Crawlies with Cri: Mallard

(Photos by Christy Solo, Illinois Valley News)

This week’s crawly is just ducky! Meet the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos).
Don’t tell the mallard, but we’re getting to know them this week in particular because they are often on the menu Thanksgiving Day, whether served solo or as part of turducken.
Mallards are the most recognized wild duck, also the most hunted – but there’s so much more to these dapper dippers! Let’s dive in.
Mallards occur throughout North America and Eurasia in ponds and parks as well as rivers, streams, wetlands and estuaries. They live year-round in many parts of the United States, including Oregon.
They’re so familiar to us, it’s easy to think of them as “boring.” Rest assured, they’re anything but!
If it weren’t for mallards, we wouldn’t have any domestic ducks – Muscovy excepted. The mallard is the ancestor of all other domestic duck breeds.
Not only are mallards easily recognizable, but they are also adaptable, which is why they are so widespread. While mallards prefer to nest on the ground on dry land that is close to water, they will also nest in agricultural fields, in artificial nesting structures and even in open areas in parks. They do prefer to nest in spots where they can conceal their nest under overhanging vegetation or long grasses.
In more suburban and even urban settings their nests are more vulnerable, but mallards are tough and will rebuild their nests up to four times if they are destroyed. Each nest will have fewer eggs and once one brood is successfully hatched, mama mallards call it “one and done!” They rarely have a second brood.
Mallards are foragers with a broad diet. This factors into their adaptability. Mallards are dabblers not divers, so when in water they only chow down on what they can reach while floating and dipping their heads underwater. Mostly that’s aquatic vegetation, seeds and aquatic insect larvae.
On land they’ll meander about munching on grasses, seeds, earthworms and snails. They’ll eat more protein during breeding season and more vegetation during migration.
Mallards are sturdy ducks too, not just size-wise (they are quite large), but they are surprisingly long-lived for the “most hunted duck” in the US. In the wild they live an average of 5 – 10 years. The oldest known wild mallard lived to an impressive 27 years old.
While mallards can be found here year-round, many undertake serious migrations. Eastern populations move from Manitoba and Saskatchewan through the Midwestern United States to the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. They can be quick about it too! Mallard flocks have been estimated to fly at 55 MPH.
There are three to four weeks a year, however, when mallards cannot fly. At the end of breeding season, they shed their flight feathers so they can grow nice new ones for migration. They’re very vulnerable and secretive during this time and the in-between molt is called “eclipse mode.” You can see them sporting this special camo over in Klamath Wildlife Refuge in late June and early July.
You’ll start seeing monogamous pairs of mallards soon. They form pairs well before breeding season. They are also quite social and will hang out with other species of ducks. You can often spot them in the Holy Water or hanging out in the river as it runs through Forks State Park.
Fun fact: If you hear the telltale “Quack! Quack!” of a mallard, it’s a Ms.! Only the females quack; males make a quieter rasping sound.