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The mallard duck is the most common and the most easily recognized duck. In the wild, these ducks live between 5–10 years, although in captivity, they can live as long as 20 years or more. Unfortunately, eggs and ducklings make good meals for predators and the high duckling mortality rate is one of the reasons why ducks have such large brood sizes compared to other species of bird—most will not make it through their first year.
There are a lot of factors that determine how long a mallard will live. Young ducklings have a high mortality rate because of factors like adverse weather, predation, and human-influenced factors. In the wild, mallards that live beyond their first year will typically live between 5–10 years. Because of the high mortality rate of ducklings, the average lifespan of all ducklings is just 2 years old.
When well cared for, mallards kept in captivity can live as long as 20 years.
A number of factors determine how long a mallard duck is likely to live, as they face a host of natural and human threats. Some of the biggest factors include:
Although they have natural oils that protect them from the wet, mallards are not cold hardy. They can die as a result of unexpected cold snaps, and while their feathers can protect them from rain and the wet, they are not adapted to survive hail. Hailstorms can kill significant numbers of mallards in a short space of time.
Mallards come under threat from predators throughout their lives, from egg to adult. As well as being prey to animals like foxes and raccoons, they are also hunted by larger birds such as gulls and hawks. Even bullfrogs will take down ducklings, while snakes will raid duck nests for their eggs.
It isn’t just animals that hunt and kill mallards. Nearly 3 million mallards were hunted and killed during the 2019–2020 hunting season in the US alone.
Ducks, like most animals, are prone to diseases and they are especially susceptible to fungal and viral infections. Outbreaks can lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of ducks in a single area. Cholera and botulism are two of the more common illnesses that can take mallards, but there are many others.
Mallards have large broods, usually migrate for winter, and can be found in virtually all parts of the mainland US, although they are less common in cold areas. They will usually be seen around bodies of water including rivers and lakes, as well as some ponds. They can live 10 years or more in the wild and they go through the following life stages:
The easiest way to tell the age of a mallard is by looking at their tail feathers. A pointed tail means that the duck is a mature bird, while rounded tail feathers indicate that the bird is still immature or a juvenile bird. Young ducks may also retain some of the down of their youth, interspersed with adult feathers.
The mallard is the most commonly found duck in the Northern Hemisphere. It faces a lot of risks when living in the wild, from natural predation by animals including foxes and even larger birds to illness and infection. Even extreme cold weather or hail storms can kill many ducks at once in a single area. Taking into account the loss of approximately 50% of ducklings to these various risks, the average of the mallard is only 3 years, but for those that make it beyond the first year, the average life expectancy ranges from 5–10 years.
Featured Image Credit: Jürgen, Pixabay
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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