The mallard is a very famous and numerous population of ducks on the planet. It can be seen in almost any body of water. It is larger than all wild ducks and therefore often becomes an object of sport, and in some cases commercial hunting. Most modern duck breeds are bred by selection from wild mallards, except for nutmeg breeds. This is an omnivorous bird, it easily adapts to various living conditions and lives on all continents except Antarctica. Let's get to know it better.
View origin and description
Mallards are one of the many bird species originally described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 10 — 1st edition of “Systems of Nature”. He gave him two binomial names: Anas platyrhynchos + Anas boschas. The scientific name comes from the Latin Anas – “duck” and the ancient Greek πλατυρυγχος – “with a wide beak”.
The name Mallard originally referred to any wild drake and is sometimes still used in this way. These birds often interbreed with their closest relatives in the Anas genus, resulting in various hybrids. This is quite unusual among such different species. Perhaps this is because the mallard evolved very quickly and recently, at the end of the late Pleistocene.
Interesting fact: Genetic analysis has shown that some mallards are closer to their Indo-Pacific relatives, in while others are related to their American cousins. Mitochondrial DNA data for the D-loop sequence suggest that mallards may have evolved primarily from regions of Siberia. Bird bones are found in the remains of the food of ancient people and other deposits.
Mallards differ in their mitochondrial DNA between North American and Eurasian populations, but the nuclear genome reveals a marked lack of genetic structure. In addition, the lack of morphological differences between Old World mallards and New World mallards demonstrates the degree to which the genome is distributed between them such that birds such as the Chinese spotted-billed duck are very similar to the Old World mallard, and birds such as the Hawaiian duck are very similar. similar to the New World mallard.
Appearance and Features
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) is a bird that is part of the duck family (Anatidae). This is a medium sized waterfowl species that is slightly heavier than most other ducks. It is 50–65 cm long, of which the body makes up about two-thirds. The mallard has a wingspan of 81–98 cm and weighs 0.72–1.58. kg. Among the standard measurements, the wing chord is from 25.7 to 30.6 cm, the beak — from 4.4 to 6.1 cm, and the legs — from 4.1 to 4.8 cm.
Mallards have a well-defined sexual dimorphism. The male breed is unmistakably recognizable by its glossy, bottle-green head with a white collar that separates a purple-tinged brown chest from the head, greyish-brown wings, and dull gray belly. The back of the male is black, with white feathers bordered by dark color on the tail. The male has a yellowish-orange bill tipped with a black spot, while the female has a darker bill that ranges from dark to mottled orange or brown.
The female mallard is predominantly variegated, with each individual feather showing a sharp contrast in coloration. Both sexes have distinct iridescent purplish-blue feathers on the lower wing with white margins that stand out in flight or at rest, but are temporarily shed during the annual molt.
Fun Fact: Mallards tend to mate with other duck species, resulting in hybridization and interbreeding. They are the offspring of domestic ducks. In addition, mallards obtained from wild populations have been repeatedly used to rejuvenate domestic ducks or to breed new species.
After hatching, the plumage of a duckling is yellow on the underside and on the face, and black on the back (with yellow spots) all the way to the top and back of the head. Its legs and beak are black. As it approaches plumage, the duckling begins to turn grey, more female-like, though more striped, and its legs lose their dark gray color. At the age of three to four months, the duckling begins to fly, as its wings are fully developed.
Now you know what a wild mallard looks like. Let's see where this interesting bird lives and eats.
Where does the mallard live?
The mallard is found throughout the northern hemisphere, from Europe to Asia and North America. In North America, it is absent only in the far north in the tundra regions from Canada to Maine and east to Nova Scotia. Its North American distribution center is in the so-called prairie region of North and South Dakota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. In Europe, there are no mallards only in the highlands, in Scandinavia and strips of tundra in Russia. Distributed in Siberia to the north to Salekhard, the course of the Lower Tunguska, the Taigonos Peninsula and Northern Kamchatka.
