There are 16 duck species that breed in Massachusetts, and the Mallard is the most commonly seen or encountered. Dozens of other duck species can be spotted outside of the breeding season.
Male Mallards are easily identified by the lustrous green head, while the more demure female is brown. They can be seen in parks and ponds in large numbers in fall and winter, but will break off into pairs when breeding season comes.
While some Mallards will choose a nest site near the water, it is not uncommon for them to nest as far as a mile from the nearest water. The nest is usually on the ground hidden by vegetation, but occasionally they will select a site on a stump or even in a basket.
The nest is a shallow bowl of vegetation lined with down. The hen lays one egg per day and will only incubate sporadically until the clutch is complete, typically from 7-10 eggs. The drake often leaves the pair at this point.
Ducklings hatch after 28 days and are born precocial, meaning that they are able to walk, swim, and feed themselves almost immediately after hatching. The hen then leads the young to the water, leaving the nest for good. Ducklings stay with the hen until they can fly at roughly two months old.
In late summer, after the brood has become independent, the adults will molt, making them flightless for a period of time. Massachusetts Mallards are likely short-distance migrants—if they migrate at all.
A Mallard's primary diet consists of vegetable matter such as grains, acorns, and aquatic vegetation. But in the breeding season, their diet shifts to encompass more animal matter such as insects, snails, minnows, and shrimp.
Don’t Feed the Ducks
Giving food to ducks and geese can create many problems for birds and the environment. Bothh Mass Audubon and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MDFW) discourage it.
Situations & Solutions
Mallards thrive in developed areas, where they occasionally come in conflict with people. They may swim in backyard swimming pools, nest in fenced-in areas surrounding pools, or nest under foundation plantings next to houses. When a female nests within a fenced-in area, problems can arise due to the fact that the ducklings are unable to fly until they are about 60 days old.