Top Ten Facts: Mallard
High-flyer. The humble Mallard has been recorded flying at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour – slightly faster than the average speed of most waterfowl. While the Mallard does not typically fly at altitudes greater than 10,000 feet, in 1962 one was struck and killed by an airliner flying at 21,000 feet – a record height for birdstrike at the time. Sadly, the Mallard did not make it and identification was only made possible through feather analysis.
Sexually dimorphic. While male and female Mallards look very different, they also sound different too, with drakes giving a raspier one or two-note call as opposed to the much more stereotypical quack of the female bird. Female birds often give off what is called a decresendo call – a series of 2-10 quacks that start loud and gradually get softer and shorter.
Domestic stock. The Mallard (alongside the Muscovy) are the only breeds of wild duck to be entirely domesticated by humans. The Mallard is the ancestor of most of the domestic duck breeds in existence today, including breeds as the Aylesbury, Khaki Campbell, Indian Runner, Silver Appleyard and Rouen. Domestication was achieved by selective breeding for desired traits like plumage, growth speed, and high egg production.
Longevity. Data taken from the ring of a Mallard shot in 2008 showed that it was tagged by biologists in 1981, making it at least 27 years old at the time of its death and the oldest known Mallard on record. This is seen as an incredible record given the fact that the average lifespan of your typical Mallard is just 3–5 years in the wild and about a decade in captivity.
World domination. The Mallard has one of the largest home-ranges of any bird species, breeding widely across both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. In North America, its range extends from Alaska to Mexico; while in Eurasia, it can be found from Greenland and Iceland in the North, all the way to Morocco in the South. Mallard populations can also be found as far West as Japan and South Korea, with further populations found across parts of Australia and New Zealand.
Homosexual Necrophilia. Kees Moeliker, a curator at Rotterdam’s Natuurhistorisch Museum once observed a male Mallard attempting to copulate with the corpse of a deceased drake recently killed while flying into a museum window. Believe it or not, there is actually a scientific paper published about the incident.
A numbers game. Mallards are recognised as one of the most numerous duck species in the world, with the US population alone thought to fall somewhere in the region of 11.6 million birds. In Europe the overall population is estimated at between 5,700,000 and 9,220,000 mature individuals, with the UK breeding population thought to include between 61,000 and 146,000 pairs.
Amber listed. Despite their expansive range and overall abundance, the Mallard is amber listed as a result of a moderate decline in the UK wintering population. Some British wintering populations fell by 40% between the years of the last national census; though with populations on the continent continuing to increase, there is speculation that more birds may have decided to spend the winter closer to home. The breeding population of Mallards in the UK has remained relatively stable throughout.
First described. The Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos, was first described in 1758 by the renowned taxonomist Carl Linnaeus. It’s name stems from the Latin word for “duck” and a far older Greek term meaning “broad-billed”.
Far from picky. The humble Mallard is far from picky in its dining preferences, feeding freely on both animal and plant matter. Among the animal groups consumed, gastropods, crustaceans and invertebrates form the largest part of the bird’s diet, while of the plant material consumed, roots, tubers, seeds and foliage are taken in roughly equal measure. Studies have shown Mallard diet to be split roughly between 37.6% animal matter and 62.4% plant matter.
Bonus fact. In recent years there have been a number of observed cases of Mallards directly predating other birds species. This includes a Grey Wagtail in June 2017. This behaviour is poorly understood but is thought to be an entirely new phenomenon.
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