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Winter home of the Snow Geese and one of Canada's top birdwatching sites.
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Mallards

When people think of ducks, most think of Mallards, with the male's glossy green head, and the female so nicely camouflaged with her gold and brown grass colouring. Mallards are the most common duck species in the Sanctuary. In fact, they are the most abundant duck in North America, and around the world. Some scientists estimate that there at least 30 million Mallards globally.

Mallards are in their prime plumage in the fall when they migrate into the area from far-reaching nesting areas of the central interior of BC, Alaska, Alberta or even further way. We sometimes have as many as 8,000 Mallards suddenly appear in the Sanctuary's ponds in October, with an equal number out on the intertidal marshes and thousands more out in the surrounding farmland. Our Sanctuary and the Fraser River delta serve as the wintering grounds for these and many other waterfowl species. Most spend their summers elsewhere, something we have learned from the reports about the research bands on some of their legs.

Mallards start to form pair bonds almost right away in the fall, and over the winter and spring, there is a lot of courtship behavior. Most have left for their nesting areas by April. People notice this drop in numbers almost immediately, as there is no longer have a flock of 500 Mallards greeting cars in the parking lot.

The few hundred that remain here for the summer begin nesting as early as March, with broods of ducklings appearing from mid-April to the end of June. They make their nests on the ground, manipulating some of the late winter grass stems and ground plants into a shallow cushion for the eggs, and building up an insulating cover of down feathers pulled from their bodies. Mallard hens start to incubate once they have laid between a clutch of between 6 and 12 eggs. Incubation requires the bird to sit on the nest for most of a month to keep the eggs warm. We ask visitors to stay on trails at all times, but particularly in March and April to avoid inadvertently trampling a nest hidden in the grass cover, as some are less than a meter from the trail.

 

Duck Disguises

During the summer months, people are always asking where the male Mallards have gone. They are still here, but are disguised as they go through a moult and shed some of their feathers. This new look is called "eclipse plumage" and the males look almost like the females for the summer. Green feathers on their head are shed to leave a brownish underlying colour, and the brown chest is replaced by some striped feathers like on the chest of the female mallards. In the fall, they complete their moult and look their best in all their shiny new finery.

Duck Breeds

Nearly all domestic ducks are actually Mallards in origin. The only exceptions are those bred from the South American Muscovy Duck. There is some genetic variability in Mallards, and by breeding these variations in captivity with one another, poultry breeders have been able to produce results that are consistent and have been recognized as "duck breeds" for at least 100 years. Some are smaller than mallards, larger (for meat), or distinctive shapes or plumage. Examples of breeds include the white Peking Duck, the upright and elongated Indian Runner Duck, and the dark Cayuga duck. They are all Anas platyrhynchus domesticus, and can mate with wild mallards, with the offspring sometimes looking like normal Mallards and sometimes looking like a mix of breed characteristics.

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