This is my salute to the mighty Mallard.
Perhaps it is because of the birds very success, due to its amazing ability to thrive in a variety of environment’s and that we have become so accustomed to seeing it almost everywhere we go, that we seldom take much notice of this handsome, colourful, resourceful and cunning bird.
The Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) was first introduced to New Zealand from Australia in 1867, these birds in turn originated from English stock and although there were quite a few liberations over the next few years things got off to a pretty unspectacular start.
It wasn’t until the 1930s and 40s when introductions from North American stock were really stepped up that the Mallard started to make an impact on the New Zealand landscape.
Our native Grey duck or Parera (Anas superciliosa) was the most common dabbling duck in New Zealand up to the 1950s, but open field farming drained many of the birds preferred swamp land habitats and coupled with overshooting for a prolonged period of time the poor old Grey suffered heavily reduced numbers. With this burden on the Grey duck into the mix, stepped the mighty Mallard.
The Mallard seems almost custom made for modern day New Zealand, having already become specialized and fully adapted to its northern hemisphere environments, mainly open grasslands and large open water ways.
The Grey Duck or Grey Duck or pārera, however lives in a more restricted environment like small lakes, streams and swamps that are closed in and surrounded by large native trees and heavy bush.
One could say the Mallard was already pre-adapted perfectly present day New Zealand conditions.
Although both Mallards and Grey ducks start life eating aquatic invertebrates, only the Mallard continues to be omnivorous throughout its life time and can eat a wide variety of foods hence has the ability to exploit many differing environments, ranging from open farmland pasture and wild wetlands, to city parks where the birds might rely almost entirely on hand outs from friendly people. The Grey on the other hand starts out eating aquatic invertebrates but as they grow into adults they become strictly vegetarians.
The ability to tolerate close, continual contact with human beings has given the Mallard a great advantage.
The another major contributing factor that has helped the Mallard become so successful both here in New Zealand and in fact, worldwide, is due to the incredible flexibility and content of the Mallard’s genetic dna coding.
Mallards enjoy very wide and diverse interbreeding capabilities and it is recorded that Mallards are able to interbreed with 63 other species of duck worldwide.
The fact that the Mallard can breed with a wide variety of ducks worldwide and produce fertile offspring, means that the bird often becomes a threat to any of the countries indigenous waterfowl populations they are introduced to, such as our native Grey duck.
Mallards produce larger clutch sizes than Greys 8–13 eggs and enjoy a higher survival rates for its young.
Mallards are also larger and will dominate the smaller Grey drakes and will force themselves on the female ducks regardless of species. Greys need quiet seclusion to breed and bring up a brood of youngsters well, Mallards will do so out the back yard or in the closet paddock beside the house if need be.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what was going to happen to the Grey duck eventually and now many of the poor old Grey ducks have yellow legs and an iridescent purplish blue speculum flashes on the wings opposed to the dark feet and bill and a pretty iridescent green speculum that marks a pure breed Grey duck.
Mallards have blue speculum flashes
When Mallards interbreed with other ducks a bewildering array of shapes sizes and colour configurations occur. Many hybrids would not survive in the wild outside of parks as they can be incapable of any meaningful flight but hey they look pretty cool.
Man is undoubtedly the main threat to the Mallards survival, though over all, the loss of habitat due to man’s activities is not a major concern for the modern Mallard. Good breeding seasons more than likely follow patterns we humans have not been able to fully identify with any absolute yet, certainty, the overall availability of food and the condition of the birds will always factor in, but sometimes it’s a mystery why some years are good and some are bad. Population numbers are dynamic and adjustments in hunting pressure must be the major contributing factor to the continual healthy numbers of Mallard. Sensible, conservative dally limits are calculated each year prior to the shooting season, based on the numbers of available birds.
Hunting and the evolution of the modern duck hunter
Just as the birds have learned in centuries past to detect danger, the hunters in this country, esp over the last 4 decades as the Mallard has taken over as the main target, have evolved and honed their skills to take advantage of the Mallards gregarious nature.
The ability to fool the cunning Mallard in to thinking all is safe and to fly close, within gunshot of the hunter has taken on an almost religious fanaticism.
There’s much money to be made in the duck shooting industry if you’re in retail.
Duck calling competitions and related events often held in hunting retail shops leading up to the season , call in the duck hunters, who willingly empty their pockets, driven too, by the skilled and aggressive style of the retailers that hold such events.