The mallard has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. It is found wherever the climate corresponds to the area of u200bu200bdistribution in the northern hemisphere. In Australia, mallards appeared no earlier than 1862 and spread to the Australian continent, especially since the 1950s. It is relatively rare due to the climatic features of this continent. It mainly inhabits Tasmania, the southeast and some areas in the southwest of Australia. The bird settles into urban areas or agricultural landscapes and is rarely observed in regions where humans are not densely populated. It is considered an invasive species that disrupts the ecosystem.
The mallard is still common in open valleys up to 1000 m, the highest nesting sites have been recorded at places around 2000 m. In Asia, the range extends to the east of the Himalayas. The bird winters in the plains of northern India and southern China. In addition, the range of the mallard includes Iran, Afghanistan, and outside the mainland, the birds nest on the Aleutian, Kuril, Commander, Japanese islands, as well as in Hawaii, Iceland and Greenland. Prefers wetlands where highly productive waters produce large amounts of vegetation. Wetlands also produce a large number of aquatic invertebrates that mallards eat.
What do mallards eat?
The mallard is undemanding to food. It is an omnivorous species that will eat whatever it can digest and obtain without much effort. New food sources are quickly discovered and immediately exploited.
The food of the mallard duck consists mainly of vegetable matter:
- green algae;
- shore and land plants.
Diet also includes:
- small crabs;
- small fish;
- worms ;
Food composition is subject to seasonal fluctuations. Central European mallards live during the breeding season due to plant foods. These are seeds, overwintering green parts of plants, and then — fresh sprouting greens. By the time the chicks are born, they find not only abundant vegetable food, but also abundant animal food in the form of insects and their larvae. However, mallard chicks do not specialize in a specific diet, finding enough nutrients in the environment.
Although the influence of animal protein on the development of young animals is undeniable. Young mallards that eat a lot of animal protein show much higher growth rates than those that eat mostly vegetables. As soon as the young chicks fledge, mallards increasingly search for food in the fields. They especially like unripe grains of cereals. In the fall, mallards eat acorns and other nuts.
Fun Fact: The expansion of the food spectrum includes potatoes, introduced from South America. In Great Britain this eating habit first appeared during the harsh winters between 1837 and 1855. When farmers threw rotting potatoes into the field.
At feeding grounds, mallards will also occasionally eat bread and kitchen waste. Although she is generally very adaptable in her diet, she does not eat salty plants. In Greenland, for example, the mallard feeds almost exclusively on sea mollusks.
Character and lifestyle features
Mallards have about 10,000 downy feathers that protect them from moisture and cold . They lubricate this plumage so that water does not penetrate through it. Glands at the base of the tail provide special fat. The duck takes this grease with its beak and rubs it into its plumage. On the water, ducks float on an air cushion. Air remains between the plumage and down. The trapped layer of air prevents the body from losing heat.
In search of food under the surface of the water, mallards dive head first, beating the surface of the water with their wings and then capsizing. This body position with the tail rising vertically out of the water looks very funny. At the same time, they are looking for food at the bottom at a depth of about half a meter. They bite off parts of plants with their beaks and at the same time push the water, which they also grabbed, out. The parts of the beak act like a sieve in which food gets stuck.
Fun Fact: Duck feet never get cold because they lack nerve endings and blood vessels. This helps the ducks navigate the ice and snow without feeling cold.
The bird's flight is fast and extremely noisy. When flapping its wings, the mallard often makes ringing sounds, you can recognize the duck from them without even seeing it visually. In flying individuals, white stripes on the wing liners are clearly visible. The take-off of the mallard from the surface of the water is quite skillful. Can move under water for tens of meters. On land, it waddles from side to side, but the wounded are able to move quickly.
