (drakes) half brown and half green?

Date: Tue Dec 4 19:42:01 2001
Posted By: June M. Wingert , RM(NRM),Associate Scientist
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 1005743661.Zo

Hi Jennifer,
You will find the answer to your question in the information below. Be sure
to follow all the links.
Mallard Duck 
( Anas platyrhynchos )
    The mallard is the most common duck in North America. It is easy to 
tell the males from the female mallards. Most male mallards have grayish 
or brownish feathers, a green colored head, and a purple breast. On the 
other hand, the female is only brown and white and is maller than the 
male. The length of the normal mallard is about 50-60 cm. ( 20.5 -28 in.). 
Mallards molt in late spring or early summer. The males molt earlier than 
the females. 
   The mallard duck is found mostly in North America and Northern Central 
America.  They nest under boulders, in tree holes, in the crotch of trees, 
or in open areas. 
    Mallards are omnivores. They eat various seeds including corn, wheat, 
barley, bulrushes, wild rice, primrose, willow, seeds of water elm, oak, 
hackberry, trees of swamps or river bottoms. They will also eat mollusks, 
insects, small fish, tadpoles, freshwater snails, fish eggs, and frogs. 
They usually feed at the surface of the water and are known as "dabbling 
ducks". They don't dive all the way under the water, but just tip their 
heads under to feed. 
    To breed, the male attracts the female mate by ruffling his bright 
feathers. But the pair usually does not stay together for long. The male 
mallard, or drake, leaves the female when she begins incubation and forms 
a group with other males. Nine to thirteen eggs are laid at daily 
intervals. Incubation begins when the clutch is complete and lasts for 27 
to 28 days. The ducklings all hatch within 24 hours, mostly during the 
day. Once they are hatched they are led to water. Mallards mature quickly 
and may breed under 12 months of age. Although mallard ducks have been 
known to live as long as sixteen years of age, most of them only live for 
one or two years. 
    During the summer, mallards spend much time asleep on water banks.  
The mallard has only three defenses- swimming, flying, and camouflage, and 
it is prey to large mammals.  Mallards have no defense against humans who 
are their biggest enemy. Many are killed by oil spills and pesticides. 

For other information go to:
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           by Christyan 

 	Size: 50-70 cm (20-28 in) long. Color: The plumage of the male and 
female Mallard is quite different. The male has a green head, brown chest, 
small white neck band, brownish gray body, white outer tail feathers, and 
a violet-blue speculum (the secondary feathers located on the back inner 
portion of the wing). The female is a variable brown, and also has a 
violet-blue speculum. Other things to look for: This abundant species 
interbreeds with many other duck species, causing a high degree of 
variation in Mallard plumage (see similar species, below). 
 	Mallards begin to find mates as early as August prior to the 
breeding season, with most birds being paired by early January. Nesting 
normally begins in early to late April, with a peak in May. The female 
builds a nest of cat-tails (Typha) and other vegetation near the edge of a 
shallow pond, marsh, or lake. She lays 7-10 eggs, which she incubates for 
approximately 28 days. After incubation has begun, the male leaves the 
female and joins a male flock. The young are precocial. The female is left 
to care for the young by herself. Within 12 hours of hatching, she leads 
them to water. The female will continue to care for the young for 42-60 
days after hatching. 
 	The Mallard eats plant material (seeds, grains, acorns, sedges, 
grass shoots), insects, and aquatic invertebrates. A surface feeder, it 
finds food in the water by "up-ending" (putting its head underwater and 
its tail end in the air) and by dabbling. It feeds on land by taking 
things from the ground. Both the male and female usually molt in late 
summer or early fall, which renders them flightless for around 33 days. 
 	The Mallard occurs extensively throughout North America. During 
the breeding season, it most often is found in the upper one-third of the 
continent. The Mallard is a resident in the northern United States all 
year, and is a winter resident in the South. The northern winter range in 
the United States is limited by availability of open, unfrozen water. Many 
escaped domestic Mallards breed in the wild in the eastern United States. 
 	 Mallards are a game species in the United States, and hunting 
contributes to the mortality of this species. Some additional deaths have 
been caused by lead poisoning. Overall, this species is abundant. 	
 	 Many Mallard in the East are of domestic origin or have bred with 
domestic ducks. This interbreeding has caused a high degree of variation 
in Mallard plumage. The female Mallard would be more easily confused with 
other species than the male. One distinguishing characteristic of the 
female Mallard is its orange bill with black markings. 	

Thanks for taking the time to send in a question to Mad Scientists

June Wingert
Mad Scientist

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