Male vs. Female Mallards: What’s the Difference?

Male and female mallards swimming in the waters

Male and female mallards are a fascinating example of nature’s diversity. While they belong to the same species, the differences between them are both subtle and striking.

Male mallards have bright green heads, white neck rings, curled black tail feathers, and gray bodies. They’re more quiet, but they can be territorial. Meanwhile, females are mottled brown with orange bills, straight white tail feathers, and louder quacks. They focus on caring for ducklings.

This article will take a look at the interesting differences between male and female mallards, including how they look, sound, and behave. If you want to find out more about these amazing ducks, keep reading!

Summary of Male vs. Female Mallards

Male MallardsFemale Mallards
20–26 inches (50–66 cm)
20–26 inches (50–66 cm)
2.5–3.5 pounds (1.1–1.6 kg)
1.6–2.6 pounds (0.7–1.2 kg)
Bill Color:
Yellow to olive-green
Bill Color:
Curled black tail feathers
Straight white tail feathers
Bright, iridescent green head, white neck ring, chestnut-brown chest, grayish body
Mottled brown overall, white tail feathers
Often more aggressive and territorial during the breeding season
Tend to be less aggressive and territorial
Quieter rasping sounds
Louder, more frequent quacking sounds
Around 30% animal matter and 70% plant matter
Around 70% animal matter and 30% plant matter when laying
Reproduction Role:
Protects the nest
Reproduction Role:
Incubates eggs and cares for ducklings

Differences Between Male and Female Mallards

Mallards fall under the type of dabbling ducks, often seen gliding on ponds or lakes. But have you ever wondered about the differences between male and female mallards?

Like other male and female ducks, each gender has unique features and behaviors that make them special, from their appearances and behaviors to their sounds and nesting roles.


Male and female mallards swimming on river

Mallards vary in size, and a noticeable difference exists between males and females. Male mallards, or drakes, generally have a more robust and slightly larger body compared to hens or females.

This size difference isn’t massive but is noticeable when observing the birds closely.

In terms of weight, drakes usually weigh around 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, while hens are slightly lighter, typically weighing between 1.6 and 2.6 pounds.

Despite these weight differences, males and females share a similar length, at 20 to 26 inches on average.


Male and female mallards side by side

Male and female mallards are easy to spot and tell apart because of their distinct appearances. Drakes are generally more colorful and flashy.

They have unique curled tail feathers and bright bills that are usually yellowish or olive-green. These bold colors help male mallards stand out and attract females.

Females have a simpler appearance. They have a plain look with muted colors like brown, which helps them hide from predators.

Their bills are typically orange-brown with dark splotches, and their tails lack the curl seen in males.


Male and female mallards with different plumage

The gender of a mallard can be determined by simply looking at its feathers. Male mallards stand out with their bright colors. They have iridescent green heads and white rings around their necks.

Their chests are a deep brown, which stands out against their gray bodies and black tails.

Every year, something interesting happens: drakes experience an “eclipse molt,” where their bright feathers change to a more subdued, mottled green and brown appearance.

Female mallards, on the other hand, have a more muted and practical look. Their bodies are covered in mottled brown feathers. Moreover, they have white tail feathers and dark lines around their eyes.

Their subtle appearance helps them blend in with their natural surroundings, especially when they are taking care of their eggs and need to stay hidden from threats.


Male and female mallards facing each other

Male and female mallards show differences not just in looks but also in behavior. While volunteering at a local duck sanctuary, I gained firsthand insight into the distinct behaviors of these ducks.

Drakes were noticeably more aggressive and territorial, especially during the mating season. They actively compete for the attention of the hens by displaying various courtship behaviors like preening and vocalizing.

They perform elaborate displays, like vigorous head-pumping, neck stretches, and grunt-whistles, to woo the hens or assert dominance during this period.

In contrast, female mallards are more reserved and cautious. Their primary focus is nurturing and protecting their offspring.

