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These birds of a feather are so similar that they were once thought to be the same species! From 1983 until 2020, the Mexican Duck was classified as a subspecies of the Mallard. However, scientists later realized that although they look alike, they’re genetically different enough to warrant their own name.
Even though the Mexican Duck is now its own species, not everyone is on the same page. Some sources still don’t list the Mexican Duck as a legitimate species, so the information about them—and especially how to identify them—sometimes overlaps with the Mallard.
The Mexican Duck looks quite like the Mallard. One slight difference is that the Mexican Duck has two white band stripes on their turquoise speculum, as opposed to a single white bar on the Mallard. The Mexican Duck has dark brown feathers, and on females they have the same pattern all over their body, contrasting with the male’s differing plumage between their wings and chest.
These migratory birds are mostly found in Mexico. They’re scattered and rare in the United States, but the strongest concentrations are in Arizona and Texas.
Mexican Ducks are hunted in the United States. Officially, hunters aren’t allowed to kill as many Mexican Ducks as the more plentiful Mallards, but unfortunately more Mexican Ducks may be illegally slaughtered in droves due to the fact that it’s hard to distinguish between the two species.
Though you might see these birds in parks, please do not attempt to keep this bird as a pet. Although Mallards are domesticated, Mexican Ducks need to flourish and multiply in the wild, especially since their numbers are low. If you want to assist the Mexican Duck, they’re generally responsive to artificial nesting boxes close to water.
You might recognize a Mallard by their motley white-brown feathers, turquoise speculum, and shimmering green head (in males). They’re the most common bird in North America but can be found pretty much anywhere in the world where there’s a temperate or subtropical climate.
Mallards typically nest near water, although not necessarily on the riverbank like some birds. They like to build their nests on dry ground, often buried in grass. They can lay an astounding range of 1-13 eggs.
Fun fact: it doesn’t take long for Mama bird to start training her younglings to be independent. Though they’ll stay with her for a little while longer, Mallard ducklings are born with down feathers and a plucky resilience that makes it possible for them to leave the nest (with close supervision) between 13-16 hours after hatching!
These birds were first domesticated in China between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago. They’re considered to be the ancestor of all ducks, and can be found in Europe, Asia, and North America.
Originally bred for meat, Mallards are an enigma because they’re hunted by the millions each year in North America, and yet they’re one of the only birds who have been domesticated. They’re easy to spot anywhere there’s water nearby and are frequently found in city parks.
Some farms and petting zoos even house Mallards because they generally coexist well with people. You can also eat their eggs like you would eat chicken eggs. Some people even keep them as outside pets.
Nicknamed the Mexican Mallard, the Mexican Duck is so similar to the Mallard that there isn’t much information out there solely about this species. Rather, most of the information about the widespread Mallard translates to the relatively rare Mexican Duck.
The main difference between these two species is a slight variation in color and habitat. The Mexican Duck looks like a female Mallard—regardless of the sex of the bird. Its feathers tend to be a little darker than the Mallard’s and it doesn’t have the characteristic, upturned tail. These same tail feathers are also brown rather than motley unlike some Mallards which have generous white splotches.
While Mallards can be found in marshes, parks, and wetlands all around the world, the Mexican Duck is a considerably rarer species that’s mostly concentrated in West-Central Mexico and the Southwestern United States. In recent years, they’ve been spotted in sparse numbers as far north as Colorado. Their population is estimated around 80,000 total.
The Mallard, in contrast, is not only found in countries around the world, but is North America’s most abundant duck. In 2016, there were an estimated 13.9 million breeding ducks in the USA and Canada alone. Of course, since the two species are so similar, it is possible that some of these birds were truly Mexican Ducks, not Mallards, which could slightly reduce the population gap.
Mexican Ducks used to be considered a subspecies of Mallard. However, recent discoveries have shown that these two birds are genetically different, despite looking the same. Mexican Ducks have a lower population than Mallards, perhaps due to being hunted because of being mistaken for Mallards. Another key difference is that Mallards have been domesticated and Mexican Ducks have not, which is important if you’re looking at having one as a pet.
Featured Image Credit: (L) Angiolino Baruffa, Shutterstock | (R) S. Hermann / F. Richter, Pixabay
Brooke Bundy is a freelance writer who lives with three cats and a dog. She attended the University of North Georgia where she acquired a B.S. in Media Studies. Booke loves storytelling and spending time with her pets at their house in New Orleans, Louisiana. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, cooking, and brewing coffee.
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