On Sunday I went hiking at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark near Swanton, Ohio. While passing Evergreen Lake I heard a chorus of ducks erupt in quacks near the far shore. As I got closer, I realized the commotion was coming from a huge flotilla of mallard ducks (Anseriformes: Anatidae: Anas platyrhynchos). There were easily over two hundred animals, and several dozen can be seen in the photo below:
Mallards are perhaps the most common and widest-ranging duck on earth. They can be found throughout most of North America, Europe, Asia, and in parts of northern Africa and southern Australia. While they prefer calm fresh water, they can also be found along the coasts of oceans and seas. In the northern hemisphere they tend to breed in the northern reaches of their range, but in the winter many migrate south. They can be found year-round here in southern Michigan, northern Ohio, and other places that are in the middle of their range.
Male mallards are perhaps the most recognizable of all ducks. Their iridescent green heads, bright yellow bills, and bodies of white, gray, and brown are unmistakable. Females are less distinct, but their proximity to males can make their identities obvious. The characteristic quacking is produced by the females; males can only make soft rasping sounds.
This time of year mallards form mating pairs. They court throughout the winter and then breed in the spring. The pairs are generally monogamous, but males sometimes pursue other females. Among mallards this behavior is often non-consensual. This aggressive promiscuity is perhaps one reason why these ducks are so abundant.