Hybrid Mallards – they’re everywhere!

(Page updated Dec 2013)

Hybrids. Scary chimera between unrelated species, or slightly odd-looking crosses of what are in effect close relatives? Well, in biology there are two distinct meanings of the word ‘hybrid’: the first is “the result of interbreeding between two animals or plants of different species”, and the second is “crosses between populations, breeds or cultivars within a single species”. While technically crosses between different breeds of domestic mallards could therefore be called ‘hybrids’, most birders usually have the first meaning in mind when they talk about hybrids: a ‘hybrid Mallard’ would therefore be a Mallard crossed with another duck species, eg with a Black Duck or a Muscovy. It’s this first meaning – a cross between a Mallard and another duck species – that this page looks at…

First though, a whole page devoted to what is essentially mongrel mallards? Hardly worth the bother, Charlie, I can hear you say. Well, I’d disagree: waterfowl – of all birds – are the most prone to hybridization, and over 400 hybrids have been documented resulting in both odd and very striking birds. Most hybridizations have occurred in captivity, but wild hybrids are frequently found and can tie the most placid birder into knots trying to ID them: to stay with the ‘knot’ metaphor some hybrids are easily ‘untangled’ while some are almost impossible – all are interesting though and (IMHO) worth studying.

Our good friend the Mallard tends to hybridize more than any other duck, and has hybridized with at least 50 other species of ducks and geese. Aside from being apparently a naturally curious and sexually experimental soul, the explanation for the Mallard’s proclivity for hybridization probably stems from a number of factors – it is abundant throughout much of the northern hemisphere, it has many close relatives (many ducks in the genus Anas are genetically closely-related and appear to have only ‘split’ (separated) from each other historically quite recently), and in urban settings like city parks where Mallards are often resident there is sometimes an oversupply of males who are ready to turn their undoubted energies towards females of whichever species happen to come too close…

Incidentally, I am NOT a geneticist and do sometimes write something that is plain wrong: please let me know if you spot something obviously stupid or incorrect. Thanks.

 

Wild Mallards – perfectly beautiful…

Before we look at hybrids, how about a quick reminder of what a ‘pure’ (ie hypothetically 100% genetically pure) Mallard looks like.

Mallards Anas platyryhnchos, literally meaning ‘flat-billed duck’ and derived from the Greek words platys meaning “broad or flat,” and rhynchos meaning “beak” (which is pretty uninspired as most ducks except scoters Melanitta and sawbills Mergus have beaks that are essentially flat), are familiar, widespread and very common: they’re so ‘everyday’ in fact that I would guess most of us birders hardly bother to look at them anymore…

They are though beautifully and intricately plumaged, and when winter sunlight hits the male’s iridescent green head feathers Mallards really do become quite spectacular-looking birds. (One of the most evocative descriptions of them comes from Audubon, who wrote “Now another is before you, on the margin of that purling streamlet. How brisk are all his motions compared with those of his brethren that waddle across your poultry-yard! how much more graceful in form and neat in apparel! The Duck at home is the descendant of a race of slaves, and has lost his native spirit: his wings have been so little used that they can hardly raise him from the ground. But the free-born, the untamed Duck of the swamps,–see how he springs on wing, and hies away over the woods.” www.abirdshome.com/Audubon/VolVI/00649.html. Oh, yes, the man could turn a phrase!)

Anway, just to remind ourselves what we’re dealing with here are some photos of “pure” or wild Mallards taken in the typically urban locations where most of us see – or more likely ignore – them, followed by some hybrid photos:


drake mallarddrake mallard
Drake Mallard – New York March 2004 – a perfect bird.
Photos © Charlie Moores

duck mallard

duck mallard
Duck Mallard – Vancouver, February 2006 – perfect again. Photos © Charlie Moores

duck mallard
Duck Mallard – New York March 2004 – (and again) perfect. Photo © Charlie Moores

 

 

Hybrids between Mallards and another Anas duck species

 

