Scientific name:Anas platyrhynchos Phylum: Chordata Class: Aves Order: Anseriformes Family: Anatidae Habitat: wetlands of all types
Size: 50-63 cm long
Description: Mallards are medium sized ducks.
The male and female have different color patterns. The male has a
shiny green head, a narrow white band around the neck, a brown
chest, and gray sides. He also has a pair of curly feathers on
his tail. The female is much plainer with spotted brown feathers.
Both the male and female have a small blue patch on the wings.
There is a good reason for the female Mallard’s dull
appearance—she will sit on the nest and guard the eggs. Her
coloring blends with the surrounding reeds and grass, providing
camouflage. Predators are less likely to see her and the nest
that she sits on. If the predators cannot see the nest, they
cannot attack it.
Fun facts: Mallards are the most common ducks in
the Central Valley, particularly in winter. Many live here
year-round and others migrate here from the mountains and Great
Basin in order to nest and raise their young. They live in many
habitats including ponds, rivers, pastures, cropland, and parks.
Life cycle: From March through July, pairs of
Mallards create nests near water in sparse vegetation. After
thoroughly lining the nest with down (soft, small feathers), the
female lays 6 to 12 eggs. The female then sits on the eggs,
keeping them warm and protected. After about 26 days, the eggs
hatch and the female cares for the ducklings. The ducklings
attempt their first flights 40 to 60 days after hatching.
Ecology: The Mallard’s main diet is plants
including grains, seeds and leaves. While nesting, they also eat
aquatic insects, snails, small crustaceans, earthworms and
tadpoles. Mallard eggs and ducklings are eaten by many mammals,
including striped skunks, rats, coyotes, raccoons and opossums.
Adult Mallards are hunted by humans and occasionally other large
Investigate: What other species of birds can you
find in the vernal pool grassland which have colorful males and
dull females? Some other birds you might investigate through
classmates, books, or the Internet are Greater Yellow-legs,
Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark and Killdeer.
For 2 billion years, bacteria were the only creatures on Earth.
Long before the dinosaurs, a special type of bacteria slowly
increased the level of oxygen in the Earth’s air to 20 percent.
Without this oxygen other plants and animals could not have
evolved, including us.
For Splash students, a “Tadpole Shrimp” is an endangered species
that lives in vernal pools. For rice farmers, a “Tadpole Shrimp”
is a common pest that destroys their rice fields. A rice farmer
would think you were crazy wanting to save “Tadpole Shrimp” from
With scientific names, there’s no room for confusion: the
rice pest is Triops longicaudatus and the endangered
species is Lepidurus packardi. Even a scientists who
speak different languages can understand one another when they
all use the Latin name!