Puddle Ducks...The Mallard
The mallard or "greenhead" is the most sought after of our waterfowl.
It is the prettiest in the minds of some, since it has been the most common subject of painters and wildlife artists. Mallard decorations and miniature decoys grace many a sportsman's library or den. Only the shoveller and the woodduck vie for or possibly surpass his beauty.
The drake has a blue-green iridescent head and neck, ringed at the base by a narrow white band. The blue-purple patch banded with white on the first section of the wing and his yellow legs mark him unmistakably. Many hunters call him "yellowlegs." The female is speckled with various shades of brown, but she also wears the blue-purple patches on the wings.
The mallard offers one of the best opportunities to break in on the study of waterfowl. You find them in most city parks the year round. You'll also find the domesticated variety on the farm. Commercial shooting preserves stock him for this type of pass shooting.
Many of the species do not migrate, preferring to stay in one place unless molested by predators, pollution, over-hunting or extremely bad weather. Since all ducks are migratory, numbers of mallards in company with black duck, widgeon, teal, pintail, and others, take off for the south for the winter and travel as far as Central America.
In the spring they go as far north as Alaska and Newfoundland, following established migrating routes. These routes have been discovered by the extensive method of leg banding, a research that has been going on now for about fifty years.
The mallard, like all puddle ducks, rises quickly from the water in one frantic bound. It does not need to take off on a long runway of water as do its cousins, the diving ducks. While it rises off the water with a terrific flourish, it does not seem to be a fast flier in comparison with the teal, but does offer quite a sight to the gunner who tries to lead it correctly with the shotgun.
Greenheads will often circle high overhead, spot the decoys and then come sailing in on set wings to alight among the "blocks," as the hunters call their decoys.
Pass shooting, that is, lying in wait for the birds to pass a given location, is another way of shooting them with camera or gun. When their route is known from their lake site to their feeding site, the area in between makes a good position to wait for them to pass overhead.
Jump shooting can also be done by silently gliding in a canoe or row boat down a winding river where the ducks are known to live and feed. Coming upon them suddenly will offer ample opportunities to see them in action.
Mallards vary in weight from a pound to three or four pounds depending on the condition and location and are among the best of ducks as a table staple. As none of the puddle ducks eat fish, they do not have a fishy taste. Their diet is mostly roots and shoots of aquatic plants, grain, nuts and seeds. The mallard feeds by ducking his head underwater to grope for these aquatic plants and shoots of grass. On land, "Mr. Mallard" is fond of grains, particularly corn and rice.
Despite the inroads of civilization on their breeding grounds, the migrating areas and general development of watercourses, the mallard and his next of kin, the black duck, seem to be able to cope with worsening conditions.
Being versatile and adaptable, the federal government and state conservation departments have concentrated on protecting him and his grounds and restocking him, all with good results.
Like all magratory waterfowl, the mallard is protected by fed-eral gunning seasons which are followed by state enforcement with acceptable dates. The photographer, however, can "shoot" . and other easily found ducks the year 'round.
Greenheads nest in parks, along brooks and in swamps, anywhere near the water and food supply. Normally one clutch of eggs is laid each season, ranging from six to ten, but sometimes they will raise two or more broods if conditions warrant.
Young sportsmen who are interested in the art of taxidermy, that is the artistic mounting or "stuffing" of birds, can practice on the mallard, for he is the most available in many areas of the country. The practice mounts can be used later as decoys. Any den is made more beautiful by the addition of a brace mounted in flying position over the fireplace or against the wall.
Mallards can easily be baited by planting rice or other aquatic foods of their liking around the pond or lake nearest you. Many gun clubs and sanctuaries do this. The actual practice of baiting, that is placing corn or grain in plain sight during the hunting season is against the law. However, it is allowable if you do not intend to shoot the birds. Just make sure you remove the grains before leaving the area.
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