The wild duck is known everywhere, where there are water bodies and coastal thickets. Unpretentiousness to the living conditions allowed the bird to settle all over the world. Since ancient times, she was tamed by man, became the ancestor of many breeds for breeding.
Description and features
Wild mallard in the duck family - the most common bird. The length of a well-fed body is 40-60 cm, weight is 1.5-2 kg. The weight of the bird increases by autumn, when the body fat grows. The wings span up to 1 meter. The wild duck has a massive head, a flattened beak. The paws of the female are orange, the male is red. The tail is short.
Sexual demorphism of wild ducks is so developed that initially the male and female were recognized as different species. You can always distinguish them by the color of the beak - in males it is green at the base, yellow at the end, in females the base is covered with black dots.
The drakes are larger, the color is brighter - the emerald head, neck, white collar emphasizes the brown chest. Grayish back and abdomen. The wings are brown with purple mirrors, white border. The tail feathers are almost black.
Male and female mallards are fundamentally different from each other in plumage
In young males, the plumage has a characteristic iridescent sheen. The beauty of drakes comes out brightly in the spring, with the onset of the breeding season. By the time of the autumn molt, the outfit changes, the drakes become similar in appearance to females. Interestingly, the tail of a wild duck of any gender is decorated with special curled feathers. They have a special role - participation in flight maneuvers, movement on water.
Females are smaller, more modest in color, which is as close as possible to natural camouflage. The chest is sandy in color, the main color of the plumage is brown with spots of a red tone. Typical mirrors with blue-violet tints, white border are also present.
The color of females does not change from time to year. The juveniles are similar in color to the plumage of adult females, but there are fewer spots on the abdomen, and the color is paler.
Seasonal moults of ducks take place twice a year - before the start of the breeding season, after its end. Drakes completely change their plumage during the incubation of females for clutches. Females change their outfit - when juveniles rise on the wing.
During the autumn molt, males accumulate in flocks, make small ones in the forest-steppe regions. Some birds remain at their nesting sites. Mallard in autumn within 20-25 days it loses its ability to fly while the plumage is changing. In the daytime, the birds sit in dense thickets of river banks, in the evening they feed on the water. Molting lasts up to 2 months.
Why was the mallard named so dissonant, you can guess if you hear her voice. It is impossible to confuse her with forest birds. Among the people, wild birds are called hardened ducks, mallards. Mallard's voice low, well recognizable. During feeding, sharp sounds of birds' communication are heard.
Listen to the voice of the mallard
Frequent quacking before flight, prolonged during fright. The voices of drakes in the spring are similar to the whistle that they emit thanks to the bone drum in the trachea. Newborn down jackets emit a thin squeak. But even among the crumbs of drakes can be found by single sounds, the squeak of ducks consists of two bars.
In various classifications, from 3 to 12 subspecies are distinguished, living in different parts of the world. The most famous, besides the common mallard, are:
- American black,
Not all subspecies are migratory birds. If the climatic conditions suit the duck, then it does not change the water area.
American Black Duck. Favorite places - fresh, brackish water bodies among forests, bays, estuaries near agricultural areas. Ducks are mainly migratory.
In winter, they move south.The plumage is brown-black. The head is gray with brown streaks on the crown, along the eyes. Mirrors are blue-violet. The beak is yellow. Form large flocks. They live in Eastern Canada.
American Black Duck
Hawaiian mallard. Endemic to the islands of the Hawaiian archipelago. Drake, brown female, blue-green mirror with white edging. The tail is dark. They live in swampy lowlands, river valleys, not adapting to new places. Instead of large groups, they prefer living in pairs.
Hawaiian mallard duck
Gray mallard. The bird is small, smaller than the common mallard. Gray-ocher color, black-and-white mirrors, brown in places. Inhabits the forest-steppe zone from the Amur region to the western borders.
The gray mallard is easy to recognize by its smaller size
Black (yellow-nosed) mallard. The color of the male and female is similar. Smaller than the common mallard. The back is dark brown in color. The head is red, feathers with terminal, pivot spots are black. White bottom of the head.
Legs are bright orange. They live in Primorye, Transbaikalia, Sakhalin, Kuriles, Australia, Southeast Asia. Ornithologists believe that the black mallard used to have a separate territory. But today the subspecies are interbreeding.
Lifestyle and habitat
The main populations of the mallard are concentrated in the northern hemisphere. Mallard duck distributed in Eurasia, USA, except for high mountainous areas, desert zones. On the territory of Russia, it lives in Siberia, Kamchatka, the Kuril Islands.
Mallard is a bird partially migratory. Populations living in Russia move to the subtropics for winter quarters, leaving the nesting area. Ducks live in Greenland permanently. In settlements with reservoirs that do not freeze in winter, birds remain if people constantly feed them.
Whole populations of city ducks appear, nests of which are found in attics, in niches of buildings. Birds are satisfied with the absence of natural enemies, constant feeding, non-freezing pond.
Wild mallard inhabits fresh, brackish water bodies with extensive shallow water areas covered with duckweed. Dislikes fast flowing rivers, deserted banks. Ducks are common on lakes, swamps with an abundance of reeds, sedges. Favorite habitats are located near fallen trees in the river bed.
On land, mallards seem to be clumsy due to their characteristic gait, unhurried movement. In case of danger, they develop speed, quickly hide in the thickets. Wild duck can be distinguished from other waterfowl by its characteristic features.
