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?
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.
Like on this curious fellow.
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.
Can you point out the males and the females in the photo above just based on the differences in their bills?
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.
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.