Anas platyrhynchos

(c) Howard B. Eskin
  • Swans, Geese, Ducks
  • Anseriformes
  • Anade real
  • Canard colvert
For many people, the image of the male Mallard is what springs immediately to mind upon hearing the word "duck." Indeed, Mallards are the most familiar duck species in the world, and also have one of the widest world distributions. The Mallard has been closely linked to humans throughout the ages; it is the genetic source of most domesticated duck varieties, and has always been an important game bird. The Mallard shows great adaptability, co-existing with humans in both urban and rural settings, often in a semi-feral state. The species is currently faring well in North America, with numbers increasing.
(c) Jim Fenton
Appearance Description
The male Mallard is probably the most widely recognized duck anywhere. Its dark emerald head, yellow bill, white neck ring, chestnut breast, and gray body are well known. The far less striking female is mottled brown overall, with an orange bill smudged in black at the center. By fall, males molt into their more nondescript “eclipse plumage. The small curled tail feathers of the male distinguish it from other ducks in all seasons.
Range Map
Courtesy of Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution
Common to abundant across most of its range, the Mallard breeds across much of North America, excluding only the most northeastern and southern regions. Nearly all truly wild populations are thought to be migratory, wintering as far south as the Gulf Coast and across much of northern Mexico. Globally, Mallards are found across the entire northern hemisphere, and have been introduced to parts of the southern hemisphere, including Australia and New Zealand.
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here.
Due to their high adaptability, Mallards can be found almost anywhere water is present, from vast prairie wetlands to small city parks. They generally prefer shallow, fresh water. Nesting usually occurs on the ground, but again, the species shows great adaptability, choosing any available nest site.
The Mallard’s diet is as varied as its habitat. Mallards are omnivorous, and make use of many food sources. In the breeding season, insects and aquatic invertebrates are preferred, but throughout the year, Mallards rely upon a variety of vegetation, seeds, and grains. They can be found foraging in fields, woods, lawns, shallow water, and other habitats. In urban areas, human handouts are not only accepted, but often relied upon.
Mallards pair off during fall and winter, and breeding begins in early springtime. The female chooses the nest site and takes total responsibility for incubating the eggs, while the male can generally be found keeping watch nearby. The female raises the ducklings, which may number a dozen or more. The hen and her chicks leave the nest for water within about 24 hours of hatching, and ducklings can feed themselves immediately. Ducklings remain with the mother hen until shortly after they can fly, usually about eight weeks.
Nearly all wild Mallards are thought to be at least short-distance migrants. They are a hardy species, often late to depart in winter, and early to arrive in spring. Many Mallards winter around the Gulf of Mexico, but they can be found in winter almost anywhere with open water.
CBC Graph
Graph Legend
Annual Population Indices
  • 22,986,000
  • 13,056,000
  • no current conservation concerns
Population Status Trends
Populations are currently stable. The species expanded its range eastward in the 20thcentury, and has become a firmly established breeder across the northeast. This expansion was aided in part by the regular release of birds over the early part of the century.
An explanation of the Annual Population Indices graph displayed to the right can be found here.
Conservation Issues
The Mallard is a very popular game bird in North America. With millions taken annually in North America alone, responsible and sustainable hunting practices are crucial. Like many duck species, Mallards are dependent upon the existence of healthy coastal wetlands in winter, and safe, unpolluted wetlands and waterways year round.
What You Can Do
Remain aware of local, regional, and federal land management decisions, particularly those that affect our wetlands.
Contact your legislators in support of wise land management initiatives, such as wetland restoration along the Gulf Coast, and implementation of The North American Waterfowl Management Plan.
For actions you can take, including Audubon activities, please visit our resources page.
More Information
Ducks Unlimited maintains important information on many current issues affecting North American waterfowl:
Visit our resources page for more information about this species.
Natural History References
Bent, Arthur Cleveland. 1962. Life Histories of North American Wild Fowl: Part One. Dover Publications, Inc., New York.
Drilling, N., Titman, R., and F. McKinney. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). InThe Birds of North America, No. 658 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Kaufman, Kenn. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
Kortright, Francis H. 1943. The Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America. The American Wildlife Institute, Washington D.C.
Conservation Status References
Drilling, N., Titman, R., and F. McKinney. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). InThe Birds of North America, No. 658 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Kortright, Francis H. The Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America. The American Wildlife Institute, Washington D.C., 1943.