Mallard differently takes off - quickly, without effort, with a characteristic whistle due to the frequent flapping of the wings. The wounded bird dives, swims tens of meters under water to hide from pursuit. Outside the breeding season, birds keep in flocks, the number of which is from several tens, sometimes hundreds of individuals. Some species prefer to keep in pairs.
The natural enemies of the mallard are various predators. Eagles, hawks, eagle owls, otters, reptiles feast on ducks. Many duck eggs die when dogs, crows, foxes destroy nests.
Wild populations are preserved due to unpretentiousness in nutrition, habitat conditions. But the widespread commercial, sport hunting has led to a reduction in their numbers. Currently, the shooting of birds is carried out mainly in the fall. In the spring, hunting is allowed only on drakes.
In ancient times, peasants took eggs from the nests, and chicks were brought out in a warm basket for home use. Now you can buy ready-made juveniles at poultry farms, start incubating yourself. Keeping mallards is not difficult.
Birds only need access to a body of water. Natural food makes up a significant part of the diet. Cold adaptation of ducks does not require a warm house. The mallard is grown not only to obtain down, feathers, meat, but often to decorate urban and private water bodies.
Mallard duck feed on the shallow coast, where the depth is 30-35 cm. The duck lowers not only its neck into the water, but often turns vertically in search of food, trying to reach the plants at the bottom of the reservoir. Mallard in the photo often captured during feeding in this position - tail up.
The duck consumes food by filtering - by straining animal and plant feed:
- small fish,
- mosquito larvae,
By the fall, the amount of plant fodder in the diet of ducks becomes more - tubers and plant fruits grow. Wild ducks actively feed at night on agricultural fields, where birds pick up grains of oats, rye, wheat, rice. In the morning, the birds return to the reservoirs. In early spring, wild ducks feed exclusively on aquatic plants.
Reproduction and life expectancy
At the age of 1 year, ducks are ready to breed. The opening of the mating season varies from February to June, depending on the climate - in the south, the mating season opens earlier. Drakes are much larger than females due to their frequent death during nesting. Competition for female control is aggressive.
Mating of males opens at the end of the autumn molt, but a short period ends in October. In spring, the activity increases and lasts until May. The behavior of males is demonstrative. In front of the selected female mallard drake conducts a whole ritual: throws his head forward and up in sharp movements three times in a few seconds.
In the final throw, it rises above the water with its wings spread almost to an upright position. Movements are accompanied by whistling, spraying. The male hides his head behind a wing, draws his beak along the plumage, makes a rattling sound.
Male and female mallards with chicks
The female can also choose a pair - she swims around the drake, nods her head down and back, attracting attention. The created pairs are preserved until the time when the female begins to hatch the offspring. Males gradually flock, fly away to molt. A rare exception are examples of the participation of males in caring for their offspring.
Nest settles more often in coastal thickets, not far from water. On the surface of the earth, it settles down with grass and fluff. Sometimes the clutch appears in the hollow, abandoned nests of crows. Deepening the weft makes it even, deep, spinning in one place for a long time. He collects material nearby, which he can reach with his beak. The male does not help, but sometimes accompanies the female to the delivery of the next egg.
With the increase in clutch, the female adds fluff torn from the breast, forms new sides of the nest. If the mallard is temporarily removed, then it covers the eggs with fluff to preserve heat, camouflage. A large number of clutches perish during coastal flooding, attacks by birds and land predators.
After losing the clutch, the female carries the eggs to someone else's duck nest or other birds. If he manages to create a repeated clutch, then it is less than the previous one.
The number of eggs in a clutch is usually 9-13 eggs. The color is white, with a greenish-olive tint, which gradually disappears. The incubation time is 28 days. Interestingly, all chicks hatch within 10-14 hours. The development cycle of eggs laid among the latter is shorter than that of the previous ones.
The chick weighs up to 38 g. The color of the newborn is similar to that of the mother. The spots are indistinct, blurred along the entire body. The brood leaves the nest in 12-16 hours. Kids are able to walk, swim, dive. At first, they often gather near their mother, bask under her wings. They feed on their own by spiders, insects.
Mallard chicks quickly become independent and feed themselves
From the first days, the crumbs recognize each other, drive away the chicks of other people's broods. At the age of five weeks young mallard quack like an adult duck. At about 2 months of age, the brood flies.In nature, the life of a mallard is 13-15 years, but it ends much earlier due to hunting for birds. Ducks can live up to 25 years in nature reserves.
The wild duck has long been an object of hunting. The most frequent is summer-autumn hunting with dogs of various breeds. They search the thickets, raise the ducks on the wing, give a voice - they warn the owner about the readiness to shoot. After firing buckshot, knocking down the game, the dog finds the bird and brings it to its owner.
There are various ways to hunt without involving dogs. One of them is using duck profiles together with a decoy. Stuffed mallard planted on the water, the cry of a decoy duck raises birds nearby. Attracting birds helps decoy for mallard, imitating the voice of a bird, if the decorator stops talking.
Hunting on migration is carried out in autumn, until the beginning of November. They build special huts, put stuffed animals, shoot from an ambush. The history of the mallard goes back several millennia. The high adaptability of birds has made it possible to still meet with wild ducks in wildlife to this day.