Rural Perspectives: The mallard is the fastest-flying duck

The mallard is a common duck. It is the only duck that has a curl in its tail feathers. Photo credit Diane Constable

by Diane Constable

The mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) is the most common, most recognized, and one of the most beautiful dabbler ducks. It is the ancestor of mostly all domestic duck species.

Mallards are found across the Northern Hemisphere in any type of wetland. They have been clocked flying up to 55 mph, which makes them the  fastest-flying duck. Some mallards will migrate, while most stay locally wherever there is open water to be found.

Mallards eat a variety of food, including grass seed, grains, pond vegetation, small fish, worms, snails, a variety of insects, and they are excellent destroyers of mosquito larvae. They dabble for their food; you will often see them tail up as they forage the water bottom for anything edible. Mallards also welcome handouts from cooperating humans. Corn, rather then bread, is the healthiest treat.

The mottled brown hen makes a shallow nest, usually near water, and lays up to 13 eggs. Mallards have been known to nest in unexpected places such as backyards and near buildings. The eggs hatch out in 28 days. About 14 hours later, the alert ducklings are ready to explore their world and leave the nest for good. The hen leads them to water and watches over them for about two months. She will even fake injury to lure predators away from her brood.

When grown, the mallard will have a 3-foot wingspan, weigh up to 3.5 pounds, and live up to 10 years. They are the only duck that has a curl in its tail feathers.

Fun Fact: The typical duck quack is made by the female only. The male has a quieter, raspier quack.

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