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Mottled Duck vs. Mallard vs. Black Duck: What’s the Difference?

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Mottled Duck vs Mallard vs Black Duck

There are some similarities between mottled ducks, mallards, and black ducks, especially in the physical appearance of the females, but there are also some distinct differences. For example, the mottled duck and black duck have completely different ranges, which means the two never meet. However, the mallard duck is found throughout most of the US and can overlap the territories of both other breeds.

Read on for more information on these ducks, their differences, and any similarities to help you identify them.

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Visual Differences

Mottled Duck vs Mallard vs Black Duck side by side

Image Credit: (L) Irina Shtiben, Shutterstock | (C) Alexa, Pixabay | (R) Chesna, Pixabay

At a Glance

Mottled Duck
  • Origin: Florida, Gulf Coast states
  • Size: 18–21 inches
  • Lifespan: 2–5 years
  • Domesticated?: No
Mallard
  • Origin: North America, Eurasia
  • Size: 20–26 inches
  • Lifespan: 5–7 years
  • Domesticated?: Yes
Black Duck
  • Origin: Eastern US
  • Size: 20–24 inches
  • Lifespan: 2–4 years
  • Domesticated?: No

shutter camera divider 2Mottled Duck Animal Breed Overview

A mottled duck quacking on the water

Image Credit: Steve Byland, Shutterstock

The mottled duck is a large duck that has a similar shape to that of the mallard and their territories do overlap. They are dabbling ducks, which means that they remain on the surface of the water but bury their heads underwater when foraging for food. 

Appearance

This large breed has a round head with a large body and large bill. Males and females have dark brown bodies with paler heads and yellowy bills. The male tends to be slightly darker than the female, and both genders have a purple stripe on the wings with white underbellies. 

Range

Mottled ducks primarily live in wetlands where they can forage for invertebrates and small fish. The mottled duck will also forage for seeds and vegetation, including corn and rice. The mottled duck is found in Florida and across the Gulf Coast states, although its numbers are in decline so spotting this species can be difficult.

Behavior

Nests are typically found underneath vegetation and have a diameter of approximately 10 inches. A hen will lay between 8–12 eggs, with a day between each egg. Incubation begins once all eggs have been laid and take around 25 days to complete. Eggs are a dull white color.

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Mallard Duck Breed Overview

mallard duck in the water

Image Credit: Alexa, Pixabay

The mallard is the most common duck species in the Northern Hemisphere and the most commonly found in the mainland US, found in most areas, including within the range of both the mottled duck and the black duck. It is one of only two breeds of duck, along with the Muscovy, that has been domesticated. All domestic ducks originate from these two breeds.

Appearance

The mallard duck is the most widely seen of all duck breeds and is the one most people think of when thinking of ducks. They have large bodies, rounded heads, and thick bills. These large ducks will usually grow larger and heavier than mottled ducks and black ducks. There are distinct differences between the visual appearance of males and females. While females are mottled brown and have an orange bill, the male has a gray body and brown breast, and its head is an iridescent green. It has a blue patch on the wing, which is framed with a white border. 
Range

The mallard is found throughout North America around areas of wetland. All three species can quickly adapt to changing environmental conditions, so they may move into recently flooded areas. The mallard is commonly found in parks and near public ponds and lakes.

Behavior

The mallard has similar nesting habits to the mottled duck, although it can lay as many as 13 eggs and tends to have a slightly larger brood. Incubation may also take slightly longer than with the mottled duck.

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Black Duck Animal Breed Overview

american black duck in the lake

Image By: Elliotte Rusty Harold, Shutterstock

The black duck is another species that has the same physical shape as a mallard, hence why the two are sometimes confused. Another reason for the confusion is that the black duck tends to flock with the mallard and shares very similar physical markings and appearance to the female mallard. However, there are differences, and if you pay careful attention, it is possible to differentiate between this somewhat shy duck and the mallard.

Appearance

Although named the black duck, this species has very dark, chocolate brown feathers with lighter-colored ends. They have lighter brown heads, and the males tend to be the darker of the genders. The underneath of the birds’ wings are white, and the black duck has a patch of iridescent purple on the wings. The wing patch does not have the white frame that mallards have.
Range

Black ducks live on or near fresh and saltwater. They can be found on the coast as well as on rivers, lakes, and near large bodies of man made water. They may also be found next to flooded fields. They are most often found in Eastern North America and their territory does not overlap that of the mottled duck, which can help with identification.

Behavior

The nesting and brooding habits of the black duck are very similar to those of the mallard, with a brood consisting of up to a dozen eggs and incubation taking approximately 25 days.

All three species of duck are dabbling ducks. They do not dive underwater and rather dip their head under the surface to gather food that includes invertebrates and some small fish.

scope crosshairs divider 1What Are the Differences Between Mottled Ducks, Mallards, & Black Ducks?

All three ducks are a similar size and have similar feeding, nesting, and breeding habits. The mallard duck crosses over the territory of both the black duck and the mottled duck, too, and when present in the same area, the different species do tend to flock together. This means that it can prove difficult to differentiate between the species, and this is made even more difficult by the fact that the mallard will mate with either species. The resulting hybrids look even more similar to the mallard than the black duck or the mottled duck.

Bill color is one way to determine whether you are looking at a mallard or another species. The female mallard has an orange bill, while the mottled duck has a yellow bill, and the black duck’s bill is olive green.

You should also look at the flash of color on the bird’s wing, called the speculum. Although the color of the speculum itself can appear similar, the mallard’s speculum is framed in white, which means it has a white line at the front and rear. The black duck and the mottled duck do not have this white framing.

Mallards are more numerous than either of their counterparts so, in most cases, it is most likely that the bird is a mallard. However, look for the bill color and the existence, or not, of the white framing around the speculum for definite determination.

Which Breed Is Right for You?

The mallard is one of only two species of duck that have been domesticated, although black ducks and mottled ducks may be kept as pets by some owners. The mallard is widely available as a domesticated breed and tends to be friendly and relatively easy to care for. The black duck can be quite shy and appreciates the company of mallards and other ducks.

In terms of spotting ducks, it is most likely that you will see the mallard because it is ubiquitous across North America and around the world, whereas the black duck and mottled duck have limited ranges that do not cross over one another, although both breeds do share a range with the mallard. 


Featured Image Credit: (L) Linda McKenna, Shutterstock | (C) Jürgen, Pixabay | (R) pen_ash, Pixabay 

About the Author Robert Sparks

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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