  • Mallard x American Black Duck Anas rubripes
    Mallards and American Black Ducks are very closely related, and hybrids are increasingly common. This has led to intense debate concerning the possible “swamping” of the Black Duck by the abundant Mallard and questions asked as to how the Black Duck can be protected. Saving the increasingly uncommon Black Duck has more to do with habitat protection than simply attempting to cull Mallards though. Black Ducks and Mallards were historically kept separated by habitat preference, with the dark-plumaged Black Ducks having a selective advantage in shaded forest pools in eastern North America, and the lighter plumaged Mallards in the brighter, more open prairie and plains lakes. Since the mid 1800s though deforestation in the east, and tree planting on the plains, has broken down this habitat separation, leading to the high levels of hybridisation now seen. How this could be reversed though is going to be a matter of intense study – and huge sums of money…


mallard x black duckmallard x black duck
Central Park, New York, April 2005. Photos © Charlie Moores

Hybrid individuals of this cross are regularly seen in New York State, and generally show a similar plumage pattern to the bird in the photographs above.

mallard x black duck
Duluth, MN, December 2004.
Photo © Bill Schmoker (http://www.schmoker.org/BirdPics/Dabblers.html)

mallard x black duck
Female hybrid. Lower Moors, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, July 2005.
Photo © Joe Cockram(www.joesbirding.blogspot.com)

 

  • Mallard x Gadwall Anas strepera


mallard x gadwall
“Brewer’s Duck”. Painting copyright John James Audubon

Crosses between Mallards and Gadwalls have long been known about and were once thought to be a distinct species – Brewer’s Duck (see http://www.audubon.org/bird/BoA/F39_G4c.html), a name created by Audubon who painted the above portrait from a duck shot in Louisiana, in February 1822 (though to be fair to him he suspected at the time that it may well be a hybrid Mallard).

Individuals of this hybrid are highly variable, and I’m grateful to Wieland Heim for sending me the photos below of a duck he photographed in Chemnitz, Saxony, Germany in January 2008. Note in particular the dark Gadwall-like bill and the less highly-coloured cheek patches.


mallard x gadwall

mallard x gadwall
Saxony, Germany, January 2008. Photos © Wieland Heim

 

  • Mallard x Common Teal Anas crecca


mallard x common tealmallard x common teal
Espoo, Finland, January 2007. Photos © Jyri Heino

These two superb photos come from a photo-set of five on the Finnish birding website Tarsiger.com taken by Jyri Heino. Note the green and black-bordered speculum of the hybrid bird which clearly ‘belongs’ to a Common Teal (the duck with the blue speculum behind the hybrid in the lower photo is a typical female Mallard), along with the small size and head-shape.

 

  • Mallard x American Wigeon Anas americana

mallard x american wigeon
Stanley Park, Vancouver, March 1999. Video stills © Charlie Moores

mallard x american wigeon

mallard x american wigeon
Presumably the same bird as above. April 2005. Photos © Charlie Moores

This individual has become a regular attraction in Vancouver’s Stanley Park where it’s been recorded for many years – I’ve seen it in 1999, 2002, and 2005 myself – normally being seen with a group of Mallards at the north-western end of Lost Lagoon.

 

  • Mallard x Northern Pintail Anas acuta


mallard x northern pintail
Kern Co, CA. Photo © Bob Steele (www.bobsteelephoto.com/Species/mall_nopi.html)

One of the most aesthetically pleasing Mallard hybrids (from a human point of view anyway, I’ve never actually seen a queue of female Mallards waiting to snuggle up to a bird like this), this stunning bird is part of a photo-set taken by Bob Steele.



mallard x northern pintailmallard x northern pintail
Salish Park pond, Chilliwack, BC. October, 2007.
Photos © Bruce and Joanne Clayton (Butterfly on My Shoulder Photography)

