Ducks on the Pond

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.

  1. Cool! I’ve never (to my knowledge) seen a male in eclipse plumage, but I have seen what’s sort of the opposite – a mallard that looks mostly male but has an orange bill and brown cheeks. Apparently as females age, their estrogen levels drop, and their plumage starts to look more like the boys’.

  2. Lovely macro ducks, I watched on TV how spca men went to rescue duckling that got into the storm water drain. I must go to my park to see if ducklings have been hatched.

  3. Oh, that’s so neat! My son has been talking to me about how the males sometimes have feathers which look like a female’s feathers. He noticed that they have been turning green again. I didn’t know why they did that, and it’s so interesting to learn! Thank you!

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