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Domestic Mallard Hybrid or What?

posted by Tim Avery at
on Saturday, January 14, 2012 

Update:  The birds in the Pictures are "Call" Ducks.

I'll admit it, I'm stumped.  It's not very often that I would admit it, but in this case I really am still scratching my head.  This morning (01/14) Jeff Bilsky and I found a pair of ducks at Decker Lake in Salt Lake County that really caught my attention.  For lack of a better name right now let's call them "mini domestic Mallards".  The birds exhibited a number of characteristics typical of Mallards, including the green head, some gray in the back, and tail curls.  The birds also had the charactersitcs of any number of typical domestic Mallards like a white breast, white streaking in the head, and browns, whites, blacks, and grays in places that normal Mallar'ds wouldn't have those colors.  Take a look at the two birds here:

So now lets talk about what is really odd about these birds.  For starters they have very compact bodies, not the lanky heavy bodies found in most domestics.  The heads were very "cute" and rounded, more like many smaller species--say teal, Bufflehead, or even a Wood Duck.  And what about those bills--again small and compact--short and almost dainty looking.  The real kicker however is the size of the birds--noticeably smaller than nearby wild Mallards coming in about the size of a Wood Duck or Shoveler.  Take  a look:

What a dill pickle...  So I came up with a few ideas--none of which I really like for an answer, but I will put them out here and see what you think.

1. These are domestic Mallards.  Perhaps an extremely late brood--I guess we would be talking November and these guys are still growing.  I find this highly unlikely, but given our late fall it seems possible.  In another month these guys will be the size of the rest of the domestics and the mystery will be solved.

2. Domestic Mallard x Wood Duck Hybrid.  I can't find this combo anywhere on line but again it seems possible.  Given the fact that a female Wood Duck has been hanging with the domestics and Mallards at this location it would again seem possible for this to be the case.  It would explain the size and the overall plumage characteristics.  The mostly Mallard-ish features including the domestic stuff (white breast, etc) coming through on a small duck with a compact but elongated head.  The bills bother me though because they are not Wood Duck bills.

Update:  The birds in the Pictures are "Call" Ducks.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it probably crossed with a domestic duck. There are all sorts of domestic mallard types, with the "Call" variety being small enough (and being found in white like a "Peking" duck, that it could easily produce that small of a bill. Here is a link to a photo I found on Flicker but it does not note the cross. It is clearly the same bird I'd say.

January 14, 2012 at 3:30 PM  
Blogger Ryan O'Donnell said...

I think you had it right with #1, domestic Mallard. I don't see any need to invoke young age, either. For one, they have the head color of an adult, so it is unlikely they are small because they are young. (Pure Mallards reach adult size well before they develop an iridescent green head.) Here is an example of the wide variety of plumages available in the dwarf "call ducks": http://www.efowl.com/Call_Duck_for_Sale_s/21.htm

Second, like Anonymous said, there are many dwarf varieties of domestic Mallards that are quite small. As far as your #2 goes, I haven't been able to find any examples of Wood Duck x Mallard with a pattern like this. Here is a good illustration of several different examples of this combination: http://www.flickr.com/photos/14195020@N08/2951932146/

Fun stuff! Some day when I'm done learning everything I can about wild birds (right!), I'll learn all the domestic Mallard breeds. . . .

January 14, 2012 at 4:58 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@anonymous and @ryan: thanks for the comments. I had never heard of the "call" variety, and never seen one before yesterday. Very cool. Anonymous the pictures you sent is a bibbed domestic Mallard and not a "call" duck. The birds in my photos are either of the blue or black variety or some mixture, definitely cool birds.

Ryan, I wasn't saying this would be a Wood Duck X pure Mallard hybrid--that wouldn't make any sense because of the white chest--the thought was domestic mallard (bibbed-type) by Wood Duck which would have explained numerous features (as the post explained). Now knowing about the "call" ducks everything makes sense. If you google call duck you get some great examples:

Examples of Call Ducks

They really are "cute" like I mentioned in my post.

January 15, 2012 at 1:07 PM  
Blogger Shyloh Monster said...

Very interesting! I've never heard of 'Call Ducks'. When I saw these at Decker Lake on Tuesday, I quickly dismissed them as strange looking mallards and moved on.

Lesson learned: don't dismiss anything.

January 15, 2012 at 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There a whole bunch of these ducks on the St. George Golf Course middle pond.

January 15, 2012 at 3:42 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...


I've never seen Call Ducks at that pond--I have seen lots of "Bibbed" Domestic Mallards, which look similar but are much larger than these small domestics.

That pond is excellent for American Wigeon in the winter.

January 15, 2012 at 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Than you haven't looked very close the last few years. There were 15 to 20 in various plumages at their peak, including a cool white and gray duck, but they are a favorite target of Peregrines this winter so their numbers are rapidlly dropping.

January 23, 2012 at 11:25 PM  

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