The magnificent Mallard is one of the most recognizable bird species around the world. When flying, the bird displays a purplish-blue speculum, which is outlined in white. Males of this species are particularly colorful. Breeding males have a yellow beak, dark brown chest, black and white tail as well as bright green head and neck. They exhibit a white ring at the base of their neck. In addition, the sides of breeding males and most of their wings are gray. On the other hand, plumage of female mallards and non-breeding males is less vivid and colorful. The overall plumage of female mallards is spotted with tan and brown patches, the head is a lighter tan, showing dark bands near the crown and eyes. Females have orange colored beak, covered with dark spots. Females and non-breeding males generally look alike, though the latters have yellowish beak.
Mallards are fairly common in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres. In Northern Hemisphere, the birds occur: in North America, from southern and central Alaska to Mexico; in southern parts of Greenland; on the Hawaiian Islands; partly in Africa, being found in Morocco; and finally, in Eurasia, from Iceland and Scandinavia to Siberia, Japan and South Korea. In Southern Hemisphere, mallards inhabit Australia and New Zealand. The ideal habitat of this bird is freshwater areas and shallow marshes, though the mallard can be seen in nearly any area with open water, including subalpine lakes, city parks, estuaries along the coast as well as sheltered bays.
Being diurnal birds, mallards are active by day. Outside the breeding season, these birds are highly sociable, gathering into large flocks called "sords". These birds tend to nest along the river bank, though not necessarily near water. Mallards are migratory birds; after the breeding season, they travel from northern latitudes to warmer southern regions, where they live until the following breeding season. Meanwhile, there are resident populations, consisting of individuals that prefer wintering in areas with abundance of shelter and food. These birds have rather curious and impressive displays. For example, during confrontation, male mallards typically scare off the opponent with their open beak, face off with a head-bob as well as push one another with their breasts. When defending their home range, paired males of this species chase the intruder with amazing vigor, using acrobatic movements.
Mallards are omnivores, they eat food of both plant and animal origin: on one hand, they consume insects, worms, gastropods and arthropods; on the other hand, they feed upon diverse vegetation, occasionally using human food sources, including gleaning grain from crops.
Mallards have monogamous mating system. However, they widely practice so-called “extra-pair copulation”, and paired males are known to chase females that are not their mates. Nesting starts within April, reaching the peak in May. During this period, mated pairs are seen circling in the evenings low over the habitat and looking for a suitable nesting site. When the site is chosen, the female constructs the nest on the ground, near a water body, laying 9 -13 eggs, which are incubated for 26-28 days. Chicks of this species are precocial; once born, they are able to swim, being introduced to water within 12 hours after hatching. Right after mating, male mallards usually leave, gathering into male flocks for molting in the early June, while the females stay with the offspring, caring for the chicks for 42 - 60 days. Both males and females reach sexual maturity at 1 year old.
Major threats to their population include degradation and drainage of the wetland habitat, reed bed burning and mowing, pollution as well as extraction of peat in some areas of their range. Presently, mallards suffer from alteration of wetland management practices such as decreased grazing and mowing in meadows, which causes over-growth of scrub. In certain areas of their habitat, the birds occasionally ingest lead shot. In addition, being a game species in the USA, mallards are exposed to hunting.
The total population of this species is currently increasing, being estimated to 19.000.000 individuals. However, the Mallard is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.