The Mallard Ducks of the Pacific Northwest
Mallard Ducks can be found on rivers, ponds, lakes and along our islands shores, the mallard is one of the most common and well known waterfowl in the northern hemisphere.
The male has glossy head and upper neck that are a brilliant green, separated from the rich chestnut of the breast by a white collar. The underparts and the sides are light grey. The back and wings of the bird are grayish brown, with a blue patch on the wing. The male has a yellow bill and orange legs and feet. They are called green heads.
The female Mallard Duck is a much less colorful bird. Its back is mottled brown, its breast is a combination of buff and darker brown. It is best recognized by the white bordered blue patch on the wing. The female has an orange bill, that is sometimes blotched with black, and its legs and feet are orange.
Mallard Ducks are widespread, year round residents of many areas including Vancouver island, Mallards can be found near any shallow water source, including lakes, rivers, ponds, ocean bays and estuaries.
The Mallard is distributed throughout North America, Europe, and Asia and has been introduced to many other parts of the globe. Mallards are essentially freshwater ducks, although many winter on our islands coastal shores.
The nesting site is normally on the ground, the nest is little more than a depression lined with bits of plants, grass, weeds or other material close at hand. It is usually hidden in thick grass cover. The eggs, which may vary in color from dull green to almost white, are laid daily, up to 15 are laid
Incubation does not start until she has laid the last egg, this is so that all the ducklings will hatch at approximately the same time. The female uses down from her belly to line the nest. This not only help keep the eggs warm but hides the eggs from crows, ravens, and other predators, which are quick to find unprotected eggs. The female will incubate the eggs for around 28 days. The ducklings emerge as handsome little balls of down. They are mostly brown with some yellow on them. As soon as the ducklings are hatched, the female leads them to the nearest water.
Once on the water, the female leads her brood to feeding areas. The young find their own food, which at first consists of small crustaceans and tiny plants.
The young gradually lose their down and grow their feathers. In about 10 weeks they have assumed a plumage that is much like that of the female. They are on their own by 10 weeks.
The males remain with the females for the first 10 days of incubation. After that, they move to larger ponds and lakes, where they lose their breeding plumage. All their flight feathers are shed at once, and for about a month the birds cannot fly. They keep a low profile until their new feathers have grown in.
When the females have left their broods, they too gather on bigger ponds to molt. They also become flightless, but the new plumage they assume is little different from the one they have shed. In the late fall the young gain the plumage of their respective sexes. The males, however, may take up to 2 years to get their full adult plumage.