Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The green head and white collar are distinguishing marks of the drake mallard in the spring. A chestnut vest and curled black feathers over the white tail adds to its handsome appearance. The hen is buff or light brown and the feathers are streaked with darker brown. Adult males lose their bright breeding plumage by the end of July and take on an eclipse plumage similar to that of the females. In fall and early winter male mallards again assume the same colorful plumage that they have in the spring. The mallard is a large duck and average weights range from 2 3/4 to 3 pounds.
The mallard is one of the earliest ducks to migrate into North Dakota in the spring. Usually many have arrived by the end of March, and peak numbers are present in the state in April. In the fall, locally raised mallards may congregate on the larger waterfowl marshes during late September and early October and often are present in the state until the time of the general freeze-up in November. Mallards often spend the winter as far north as open water and food supplies allow. In most winters, small flocks may be found along the Missouri River and other places in North Dakota. Major wintering areas, however, include reservoirs, flooded hardwood river bottoms and streams in the southern United States and Mexico.
The mallard is a surface feeder and is commonly observed tipping up to feed in shallow water. It also feeds on dry land, such as stubble fields where corn, wheat, barley, and other foods are available. In spring, the diet of the female is high in animal matter such as insects and other invertebrates, which are needed to sustain her during egg laying.
In her first nesting attempt, the female mallard commonly lays 10 or 11 eggs. If the clutch is destroyed she will often renest. In renests the clutch size is generally smaller and may range from seven to nine eggs. The eggs are dull in color and vary from light grayish buff to a light green. The incubation period is about four weeks.
Newly hatched young are rich dark brown on the crown and back. The under parts and sides are pale to bright yellow. The first feathers appear on the sides of the duckling at about three weeks of age. The ducklings appear fully feathered in about seven weeks and may start flying at that age. In the newly hatched young, a high percentage of the diet is comprised of insects and other foods of animal origin. As the duckling grows older, more vegetable matter is eaten.
Most mallards will have attempted to nest by early May. Renesting attempts, if nests are destroyed, will take place after this date and may extend well into July. A wide variety of nesting sites are used by mallards, although they seem to prefer fairly dry sites with rather tall vegetation. Some hens will nest in marshes on muskrat houses or other over-water nesting situations. Islands also provide safe nesting sites for mallards.