They even have a reputation for faking injuries to lead predators away from their nests — a behavior known as “broken-wing display.”

Here’s a video of a mallard hen showcasing this clever tactic:

Distraction Display


Male and female mallards near the river

Mallards have unique sounds that set the males and females apart. Male mallards don’t actually quack. They make a softer, more gentle sound, almost like a whisper.

It’s a quiet, raspy call, usually just one or two notes. This is how drakes communicate with each other or establish authority.

Females are quite the opposite. They’re known for their loud, classic quack that many people associate with ducks.

They usually quack in a pattern, starting loud and then getting softer. They might quack like this a few times in a row, around 2 to 10 times.

This is their way of talking to their ducklings or other ducks, and it can mean different things, like a warning or a call.

These vocal differences between male and female mallards add another layer to their intriguing existence, with each sound playing a specific role in their daily lives and interactions.


Male and female mallards looking for food

Male and female mallards mostly eat the same things, like aquatic plants, small fish, and insects. They are opportunistic feeders that adapt their diet based on the season and availability of food sources.

But there are some small differences in what they eat at certain times. When it’s time to lay eggs, female mallards need extra energy.

Thus, they eat more protein-rich foods like snails, worms, and small crustaceans. This extra protein helps them stay strong and produce healthy eggs.

Male mallards don’t lay eggs, so their diet doesn’t change much. They keep eating a mix of plants and animals all year.

They can thrive in a variety of environments thanks to their adaptable diets, which guarantee their survival and get them ready for breeding season.

In essence, the mallards’ diet is a reflection of their adaptive strategies and roles in nature.


Male and female mallards mating

In the world of mallards, nesting is a team effort. Male and female mallards have different roles.

Female mallards take the lead in building nests. They choose hidden spots, like tall grass or reeds, to keep their eggs safe from predators.

Hens use plants and feathers to make the nests cozy and warm. Once they lay all their eggs, they incubate them for about 22 to 30 days.

Male mallards don’t get as involved in nesting. Their main job is to protect the territory around the nest. They stay on the lookout for dangers, like other male ducks or predators, to ensure the safety of their mates and eggs.

But once all the eggs are laid, they leave the hens alone. After the eggs hatch, the hen stays with the ducklings. It watches over them carefully for the first 6 to 8 weeks and teaches them how to live in the wild.

This division of duties helps increase the chances of their eggs hatching safely.

Frequently Asked Questions

Male and female mallards in the clean waters

How Can You Tell a Female Mallard?

Identifying a female mallard is quite straightforward. Unlike males, they don’t have bright colors. Hens usually have muted brown feathers.

Their bills are a mix of orange and brown with dark spots, and they have white tails. Another clue is their loud and distinct quack, which contrasts with the softer call of the males.

What Color Is a Female Mallard Duck?

Female mallards mostly have mottled brown feathers. They also have a white tail that stands out against their brown bodies.

While they might seem plain compared to the colorful drakes, this camouflage look plays a key role in keeping them and their nests hidden from predators.

Do Female Mallards Have Blue Feathers?

Yes, female mallards do have blue feathers, but they are not as visible as those on males. Both genders have a blue-purple patch, called a speculum, on their wings.

On females, this patch is usually more subtle and has a white border. It blends with their overall muted brown plumage, which helps them maintain camouflage in their natural habitats.

When Do Male Mallards Get Their Colors?

Male mallards start off looking plain, just like the females. However, a transformation occurs by the time they reach around ten months of age.

This is when they get their bright, colorful feathers, including their shiny green heads. Drakes get to show off their colorful plumage every spring and summer during the breeding season.

Do Female Mallards Quack?

Yes, female mallards do quack! In fact, they are more vocal than the males. They often use a series of quacks to communicate, which can be loud and strong.

The quacking of female mallards is the typical duck sound that most people are familiar with.

Have you spotted any interesting behaviors from the male and female mallards near you? Feel free to share your observations in the comments below!

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