Project: Identifying Mallard Ducks


"mallard duck", "mallard male"

It may seem a bit silly to talk about identifying Mallard ducks. If you have been to a pond, lake, or estuary in North America the chances are good that you have seen a Mallard. Or fifty. Mallard ducks are one of the most recognizable and widely distributed ducks in the Northern hemisphere. The males are easy to spot with their bright green head feathers announcing their presence, and there are usually quite a few females, with their brown speckled feathers, close by.

But in late summer the males lose their breeding plumage and can look similar to the female birds to the untrained eye. So how can you tell the difference?

"mallard duck", "mallard male duck", " mallard non-breeding plumage"

A male Mallard duck in non-breeding plumage has a dark yellow bill, a brown chest, and is slightly larger than a female. Looking closely it is often possible to see faint signs of his once vivid green head feathers.

"mallard duck", "mallard male duck", "mallard male non-breeding plumage"

Like on this curious fellow.

"mallard ducks", "mallard female ducks"

A female Mallard duck is smaller, and has an orange bill with brown on top. She is speckled and often has a more defined eyeline through her eye.

'mallard ducks"

 Can you point out the males and the females in the photo above just based on the differences in their bills?

"mallard ducks", "mallard ducks winter", "ducks winter"

This mixed crowd of adult and juvenile ducks was gathered in early spring, where a river met up with the bay. Juveniles of both sexes look a lot like females but now that you know the differences in bill color and non-breeding plumage it should be much easier to tell the male and female juveniles apart.

 Some other factors to consider:

The American Black Duck has many similarities to the Mallard, including size and body shape, and they are often found with Mallards. The black ducks have darker bodies, an olive colored bill, and a grayish head. Both ducks have a colored wing patch, but it is outlined in black on the American Black Duck, while the Mallard has a white border.

"Female Mallard"

Sometimes if it is difficult to tell the difference between an American Black Duck and a Mallard it may be because the duck is both. Yes, a hybrid. These ducks can and do cross breed.

We created a little checklist for you to print up and take on your next trek to the nearest watering hole. You and your kiddos can use it to help identify Mallards and American Black Ducks, as well as to distinguish the boys from the girls!

Download the Mallard duck identification checklist here.

15 comments… add one

  • tamara September 19, 2013, 8:58 am

    This is a great post! Often times when we are out walking we see the Mallard and it is not always easy to tell the difference between a hen and a drake (is that correct?). I am going to print out the pdf for the boys to use next time we venture out to our favourite locale, Shubie Park!

    • dawn September 20, 2013, 6:57 am

      Thank you!
      Yes, drake is correct ;-)
      Have fun with duck identification!

      • Adele Catchpole November 25, 2015, 7:52 am

        Hi there I am an art student currently working on a psychedelic project, I have lots of my own photographs of ducks but I particularly love the shape and pattern in the last image of this post, I was wondering If i could ask permission to draw from this duck and use it within my work which could potentially be sold to a design company? I can credit the photographer in my sketchbooks.
        Look forward to hearing back soon, thank you

        • dawn November 26, 2015, 7:01 am

          That is great, Adele. Feel free to use the photo. It was taken by Annie. All the best with your project.

          • Adele Catchpole November 26, 2015, 7:10 am

            Fab thank you! Could I have an email address for her or yourself? I will send over the image or can post you/Annie a printed version, alternatively I will post it onto the Facebook group for this website, thanks again

  • KC September 19, 2013, 11:56 pm

    In france we watched mallard couple find each other and eventually have ducklings. We watched the ducklings grow up too. It was fun to visit them every few days to see how they changed.

    • dawn September 20, 2013, 7:00 am

      Aww. That must have been neat to see them together, then to watch their ducklings grow. What a wonderful experience!
      We saw a Canada Goose family grow up this summer. It was great to see the kids point out the changes to the goslings each time we saw them.

  • Wendy N September 20, 2013, 10:25 pm

    Great post and very interesting. I honestly never paid attention to Mallards or American Black Ducks but I will now.

  • Liaqat August 12, 2016, 7:53 am

    I have a wild mallard drake, his head is full of colorful plumage but the bill is still greenish (Not yellow) Do you know what is the reasons of his greenish bill ? some say he is still amateur some say he is crossed with other breed of duck i don’t know what is the reasons ?

  • Ray August 16, 2016, 10:27 pm

    I have been confused about the difference between the female Mallard and the Black duck for a long time. Visiting this sight not only cleared that up but added two new facts that I was not aware of. I so love learning new facts and I’m grateful for information that is straight forward. Often times what you want to know is buried in a flood of needless words or wordy descriptions. Thank you for being what I was looking for.

  • Sarah May 8, 2017, 2:07 pm

    I have young mallards ( I think) And what I thought was two females now seems to be a male and female? one of my girls has started molting again and I have began to notice a white patch around her neck and her head is suddenly turning greenish. Do I have a drake?

    • dawn May 9, 2017, 7:39 am

      Hi Sarah,
      It sounds like you have a pair. If he is getting a white neck ring and green head, he is a drake!

  • Ron July 19, 2017, 3:42 pm

    I have a female Mallard duck that came to my house as a cick, I took it in it was so tiny. Parents were nowhere to be found searched all over. I now let it free rome my yard it seems to stay here. I do have other domestic ducks here. Will this Mallard stay around here for good or will it return to the wild?

  • Debbie July 31, 2017, 9:21 pm

    Thank you for this information. I love Mallards, but never knew of the black one. I’m definitely paying attention next time.

    Thank you again.

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