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 Mallard

The Mallard is our commonest duck in several countries (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales), the one you are most likely to be greeted by if your local park has a pond. It is estimated that the British breeding population of Mallards is at least 100, 000 pairs. In Ireland it is considered that there are some 23 000 pairs, and during the winter their numbers reach a staggering 500,000 birds. The European population is over 2 million pairs and in Russian population is estimated to be between 650,000 and 800,000. Other figures from Turkish suggest the Mallard population is between 5000 and 20,000 thousand birds.

It is easy to recognise the males from the female mallards. Most male mallards have greyish or brownish feathers, a green coloured head, and a purple breast. The female is only brown and white and is smaller than the male. The length of the normal mallard is about 50-60 cm. (20.5 to 28 in).

Mallards are omnivores, which means that they eat various seeds, including corn, wheat, barley, bulrushes, wild rice, primrose, and willow, oak, or from the river bottom. They will also eat molluscs, insects, small fish, tadpoles, freshwater snails, fish eggs, and frogs. They usually feed at the surface of the water and are known as "dabbling ducks". They don't dive all the way under the water, but just tip their heads under to feed.

Some Mallards have been domesticated and so you may also see Mallard-like hybrids showing bewildering colours from khaki brown to pure white. The displaying male Mallard shows his colours very clearly as well as the curly black upper tail feathers.

Mallard in flight can be recognised by their relatively large size, the contrastingly dark-chested appearance of the males and the fact that the white borders on either side of the dark blue speculum are both equally obvious.

Mallards breed and winter on any fresh and saltwater bodies. They nest under boulders, in tree holes, in the crotch of trees, or in open areas.

To breed, the male attracts the female mate by ruffling his bright feathers, but the pair usually does not stay together for long. The male mallard, or drake, leaves the female when she begins incubation and forms a group with other males. Nine to thirteen eggs are laid at daily intervals. Incubation begins when the clutch is complete and lasts for 27 to 28 days. The ducklings all hatch within 24 hours, mostly during the day. Once they are hatched they are led to water. Mallards mature quickly and may breed less than 12 months of age. Although mallard ducks have been known to live as long as sixteen years of age, most of them only live for one or two years.

During the summer, mallards spend much time asleep on water banks. The mallard has only three defences- swimming, flying, and camouflage, and it is prey to large mammals.

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