Our family went hiking last week in Mary S. Young State Park along an inlet of the Willamette River. There was a group of ducks swimming around. This duck’s black eye-stripe and orange and black beak were both obvious clues that it is a female Mallard. Male Mallards have bright green heads with light-colored bodies- the same ones that we see at parks all over the U.S.
A few feet away was this duck. It looks like a female Mallard, but something isn’t quite right. Can you see what is wrong with this picture? Look at the beak. Female Mallards don’t have yellow beaks, so something else must be going on here.
I believe that this duck is in ‘eclipse’ plumage, as described by Charlie at 10,000 Birds. In mid-summer the males all molt and lose their feathers. When this happens, they can’t fly away so they can’t easily protect themselves. Charlie explains:
Temporarily unable to escape predators by flying away, many male ducks have opted to do what the females do for most of the year and merge safely into the background…
The males pretend to be females! Eventually their regular male feathers grow back in and life returns to normal.