Molting male Mallards

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After the mating season, male Mallards start to molt. They look a little sickly as little beige patches appear on their lovely green heads. I only discovered a few months ago that some birds have different breeding and non-breeding plumage. The last few weeks, I’ve been watching the male Mallards change with excited anticipation. When, when, when will I see a fully morphed male? I photographed the two males in the picture above today at Trout Lake. The closer one looks fully morphed. He was the only one I noticed today.

Non-breeding males and females have the same plumage. They can be distinguished by the colour of their bills. Males have yellow bills all year long while females have orange and brown bills. I took a picture of a non-breeding male and female in Calgary in mid-October. At the time, I was perplexed by their different coloured bills. Now I know!!!

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11 Comments

  1. I just learned this about the Mallards a few years ago too. We used to go to a neighbourhood duck pond and in the fall it looked like there were only females, and I was wondering where all the males went. I had my “ah ha” moment after Googling, “Where do the male mallards go in the fall” (or something like that). šŸ™‚

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    1. :-D! The mysterious disappearing male Mallard! It is so fun to be able to Google all one’s birding questions :-). I like how over time my observations and the explanations for those observations have changed my bird landscape. I first learned about eclipse plumage when I looked up Northern Shovelers on All About Birds.

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  2. Isn’t it fun, how much there is to see when you start looking closer? I am constantly amazed.

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    1. Yes :-)! There is so much life going on that I don’t notice. But once I know it is there, I always see it. A little window opens to a previously unknown world.

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      1. Me too! Some say naming things diminishes them but I disagree. It befriends them, and enriches our experience.

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        1. I agree :-). When I name something, I totally feel like I’ve made a new friend. And when I see them again, I’m more likely to notice them… I notice if they have changed or not… and my experience of them grows into a collection of observations.

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  3. The plumage difference by the seasons/breeding throw me. Luckily, my son can usually tell them apart regardless so can set me straight.

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    1. Sometimes it is nice to have an extra pair of eyes :-). Does your son know a lot about birds for pure enjoyment or does his work/school involve birds?

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      1. My son has been into birds since he was about 9. He took the Cornell Bird Lab home study course when he was 10 (we highly recommend the course; it’s a university level class and very in-depth). We always thought he would major in ornithology at university but he also got into trees in the past couple of years and he wants to major in ecology instead. šŸ™‚

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        1. He sounds like a cool person. I bet he’ll do great in ecology. šŸ™‚

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          1. He is certainly single-minded in learning the things he wants to learn about. šŸ˜€

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