Saturday, 29 January 2011

Mallard Ducks

Mallard Ducks (Mallard Anas)
Anas is Latin for duck and derives from Greek meaning broad billed.
The mallard duck is the most common wildfowl in the world and is familiar to most people.   Many hybrid and domestic ducks originated with the mallard as can be seen in the upturned tail feathers that appear as two curls and varieties of iridescent plumage.  Even so, both male and female are very attractive ducks.
 The male, the drake, has a distinctive metallic shimmering iridescent green head and neck with a white band around the base of the neck.   The back is grey and the under parts pale grey while the tail feathers are white with two up turned black curls.  The wings are grey/brown with a purple/blue band between bars of white and black.  The drake has a greenish yellow broad beak. The eye is black. Legs and feet are orange/yellow.
The female, is describes as mottled brown but this rather understates how attractive it is.  Generally they have a brown crown with a lighter bar above the eye like an eyebrow and with a dark stripe running back from a black eye.  They have brown wings with purple between white bands.  The tail feathers are white and the bill is olive-brown with mottled orange-yellow around the edges.  The legs and feet are orange.
They mate from January onwards.  Indeed I have been watching them pair up for a few weeks now.  Mating behaviour consists of both bobbing there heads up and down before a very quick mating.  Afterwards, like every true lady, she takes a bath. 
They lay anything from 8 to 16 eggs from around April and the female alone broods them.  The male takes no further part in the care of the chicks although there have been exceptions to that.  Notably, last year, Smudge (a small white hybrid mallard with a black smudge on her head), and her mate both took care of their four ducklings for a few weeks before they were abandoned.  Smudge eventually, took over another female’s brood – you can see that story on Squidoo at... 
There are many more males than females.  Early in the breeding season, other males will be chased off by both the male and female but later several males forcing themselves on a lone female is common.  In these circumstances you can see the female take flight afterwards in what is know as the rape flight.
There is quite a wide variety of colourings among the females.  Along my stretch of the Leeds to Liverpool canal, for example, I am following the fortunes of several distinct females that I hope to identify more closely.
 Last year (2010) when I first developed my interest in the breeding females and their ducklings some were easily identified.  In particularly, one light coloured, almost golden, female I dubbed, Mama Mallard as means of identification.  Mama Mallard had a brood of fifteen (15) chicks that were slowly whittled down to five (5) who survived into adulthood.  Of these five, one was completely yellow (now The Little White Duck), two were pale like her, probably females and two dark, probably males.   I am especially interested to see how these fair this year.
This year it is my intention to try to identify the females early on.  I am not sure, but I suspect that apart from differences in colouring, the markings on the bills may be distinctive.
So far I have identified...
Female 1: Mama Mallard is once again with a mate.  She is a golden brown colour, much lighter than an ordinary mallard female. 

Female 2:  Smudge – a hybrid mallard duck who is completely white except for a single dark smudge on the top of her head.  She also has a mate.

Female 3: Her head is completely brown, lacking the paler ‘eyebrow’.  She really is quite an exquisite bird as you can see here and she has a devoted mate.

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