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Archive - December 2017

mallard Anas platyrhynchos

What is a Mallard?
A mallard is a bird. Specifically, it is a duck, a type of waterfowl. Birds are warm-blooded animals with feathers, hard-shelled eggs and lightweight bones. Because they are warm-blooded, birds can maintain a constant internal body temperature and be active when their natural environment has extremes of very warm or very cold conditions. Feathers are used for flight, protection and attraction of a mate. They also aid in controlling body temperature and in helping birds to identify other birds. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs.

The hard shell, made mostly of calcium carbonate, keeps the egg from drying out and allows parents to sit on the eggs during incubation. Lightweight bones are necessary for flight. Bird bones are strong and have internal braces. Many bird bones are filled with air and are connected to the respiratory system. Other bones are fused together, increasing their strength.

What Does It Look Like? 
The male mallard has shiny green feathers on the head, a white ring of feathers around its neck, gray body feathers, brown chest feathers and violet-blue feathers in a patch on each wing. The female mallard has a brown-and-cream speckled appearance. Both the male and the female have a white tail, orange feet and a yellow bill.

How Big Is It?
A mallard is 20 to 28 inches long and weighs two to three pounds. The wingspan is 32 to 37 inches.

Where Does It Live?
The mallard is a year-round resident in Illinois. Some mallards fly into the southern one-third of the state from much farther north in the fall to overwinter. Others pass through Illinois from the north on their way to overwinter farther south, as far as Mexico. In the spring, these birds return to places farther north than Illinois to nest, although the year-round resident mallards do nest in Illinois. Mallards live in or around marshes, ditches, swamps, grain fields, ponds, rivers and lakes. This species is common in cities, too.

How Does It Reproduce?
Mallards form mating pairs in the fall but do not mate until spring. Nesting in Illinois takes place from April through July. Seven to 16 blue-green eggs per clutch are laid in a nest on the ground. The nest is lined with feathers, grasses and leaves. The female incubates the eggs. Incubation lasts 23 to 29 days. The female leads the ducklings to water within 24 hours after hatching.

What Does It Eat?
Aquatic plants, corn and other waste grains, grasses, seeds, small aquatic animals, earthworms, acorns and insects make up its diet.

Does Anything Eat It?
Hawks, eagles, American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), American mink (Mustela vison), foxes, coyotes (Canis latrans), raccoons (Procyon lotor), striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina), snakes, large fishes, cats (Felis catus), dogs (Canis familiaris), owls and gulls are among the animals that eat mallards, their eggs and their ducklings. Humans eat mallards, too.

What Else Should I Know About It?

  • Mallards are puddle ducks or dabbling ducks. These birds strain water for food at the surface and also “tip up” by submerging the front half of the body, sticking the tail toward the sky, to be able to reach other food items that are deeper in the water.
  • The female mallard makes a “quack” sound.
  • Mallards are unable to fly for about a month in late summer when they lose their flight feathers. They can fly again once the replacement feathers grow.
  • Mallards have been known to build nests in trees, on rooftops, in parking lots, near swimming pools, in window wells and in other locations.
  • In the winter, these birds fly away from water to feed in the early morning, return to the water to rest in the middle of the day, fly out again in the late afternoon to feed and return to the water to spend the night.

Can I Hunt It?
The mallard may be legally hunted in Illinois following all relevant laws and regulations. You can find general information about waterfowl hunting in Illinois here. Specific hunting information about the mallard is included in the Illinois Digest of Waterfowl Hunting Regulations. A list of public hunting areas is available here. 

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