This sounds much like a good human decoy set up and masterful calling from a skilled retailer luring the customer (prey), in other words the predator has become the prey.
The New Zealand Mallard has a great advantage over its North American brothers.
In North America, the birds are migratory and as such American hunters shoot at fresh birds throughout their season, the birds do not know where the hide (mai mai) is, as they have not been frequenting the area previously.
In this country, the birds have no need to migrate to warmer climates for the winter and mainly live localised lives and know the area very well, so the successful New Zealand duck hunter has to become a skilled and crafty predator.
Lead up time to the opening of Duck shooting season for the aspiring or hopelessly addicted Duck hunter is often fraught with domestic danger (angry wives)
The art of decoying and calling Mallards within gunshot over a pound or lake has become an expensive and sophisticated affair, this often incurs heavy financial losses for many, on a yearly basis, esp those just starting out and do not possess a number of decoys from previous year’s purchases.
Decoy Purchase and application
All modern day New Zealand Mallard duck hunters share a common duck hunting ancestor the Grey duck hunter, however the modern Mallard duck hunter is a different species all together and for good reason.
A Grey duck may decoy into a group of large lumps of hand crafted mud on placed on the bank of a pond, where as a Mallard might ignore a mob of well-trained domestic Mallards if one was allowed to use such a setup, which one is not, but for arguments sake, it remains, no matter how perfect your set up is there’s no guarantee that the Mallard won’t swoop in over the decoys once, quack a few times and leave the area never to return.
The art of decoying Mallards within gunshot over a pound or lake has become an expensive and sophisticated affair and setting out decoys has become a science.
A relaxed Mallard drake comes in flaps down
But wait there is more
There’s more even if one has many decoys there’s always room for one more decoy purchase, often this is a complicated electronic device with mechanised flapping wings and built in squawker, these devilish devises work flawlessly at home in ones shed, but fail to impress as they cease working all together once out on the pond, 15 minutes after opening time, as day breaks and the birds fill the air.
Many married duck hunters go to great lengths to hide amount of money spent on this addictive pastime from the wife, this often involves secret stashes of money hidden and added to throughout the year.
Countless hours can be spent practising on the duck caller, partakers risk thinly veiled threats of sexual deprivation from one’s spouse if carried out with great gusto (as one would within ones abode) , or a certain amount of embarrassment if carried out down at the local park in front of a bemused audience.
But this is all necessary because the Mallard is a cunning foe and a great challenge.
The Mallard seems to process a split personality, the first a clumsy almost comical bird that frequents city parks and reserves during the day, and is sometimes so at ease with close human contact one has to kick them out from under ones feet. But as the night approaches many birds leave the sanctuary of the city parks, flying out to the rural areas to feed and they become an entirely different bird altogether.
Incredibly wary of danger, cunning and acrobatically superb, the Mallard is a master at detecting threats from a wide range of predators as many a frustrated duck shooter will attest to. More often, than not a match for many humans wanting to convert the mighty Mallard into the delicious plate of protein on the dinner table, yes sir the Mallard is one fine eating bird indeed.
I once read that 90% of Mallards shot for the entire duck shooting season are shot in that first half hour on opening morning and around 80% of them are that year’s brood, so quickly do the Mallards wise up that only around 10% more get shot throughout the entire season. The Grey duck on the other hand is very susceptible throughout the season to a good decoy setup and expert calling. Natural selection the survival of the fittest is a fact of this present life and it doesn’t take much to figure out that it’s a one horse race for the Mallard and without man’s intervention the Grey duck is a goneburger. You have to hand it to the Mallard; he is here to stay and will continue to be the main target for the keen Duck hunter.
Photographing the Mallard
The time to photograph the Mallard is now, it’s currently late breeding season which mainly starts late July through August and into September with some birds raising 2 clutches well into summer in good years. Now is the time when most of the Drakes are at their most colorful. The late afternoon sun or early morning will enhance those colours and showcase the handsome Mallard at its very impressive best.
Interestingly the Paradise Shelduck or as the Maori call it Putangitangi is not only holding its own against the Mallard at the moment but the Parrie seems to be gaining the upper hand in some areas. Who really knows what has happened to the Parrie of late but there’s no doubt it has gone from being a novelty sighting in the early/mid last century to having an almost obligatory presence in the front paddocks of every farm the length and breadth of this fine country. So there may be a new contender in town.
Parries will take over a pond and will drive off the smaller bodies Mallard.
and a Female
They look much like a female mallard which add salt to the wound .