Mallard Ducks

©Terry R. Thomas/

A drake mallard is a handsome fellow and deserves a closer look. Here you can see the blue speculum, the curled tail feathers and the difference between the male and female bill color.

Until I received a request for a digital photo of a mallard duck, I didn’t realize how few good mallard images I had. After all, mallards are so common, I assumed I had plenty of images to choose from. I suppose I have made the same mistake in the field. “Aw, just another mallard. I’ll get that shot later.” Carry that attitude to the reasonable conclusion and I had a file of almost nothing.

Despite handsome plumage that should be an ever pleasing eye-catcher, mallards are so common I suspect that many birdwatchers will also quickly dismiss them searching instead for more elusive and exciting subjects. I know I do that, failing to fully appreciate this adaptive and successful bird.

               Oddly, it was a recent trip to the un-duck-like habitat of Lake Powell in Southern Utah that helped me get started on a more thorough mallard portfolio. A number of mallard and mallard hybrids live among the houseboats begging for a living. They were willing subjects, especially when rewarded with food and I took advantage of that.

                The mallard is recognized as the most abundant duck in the world, breeding across Eurasia and North America and introduced into Australia and New Zealand. Mallards can also be found in urban parks virtually throughout the world. North America is the mallard stronghold though with a 2011 census estimate of 9.2 million birds.

Just about everyone can recognize a male mallard. A drake is a handsome bird with an iridescent green head and neck separated from a rich chestnut brown chest by a thin white collar. The sides and belly are a finely vermiculated gray to white. The back, rump and upper and undertail covert feathers are black, forming a distinctive black triangle when viewed from underneath with the birds in flight. There is one other thing that mallard drakes have that no other species possesses: black tail feathers that curl forward.

Females are a mottled brown throughout. Both males and females have a blue wing speculum, an area on the trailing edge of the wing between the body and the primary feathers, topped with a white line. The speculum is often only visible when the birds are in flight.

During the summer when drakes are in eclipse plumage, males and females look very similar. However, bill color doesn’t change and the yellow bill of the drake is quite distinctive from the orange bill mottled with black speckling of the female.

Mallards are so popular that over the millennia, they have become the root stock for most domestic duck species of today. That fact also means that it is quite easy for mallards to hybridize with domestic stock producing some very strange looking crossbreeds.

Waterfowl hunters are one group that does not take mallards for granted. The handsome mallard makes up about 35% of the ducks harvested annually in North America, far more than any other species of duck. Mallards also tend to be one of the tastiest ducks as well.

The longer I spend photographing a species, the better I come to understand and appreciate it. As I concentrate on building a more comprehensive portfolio of mallard images, my admiration for this bird will continue to grow. Familiarity, it seems, can also breed respect.

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.

Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!

On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.

Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf. You can donate any amount you wish, it all helps to support the wildlife you love.

If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho