Molting male Mallards


After the mating season, male Mallards start to molt. They look a little sickly as little beige patches appear on their lovely green heads. I only discovered a few months ago that some birds have different breeding and non-breeding plumage. The last few weeks, I’ve been watching the male Mallards change with excited anticipation. When, when, when will I see a fully morphed male? I photographed the two males in the picture above today at Trout Lake. The closer one looks fully morphed. He was the only one I noticed today.

Non-breeding males and females have the same plumage. They can be distinguished by the colour of their bills. Males have yellow bills all year long while females have orange and brown bills. I took a picture of a non-breeding male and female in Calgary in mid-October. At the time, I was perplexed by their different coloured bills. Now I know!!!


  1. I just learned this about the Mallards a few years ago too. We used to go to a neighbourhood duck pond and in the fall it looked like there were only females, and I was wondering where all the males went. I had my “ah ha” moment after Googling, “Where do the male mallards go in the fall” (or something like that). šŸ™‚

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    • :-D! The mysterious disappearing male Mallard! It is so fun to be able to Google all one’s birding questions :-). I like how over time my observations and the explanations for those observations have changed my bird landscape. I first learned about eclipse plumage when I looked up Northern Shovelers on All About Birds.


    • Yes :-)! There is so much life going on that I don’t notice. But once I know it is there, I always see it. A little window opens to a previously unknown world.


        • I agree :-). When I name something, I totally feel like I’ve made a new friend. And when I see them again, I’m more likely to notice them… I notice if they have changed or not… and my experience of them grows into a collection of observations.

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