After the breeding season, mallards form herds and migrate from northern latitudes to warmer southern regions. There they wait for spring and feed until the breeding season begins again. Some mallards, however, may choose to winter in areas where there is plenty of food and shelter. These mallards make up permanent, non-migratory populations.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Sedentary mallards form pairs in October and November in the northern hemisphere, and migratory birds in spring. Females lay their eggs at the beginning of the nesting season, which occurs around the beginning of spring. Together, the pairs look for a nesting site, which can be located on the shore, but sometimes two or three kilometers from the water.
The choice of nest site is adapted to the circumstances of each habitat. In flat areas, nests are found on pastures, near lakes with pronounced vegetation, and in meadows. In forests, they can also inhabit hollows. The nest itself is a simple, shallow depression, which the female supplements with coarse branches. After building a nest, the drake leaves the duck and joins other males in anticipation of the molting period.
Fun fact: The female lays 8-13 eggs, creamy white with a greenish tinge, without spots, one egg at a time per day since March. If the first four eggs left open remain untouched by predators, the duck will continue to lay eggs in that nest and cover the eggs by leaving the nest for a short time.
The eggs are about 58 mm long and 32 mm wide. Incubation begins when clutch is almost complete. The incubation period takes 27-28 days, and fledging — 50–60 days. Ducklings are able to swim as soon as they hatch. They instinctively stay close to their mother, not only for warmth and protection, but also in order to learn and remember their habitat and where to get food. When ducklings grow up to be able to fly, they learn their traditional migratory routes.
Natural enemies of the mallard
Mallards of all ages (but especially young ones) often face a wide variety of predators, including domesticated ones. The most dangerous natural predators of adult mallards are foxes (which most often attack nesting females. As well as the fastest or larger birds of prey: peregrine falcons, hawks, golden eagles, eagles, gray crows, or sea eagles, large gulls, eagle owls. The list of birds of prey consists from at least 25 species and the same number of predatory mammals, not counting a few other predators of birds and mammals that threaten mallard eggs and chicks.
Mallards are also victims of such predators as:
- grey heron;
- northern pike;
- raccoon dog;
Mallards can also be attacked by larger anseriformes such as swans and geese , which often expel mallards during the breeding season due to territorial disputes. Mute swans attack or even kill mallards if they think the ducks are a threat to their offspring.
To prevent duck attacks while sleeping, they rest with one eye open, allowing one hemisphere of the brain to remain active while the other half sleeps. This process was first observed in mallards, although the phenomenon is believed to be widespread among birds in general. Because females are more likely to hunt prey during the breeding season, many flocks have many more drakes than ducks. In the wild, ducks can live 10 to 15 years. Under the care of people 40 years old.
Population and species status
Mallards are the most numerous and widespread of all waterfowl. Every year, hunters shoot millions of individuals, with little effect on their numbers. The biggest threat to mallards — habitat loss, but they easily adapt to human innovations.
Interesting fact: Since 1998, the mallard has been listed as the least endangered species on the IUCN Red List. This is because it has a large range of — over 20,000,000 km², and also because bird numbers are increasing rather than decreasing. In addition, the mallard population is very large.
Unlike other waterfowl, mallards have benefited from human transformations — so skillfully that it is now considered an invasive species in some regions of the world. They inhabit city parks, lakes, ponds and other artificial water bodies. They are often tolerated and encouraged in human habitats due to their calm nature and beautiful, iridescent colors.
Ducks coexist so successfully with humans that the main risk to the species' conservation comes from the loss of genetic diversity among the region's traditional ducks. The release of wild mallards in areas where they are not native sometimes creates problems as a result of interbreeding with native waterfowl. These non-migratory mallards interbreed with local duck populations of closely related species, contributing to genetic pollution and producing fertile offspring.
The mallard is the ancestor of many domestic ducks. Its evolutionary wild gene pool is correspondingly polluted by domesticated populations. Full hybridization of various species of the wild mallard gene pool will lead to the disappearance of local waterfowl.