Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

French: Canard colvert
GenusAnas (1)
SizeWingspan: 81 - 95 cm (2)
Length: 50 - 60 cm (2)
Top facts

The mallard is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Common and widespread (3). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Green List (low conservation concern) (4).

The familiar mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) is the most numerous duck in Britain (3), and is the ancestor of the domestic duck (2). Both male and female mallards are easily identified by the presence of a dark blue band on the wing known as a 'speculum', which is bordered above and below with white (2). Males and females are distinct; males have a metallic bottle-green head, a crisp white neck-collar and a rich purplish-brown breast. The upperparts are grey, the flanks are somewhat paler, and the central feathers of the black tail are curled smartly upwards (2). In contrast, females are brown, with streaks of darker brown and buff (5). Juveniles are very similar to females, but lack the speculum (2). It is the female mallard who produces the well-known loud 'quack-quack' call; males produce a softer 'rhaeb', particularly when alert, and a 'piu' whistle during courtship (2).

Widespread and common throughout Britain, the mallard is absent only from mountainous or very dry areas (3). The native population is supplemented in winter by immigrants from Iceland and Scandinavia, escaping harsh winter weather (3). Outside of Britain, the mallard is found in subtropical and temperate areas throughout the northern hemisphere (6).

Occurs in almost every type of lowland wetland, including village ponds, lakes, and flood water (5). The mallard can tolerate the presence of humans, and are therefore found in parks, and rivers and streams in towns (3).

The mallard feeds mainly on vegetable matter, which is usually obtained by upending (tipping head first into the water, so that the tail remains visible above the surface) (3). During autumn and winter they may feed in fields, some distance from water (3).

Breeding may take place throughout the year, but usually occurs after March (5). In overcrowded water bodies, such as parks, breeding males may attack females in order to mate; this may lead to the death of the female in some cases. This behaviour is rare in truly wild mallards, however (7). The hollow nest, lined with grasses, feathers and leaves (6), is typically made close to water and is often concealed by vegetation (5). Between 10 to 12 pale green, blue or creamy white eggs are produced (although as many as 16 per clutch have been known), and are incubated for 28 to 29 days by the female (5). The downy chicks are led to the water by the female shortly after hatching and are cared for by the female for up to eight weeks (5).

This duck is not currently threatened; in fact the mallard population has been increasing since the 1960s (8).

No specific conservation action has been targeted at the mallard, but it will have benefited from action carried out for other species of wildfowl, such as the creation and management of wetland nature reserves (9).

For more information on the mallard and other bird species:

Information authenticated by the RSPB:

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton
  4. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK:
  5. Gooder, J. (1982) Collins British Birds. William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London.
  6. Walters, M. (1994) Eyewitness handbooks: bird's eggs. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  7. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air; the names, lore and literature of British birds. Book Club Associates, London.
  8. JNCC Breeding birds of the wider countryside (Nov 2002):
  9. RSPB (2003): Pers. comm.