 


pres cross between mallard x northern pintail

pres cross between mallard x northern pintail

pres cross between mallard x northern pintail
Presumed Mallard x Northern Pintail (based on bill colour and length of uppertail coverts), Camargue, France. January 2013
Photos © Jochen Roeder

 

  • Mallard x Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilyrhyncha


mallard x spot-billed duck
South Korea. December 2013. Photo © Andreas Kim


mallard x spot-billed duck
Mokpo, South Korea. November 2006. Photos © Andreas Kim

This drake appears to be a Mallard crossed with a zonorhyncha Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilyrhyncha (the eastern race of a very common dabbling duck of India and east Asia, and the birds left and right of the hybrid in the centre of the top photo). The bird has been seen on a number of occasions with a mixed group of both species, and hybridisation is known between the two species – eg according to an entry at Wikipedia, “[The Spot-billed Duck] naturally hybridizes with the Mallard as their ranges now overlap in the Primorsky Krai due to the Spotbill‘s northward expansion (Kulikova et al. 2004)” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotbill).


mallard x spot-billed duck
Lausanne, Switzerland. February 2007. Photos © ‘Momo’

These photos show a drake hybrid Mallard and a drake nominate poecilyrhyncha Spot-bill “interacting”. The hybrid is (almost certainly) a Mallard x Spot-bill. It would be interesting to know whether the Spot-billed Duck is one of the hybrid’s parents, or a potential suitor from another brood: does anyone if that can be determined without taking DNA samples?

 

Hybrids between Mallards and non-Anas duck species

 

  • Mallard x Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina


mallard x red-crested pochardmallard x red-crested pochard
Spain. Winter 2001/02. Photos © Ferran Lopez

This interesting hybrid was reported on Ricardo Gutiarrez’ excellent website Rare Birds in Spain. To quote from the site: “A male hybrid A. platyrhynchos x Netta rufina, was present in the Remolar-Filipines Nature Reserve, Llobregat Delta, Barcelona, from 4.12.2001 till early 2002. Note the basic Mallard aspect but the rufous tones of nape, some white on sides of neck, bill colour and profile, overall tinge to head and shape of body sides all recalling Red-crested Pochard… “


mallard x red-crested pochard
A similar hybrid to the one reported from Spain, kindly submitted by Wieland Heim and taken at the Bodensee, southern Germany, February 2007


mallard x red-crested pochard
Lake Zurich in Switzerland, March 2006, kindly submitted by Peter Mackenzie, who saw the same bird on a return visit in Oct 2009


mallard x red-crested pochard
Chard Reservoir, Somerset, UK, Nov 2012, kindly submitted by Kevin Harris, who regularly watches Chard Reservoir and blogs at http://www.chardres.totalserve.co.uk

 

  • Mallard x Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata


muscovy duck
Domestic Muscovy Duck – Seekonk, MA , March 2007. Photo © Christine Hochkeppel

 

Originally found from the Rio Grande River basin in Texas south to Mexico, Central and South America, analysis of the mtDNA sequences of the cytochrome b and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 genes (Johnson & Sorenson, 1999) of Muscovy Ducks indicate that they might be close to the genus Aix and perhaps should be placed in the shelduck subfamily Tadorninae.

Muscovies and Mallards are frequent bed-mates, and as can be seen from the images below the hybrids are quite variable whilst still being fairly distinctive. Superficially similar to some domestic Mallards, they appear to have long, thinnish bodies with long, pointed, almost uniform tail feathers; a long, triangular, hooked bill that is mostly dark with a terminal or sub-terminal pale saddle; orange-red eyes; short, stout legs; and a scattering of bronzy-green body feathers.

It’s interesting that the birds that are presumably male have a whitish neck-collar along the lines of a male Mallard and dark heads like a male Muscovy, whilst John Bishop’s bird from Kentucky notably echoes the head pattern of a female Mallard and is presumably therefore a hybrid female. (For more on this hybrid have a look at http://moineaudeparis.com/Oiseaux/Palmipedes/Colvert_X_Barbarie/index.html.)

