The Mallard–popular and familiar

I suppose the Mallard is the most familiar duck in the northern hemisphere. That grey body, brilliant green head, and substantial size are its distinguishing marks.
If you need more, the red breast, the white collar, and the orange feet and legs will give you some more confirmation.
The female is mottled brown, with a whitish tail. But both sexes have a blue speculum, bordered with white (the speculum is the brightly-coloured part of the wing).
About that green head–it isn’t really green at all. That is, there is no green pigment in the feathers. Rather, the green colour is caused by the reflection of light by a very thin transparent coating on each feather.
The Mallard is a northern duck, seldom found south of the United States. It also is primarily a western bird, with its main breeding grounds having been from Manitoba west.
But it has been extending its range for quite a few years now. It already is in the Maritimes and New England, and is now well established in most of southern Ontario.
And it is found all around the world, not just in North America.
The Mallard is easy to domesticate and is the ancestor of several of our domestic ducks. In some of these, the colour pattern is almost the same as that of the wild Mallard but the weight is usually greatly different.
The Rouen duck, for instance, can go up to about nine pounds while the Mallard seldom goes over these.
Mallards, along with many other ducks, moult twice a year. The drake loses his beautiful colours and replaces it with what is called the “eclipse” plumage. This takes place in the summertime, usually starting in May.
The moult includes the big feathers, including the wing ones. So, for about a month time, these ducks cannot fly. Instead, they hide out in secluded ponds or marshes during this time.
And that’s not all. In late fall, they moult again. This time, they don’t lose the big feathers but they do regain their pretty colours.
What with moulting, being flightless for a month, and moulting again, this takes up about five months of the year. And this only happens to ducks in the northern hemisphere. It doesn’t occur in the southern half of the world at all–even if the climate may be quite similar.
A good sized, tasty duck, the Mallard always has been sought out by hunters. Up to about 1910 or so, there were almost no controls on hunting. There are thousands of stories of four or five hunters taking 100 or more birds at a time; and market hunters trapped thousands for sale in the towns and cities.
This type of hunting, plus the settlement of the two nations, brought the population of Mallards to a very low level in the early part of this century.
Now, however, market hunting has been banned, sport hunting has been well regulated, and wildlife refuges have been established–not only in the southern States but also along the migration routes.
Organizations like Ducks Unlimited have done much to improve and increase the breeding grounds. Nowadays, controlled hunting has only a small effect on a very prolific species like the Mallard.
About 60 percent of the ducks shot along the Mississippi Flyway are Mallards. His full name is Anas platyrynchos, and he is the most sought-after duck in western North America.

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