I suppose the mallard is the most familiar duck in the northern hemisphere. The grey body, brilliant green head, yellow beak, and substantial size are the marks of the mallard drake.
About that green head. It isn’t really green at all—that is, there is no green pigment in the feathers. If you took those feathers and crushed them all up, no green would show at all, just a dull brown.
The green is caused by reflection of light from a very, very thin coating on each feather.
The mallard is a northern duck, seldom found south of the United States. It also is primarily a western one—its main breeding grounds being from Manitoba west.
However, it is found all around the world, and is the ancestor of quite a few of our domestic ducks.
In some of these, the colour pattern is just about the same as the wild mallard, as in the eight- nine-pound Rouen or the Grey Call ducks of Great Britain.
The mallard, itself, rarely goes more than three pounds.
Mallards, along with other ducks in the northern hemisphere, moult twice a year. In early summer, the drake loses his beautiful plumage and replaces it with what is called the “eclipse” plumage.
This is dull, drab, and brown—somewhat resembling the colour of the female.
The eclipse moult is complete, including the big wing feathers, so, for a time, the birds cannot get airborne at all. They hide out in secluded ponds or marshes during this time.
In the fall, the eclipse feathers are moulted again and the fine colouring of the drake returns.
An odd thing about this is that it happens only in the northern hemisphere. It does not happen in the southern half of the world at all, even though the climates may be very similar.
The mallard, a good-sized tasty duck, always has been sought out by hunters.
Up to about 1910 or so, there were very few controls on hunting. There are thousands of stories of three or four hunters taking 100 or more birds at a time, and the market hunters trapped and killed thousands for sale in the cities.
This toll, plus settlement, reduced the population of mallards to very low levels. However, market hunting was banned, sport hunting was regulated, winter refuges were established, and the population has risen again.
Winter refuges were established in the southern states, as well as a great many resting areas along the migration routes. All of these acts have permitted the population of mallards to rebound.
Nowadays, controlled hunting has very little effect on a prolific species like the mallard.
About 60 percent of the ducks shot along the Mississippi flyway are said to be mallards. His full name is Anas platyrynchos, and he is the most sought-after duck in western North America.
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