(Many thanks to Joern Lehmhus – see the sketch of the Mallard x Wood Duck below – for originally pointing out some of the characteristic’s of this hybrid to me.)


hybrid mallards
Mokpo, South Korea, January 2007. Photo © Andreas Kim

hybrid mallard x muscovy duck
Germany, January 2007. Photos © Joern Lehmhus

hybrid mallard x muscovy duck
Boston, Mass., November 2007. Photo © Lloyd and Jennifer Thayer

hybrid mallard x muscovy duck
Inner Harbor, Baltimore, MD, February 25th/26th 2008. Photos © Kerry Martens

hybrid mallard x muscovy duck
Vancouver, July 2008. Photos © Sandy Decker


I’m not 100% sure Sandy’s bird (above) is a hybrid Mallard/Muscovy but it seems likely. The head shape and bill length is wrong for a domestic Mallard of any type I can think of (the smooth curve to the rounded nape isn’t right, and the bill is too long); there seems to be a slight white/pale mark behind the eye which seems typical of this hybrid; there is a hint of a white neck collar which also appears to be usual; the dark plumage with the green-glossed feathers seem typical too. The colour of the bill is unusual for the hybrids I’ve seen (or have photos of) but I suspect that it’s well within variation – they tend to be pinker, but who knows what genetics will create! The tail feathers are often ‘sharper’ and longer in this hybrid, but again that may – along with the bill – be a result of the Mallard genes being more strongly represented. I’d be interested in any comments of course…

 

hybrid mallard x muscovy duck

hybrid mallard x muscovy duck
Female. Louisville, Kentucky, May 2007. Photos © John Bishop

 

I’m not sure at all where the following two birds fit into the scheme of manky and hybrids – a ‘manky mallard’ x domestic muscovy seems most likely in both cases – but they’re certainly very interesting individuals, and go to prove how much more I have to learn!


hybrid mallard x muscovy duck
California, Nov 2009. Photo © Jack Cole

hybrid mallard x muscovy duck
Issaquah Washington, Jan 2010. Photo © David Richardson

 

  • Mallard x Wood Duck Aix sponsa

Not the most obvious candidates for hybridisation perhaps, but there do seem to be quite a number of instances reported on the internet – and the results are extremely ‘cute’.

hybrid mallard x wood duck
Spring Mills PA, June 2007. Photo © Mark Niessner

hybrid mallard x wood duck
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, Portland, Oregon, October 2007. Photo © Rochelle Gibbs

Top: An interesting photo which shows a male Wood Duck, a male hybrid Wood Duck x Mallard, and a male Mallard. Bottom: A closer look at the hybrid.


hybrid mallard x wood duck
Not a photo, no, but a superb sketch by Joern Lehmhus based on personal sightings and web photos that he has kindly allowed me to use…

 


 

NB: Not found the ‘odd’ Mallard you were looking for? Then have a look at the domestic/”manky” Mallard photos which are just a click away at ‘Manky’ Mallards.

 

Thanks very much indeed to the following for permission to use their photographs on this page and/or on the ‘manky mallards’ page:

Also check out these “manky mallard” or mallard hybrid pages:

Do you have any photos of either “manky” or of hybrid Mallards you’d be kind enough to let me add to these posts?
Please email them to charlie – AT – talking-naturally.co.uk, the larger the file size the better, saying where and when they were taken and any links/credits etc you’d like. Many thanks

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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I birded the world for twenty years before quitting my airline job and am now freelance. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores

5 Comments

  1. Darlene says:

    Wow, those mallards sure seem to spread their genes around. No wonder why they were the third most common bird counted during the Christmas Bird Count last year in many locations.

    Reply
  2. Charlie Moores says:

    Hi Darlene. They do seem to enjoy themselves! That and habitat clearance that has opened up more areas to them, more people feeding them, and generally being over-confident and willing to breed on small ponds in busy public parks etc that many species won’t use. Quite a successful species really :)

    Reply

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