The Mallard (perhaps together with the Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) is thought to be the ancestor of all domestic ducks. It is a particularly striking bird, especially the males which have a metallic-green head and neck; a purplish breast; grey under parts and light brown upper parts. The females lack the distinctive green head, and are streaked brown overall, with a purple speculum. Males have yellow beaks and females have beaks that are black and orange. Both sexes have dark brown eyes, and legs and feet orange-red. The males are slightly larger than the females, with a length of about 60 cm.
They are beautiful birds, particularly the males, and this has encouraged people to import the birds from North America or Europe into many other parts of the world, including the southern African region. Unfortunately they have become something of a problem here, as they breed with some of the local ducks, particularly Yellow-billed ducks (Anas undulata). The hybrids may be fully fertile, which is somewhat unusual. This cross-breeding is not viewed as a good thing and the introduction of some method of controlling the Mallard within the region is under consideration.
The Mallard has a fairly weak call, a rasping “raeb”. It is quite adaptable in terms of its habitat, which contributes to the fact that it is one of the most numerous ducks in the world, but generally it prefers well vegetated stretches of water. It is a gregarious bird and is usually found in flocks which may number hundred of birds.
The Mallard is omnivorous, its diet consisting of seeds, aquatic vegetation, mollusks, crustaceans and fish. It feeds on the water by diving, up-ending and by sieving surface water. On land it grazes and also grubs for insects and other food items.
The Mallard is monogamous and builds a nest in a shallow depression lined with grass or small twigs, usually on the ground in dense cover. The female lays a clutch of between four and 18 grey-green or buff eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 28 days.
The scientific binomial for the Mallard is Anas platyrhynchos; Anas from the Latin for a “duck” and platyrhynchos from the Greek for “flat-billed”. Thus a duck with a flat bill; not very descriptive or specific in that many ducks have fairly flat beaks, but I suppose it’s accurate enough.