Brooklyn Bird Watch: December 22
The Mallard. Scientific Name: Anas platyrhynchos.
Today Brooklyn Bird Watch features a Heather Wolf photo of the Mallard. The Mallard is probably the most familiar of all ducks, and its bold color blocks make it perhaps the easiest duck to identify. Male Mallards have a dark, strikingly iridescent-green head and bright yellow bill. The gray body is sandwiched between a brown breast and black rear. Females and juveniles are mottled brown with orange-and-brown bills. Both sexes have a white-bordered, blue “speculum” patch in the wing.
The standard “quack” sound usually associated with ducks is the sound of a female Mallard. The males don’t quack; they make a quieter, rasping sound. The Mallard is a classic “dabbling” duck and doesn’t dive for good. The ducklings are capable of swimming almost immediately after hatching.
As Cornell Lab says: If someone at a park is feeding bread to ducks, chances are there are Mallards in the fray. Mallards occur throughout North America and Eurasia in ponds and parks as well as wilder wetlands and estuaries. Mallards have long been hunted for the table, and almost all domestic ducks come from this species. Occasionally, Mallards have been known to show up in people’s swimming pools.
Not surprisingly, the mallard is New York City’s most abundant and popular duck, and people are discouraged from feeding them because the food people feed ducks is generally not very nutritious, and so both the bird’s beautiful plumage and health suffer because of it.
Ornithologists point out that the Mallard is the ancestor of nearly all domestic duck breeds (with the exception of the Muscavy Duck). So then of course the Mallard is widespread, and has been the seed for a number of populations around the world that have evolved to a point as to be considered separate species.
Mallard couples form long before the spring breeding season. Pairing takes place in the fall, but courtship can be seen all winter. Only the female incubates the eggs and takes care of the ducklings.
Mallards are generally monogamous, but males will pursue females other than their mates. So-called “extra-pair copulations” are common among birds, and in many species are consensual, but male Mallards often force these copulations, with several males chasing a single female and then mating with her. Observations by bird people of this behavior may have been where the “mallard” name came from, which means “wild duck.”
As Wikipedia tells us, Mallards have been eaten for food since ancient times. Wild mallards were eaten in Neolithic Greece. The Mallard does not need to be hung (for purposes of flavor and texture) before preparation, and is often simply braised or roasted, sometimes flavored with bitter orange, or with port.
Brooklyn Bird Watch will occasionally post a link related to interesting bird news that bird lovers might be interested in reading about and learning more. Read more, here.
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