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Animal of the week: Mallard duck


Species: Mallard duck    

Scientific name: Anas platyrhynchos

Nicknames: greenhead

Claim to fame: The mallard is most recognized duck species in the world and is an extremely popular species with hunters and bird-watchers alike. In Missouri, as in other parts of the country, mallards are the most sought-after species for waterfowl hunters.

Species status: The mallard is one of the more abundant duck species in North America.

First discovered: The first scientific description of the bird was written by the well-known taxonomist Carl Linnaeus in 1758.

Family matters: Mallard ducks belong to the Anatidae family, a grouping that includes all the waterfowl species. Within this group, mallards belong to the sub-family Anatinae, a collection of species more commonly known as the marsh ducks.

Length: 20 inches to 28 inches long

Weight: An adult male weighs a little under three pounds; a female weighs slightly less.

Diet: Mallards primarily eat aquatic vegetation, insects, insect larvae, snails, aquatic invertebrates, seeds and grains (if available).

Distinguishing characteristics: The most noticeable characteristic of mallards is the bright green head of the male. Females do not have green heads and their plumage is a drab brown. Both males and females have a blue patch (speculum) on each wing.

Life span: The average life span of a mallard is seven to nine years.

Habitat: Mallards prefer wetlands where highly productive waters produce large amounts of floating emergent and submerged vegetation. Wetlands also produce a large number of aquatic invertebrates on which mallards feed.

Life cycle: Mallards begin to find mates as early as the August prior to the breeding season, with most birds being paired by early January. The wintering range of the mallard covers much of the United States and extends into Central America. The birds breed and nest in the prairie “pot-hole” lake region that can be found in parts of Dakotas, Minnesota, parts of the northern United States and parts of Canada. Nesting normally begins in early to late April, with the peak occurring in May. The female builds a nest of cattails and other vegetation near the edge of a shallow pond, marsh or lake. She lays seven to 10 eggs, which she incubates for approximately 28 days. After incubation has begun, the male leaves the females and joins a male flock. The female is left to care for the young by herself. Within 12 of hatching, the female leads them to water. The female mallard will continue to care for its young for 42 to 60 days after hatching.


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