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Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images
Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

15 Unflappable Facts About Mallards

Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images
Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

Mallard ducks: It seems like they’re everywhere (spoiler alert: they pretty much are), and they’re familiar to most of us. But what do you know about them beyond “they’re the ones with the green heads”? If it isn’t much, here are 15 facts about them.

1. MALES AND FEMALES LOOK VERY DIFFERENT.

Only the male mallards have the iridescent green head feathers, white “collar” on the neck and dark brown breast. The females are comparatively drab, with mottled brown and tan plumage all over. Both sexes, though, have a dark blue-black band of feathers, bordered by white, on their wings.

2. THEY DON’T SOUND ALIKE, EITHER.

Male mallards don’t sound much like what we think ducks sound like. They don’t quack, and instead produce deeper, raspier one- and two-note calls. They can also make rattling sounds by rubbing their bills against their flight feathers. The females make the stereotypical quack, and often produce what’s called a “decrescendo call”—a series of 2–10 quacks that start loud and get softer and shorter.

3. THEY’RE VERSATILE—AND EVERYWHERE.

Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

Mallards can live in nearly any wetland habitat, natural or artificial. They’ll make themselves at home in and around lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, estuaries and coastlines, as well parks and backyards. That versatility (and a little help from humans, who likely introduced them in various locations) has allowed them to span across the globe, and they can be found across North America, Eurasia and New Zealand, and in parts of Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Japan and Australia.

4. THEY’RE THE ANCESTORS OF ALMOST ALL DOMESTIC DUCKS.

Only two species of wild duck—the mallard and the Muscovy Duck—have been domesticated by humans. The vast majority of domestic duck breeds descend from mallards and were developed by selectively breeding different domestic birds (and sometimes domestic and wild individuals) for desired traits like plumage, growth speed, and high egg production. 

5. THEY’RE DABBLERS.

Mallards are “dabbling ducks,” a cute term that means they feed by floating on the water and tipping themselves forward, butts in the air, to graze on underwater plants or grab insects. They’re as cosmopolitan in their diet as they are in their habitat choices, and will eat plants, worms, snails, other insects and their larvae, and shrimp. On land, they’ll also eat agricultural grains and seeds, especially during migration. And, of course, they’re happy to take bread and other handouts from people in parks (though this isn’t always good for them). Their diet is generally two-thirds plant matter and one-third animal protein.

6. THEY’LL MATE WITH DUCKS FROM OTHER SPECIES.

The mallard’s wide range puts them in contact with plenty of other duck species, and they’ll readily mate with them, producing a number of hybrids like the Mallard X American Black Duck and the Mallard X Northern Pintail.

7. THEIR FAMILIES CAN BE A LITTLE COMPLICATED.

Mallards form pairs in the fall, court throughout the winter, and then breed in the spring. These pairs are generally monogamous, but “extra-pair copulations” can still happen because both paired and unpaired males sometimes mate with paired females whose partners aren’t keeping an eye on things, leading to broods with multiple fathers.

8. THEY FLY FAST AND HIGH.

Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

Migrating mallards have been clocked flying at 55 miles per hour, slightly faster than the average waterfowl. While they usually cruise at an altitude of less than 10,000 feet, they can get much higher. In 1962, a mallard was struck by a commercial airliner at 21,000 feet—a record altitude for a bird-aircraft collision at the time.

9. THEY CAN LIVE A LONG TIME.

When a mallard was shot by a hunter in 2008, a band on its leg revealed that it had been tagged by biologists in 1981, making it at least 27 years old and the oldest known mallard on record. That bird was a lucky duck, though—the average lifespan is just 3–5 years in the wild and about a decade in captivity. 

10. THEY’VE BEEN ON THE BOOKS FOR A WHILE. 

The mallard was given its scientific description and species name, Anas platyrhynchos, back in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus, the “father of modern taxonomy.” He derived the name from the Latin word for "duck" and an ancient Greek term for "broad-billed."

11. THERE ARE A LOT OF THEM.

Mallards are among the most abundant ducks in the world, and in the U.S. alone, the mallard population is estimated to be 11.6 million birds. That’s good, because they’re also one of the most heavily hunted ducks, and account for one out of every three ducks shot in North America.

12. YOU CAN FIND THEM IN A LUXURY HOTEL.

The Peabody Memphis

In 1933, the general manager of The Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee came back from a hunting trip and thought it would be funny to place some of his live decoy ducks in the hotel’s fountain. The stunt was a hit with the guests, and since then, “The Peabody Ducks”—a group of one male and four female mallards, borrowed from a local farm and retired after three months to live wild again—have lived in the “Royal Duck Palace” on the hotel's rooftop and are brought down daily for a swim in the lobby. The hotel Duckmaster looks after them during their stay. 

13. ONE MALLARD IS FAMOUS FOR AN UNFORTUNATE POSTHUMOUS EVENT.

In 1995, Kees Moeliker, a curator at Rotterdam’s Natuurhistorisch Museum, documented the first case of homosexual necrophilia in mallards after he found one male mallard attempting to mate with another that had died after flying into a museum window. As Moeliker wrote in a paper about the incident—which won an Ig Nobel Prize in 2003—the mallard “mounted the corpse and started to copulate, with great force, almost continuously picking the side of the head” for nearly an hour and a half before Moeliker intervened.

14. THAT SAME DUCK IS CELEBRATED WITH AN ODD HOLIDAY.

The dead mallard that Moeliker discovered has been commemorated every year since with a holiday called, obviously, Dead Duck Day. On June 5, the anniversary of the duck’s death, Moeliker holds a brief ceremony outside the building that the duck struck (usually holding the unlucky duck, which the Natuurhistorisch Museum had stuffed), talks about animal behavior, and discusses ways to prevent bird-window collisions. The museum also has a “splat”-shaped memorial plaque designating the spot where the duck hit the glass.

15. THEIR BEAKS ARE ORANGE TO MAKE THEM LOOK GOOD.

Evolutionary biologists think that mallards and other ducks have yellow or orange bills and legs to show off for the opposite sex. The bright colors suggest that a duck has been eating right and has a strong immune system, making them attractive mates.

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Martin Wittfooth
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Art
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig
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Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]

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