The mallard is considered “common to abundant” on the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and the Long Beach Peninsula and is one of our most familiar ducks. The male is especially noticeable with his vivid green head, white neck-ring, brown upper breast and curly black tail. The female wears a drabber attire. Her body is mainly brownish, but she has orange legs, a dark line through the eye and an orange and black bill. Being dressed in more earthy tones over all helps her to go unnoticed by predators when sitting on a nest.
According to scientists, mallards form pairs long before the breeding season begins and for they are monogamous for the most part. The females make the nest and tends the young. She lays up to 13 eggs in a shallow depression usually near water. She sits on the shallow nest bowl and drags nearby vegetation toward her to form the nest. She lines it with grasses, leaves and twigs that are also found nearby.
Mallards dabble to feed. They tip forward in the water to feed on aquatic vegetation and seeds. They will also graze at the edge of wetlands for aquatic insect larva, freshwater shrimp, snails and worms during the breeding season.
The mallard is an interesting duck. It is widely hunted for one thing and is the duck that most domestic ducks have descended from. It must have fabulous genes! Scientists have clocked mallards at 55 miles per hour during migration. This suggests that they are very strong fliers. Another interesting fact about ducks in general, is that they hybridize. The mallard is no exception. According to the Cornell Ornithological Lab, it will hybridize with “American black duck, mottled duck, gadwall, northern pintail, cinnamon teal, green-winged teal, and canvasback, as well as Hawaiian ducks, the gray duck of New Zealand, and the Pacific black duck of Australia.”
The familiar duck quack we hear is made by the female mallard. If you have an iPhone one of the sounds you can use as a signal for male or a text coming in is that of the mallard quack! I hear that mallards and their young are now emerging in large numbers in the Refuge and on the Peninsula. Look for them in our wetlands, ponds, marshes and even in large ditches of water. You can’t miss them.