Mystery Bird: Mallard duckling, Anas platyrhynchos

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[Mystery bird] Mallard duckling, Anas platyrhynchos, photographed in Arizona. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: Richard Ditch, 2008 [larger view].

Date Time Original: 2008:04:22 07:35:53
Exposure Time: 1/319
F-Number: 11.00
ISO: 320
Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.


Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
Any doubt that this is a duck? Happily, most downy waterfowl are encountered in the presence of their more easily identified parents (in ducks, usually the mother); but many ducklings have such distinctive down patterns that they can be identified even on their own: some are even beautiful, and you should never pass up a chance to see, for example, Northern Pintail or the skunk-like young of Black-bellied Whistling-Duck.
Compared to those snazzy species, the quiz birdlet is quite plain. The white secondaries and tertials show up as a clear bar, and there is a whitish patch at the base of the rump. The head is pale, with a dark crown, a clear and narrow eyeline continuing across the lore, and a less conspicuous black bar across the rear auriculars.
That head pattern is seen only among some of the dabbling ducks; divers (and wigeon, too) are plainer, showing either a big white cheek or an essentially unmarked head and neck. Among the dabblers, some, such as Northern Pintail or Green-winged Teal, have faces crossed by two stripes. The “standard” pattern shown by the quiz bird is truly typical only of the mallards, including Northern Mallard, American Black Duck, Mottled Duck, Mexican Duck, and the “island” mallards.
According to Nelson’s Downy Waterfowl, an essential and inexpensive reference, the hint of orange on the feet and the neat “widow’s peak” on this bird’s forehead suggest Northern Mallard rather than any of the “hen-plumaged” taxa. The obviously white belly of this bird also rules out Mottled and American Black Ducks. The presence of an auricular bar, the complete eyeline, and the foot color are probably enough to identify this bird as a Northern Mallard duckling.
Review all mystery birds to date.

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About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Mallard duckling, Anas platyrhynchos

  1. Luna_the_cat says:

    Looks like your basic mallard duckling, to me. The pale yellow face with the dark, narrow horizontal stripe across the eye is a dead cert, and the pale splotches on the dark body and wings.
    They are dead cute as ducklings, although they are mucky creatures. Used to raise ’em.

  2. No idea. I don’t have a field guide that shows duckling plumages. The markings on the wing are interesting; I don’t recall seeing anything like that on the baby mallards I see in the courtyard fountains at the office park where I work, so I’ll stick my neck out and say, “not a mallard”. But other than that, I’ve got nothing.

  3. Heh. Should have quit when I was at “no idea”.

  4. Bob O'H says:

    Well, I guess it’s one sort of LBJ.

  5. The Ridger says:

    Mallard. That face with the stripe across the eye is indeed the giveaway.

  6. john — don’t be discouraged! when i was teaching, i loved to see my students try, and even when they were wrong, they were usually the ones who ended up with the most solid knowledge because being incorrect increased their recall tremendously. putting these mystery birds here and having you all really look at them is a very good way to learn how to recognize THEM, so even when an individual of a particular species is out-of-range, you’ll still be able to ID it in the absence of habitat cues and same-species interactions.

  7. If it looks like a duck, and it sounds like a duck…

  8. Greg Laden says:

    Another duck! Slightly cuter than the last duck.
    Mallard is a good guess, though.

  9. Tualha says:

    Well, it’s obviously the cute bird!

  10. JohnB says:

    Most or all of the baby dabbling ducks have a similar head pattern, but to me it looks like it’ll grow up to be a beautiful Cinnamon Teal. It just looks Blue-wing/Cinnamon Teal-ish to me, and given that the photo was taken in Arizona, I say Cinnamon Teal.

  11. BA says:

    I’m guessing juvenile Mallard also. Eye stripe looks just like the Mallard but the bill is darker than I recall on the Mallard. Maybe the Mexican Mallard, I think those range into Arizona. Could also be a Mottled or Black Duck as their bills are dark and they have eye stripes though the eye stripes are usually not as pronounced.