- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant; regular during the winter months throughout most of the state. The Mallard was a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Global in distribution and the most widely distributed duck in the Northern Hemisphere, the Mallard can be found from Alaska east across most of Canada and south throughout the United States. The core of the Mallard’s distribution is in the Prairie Pothole Region of the north-central United States and in the southern Canadian Prairie Provinces (Figure 1).
A game species, the Mallard is designated a High Continental Priority by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and assigned a Continental Concern Score of 7/20 by Partners in Flight.
A resident to medium-distance migrant; northern populations in Alaska, Canada, and the northern United States winter along the coastal waters of Canada and throughout the United States and northern Mexico.
A dabbling duck that feeds on a wide range of aquatic invertebrates, aquatic plants, seeds, small fish, and amphibians; also feeds on waste grain in uplands.
Although its numbers have waxed and waned over time, the Mallard has always been one of the most common waterfowl species in the state. When Roberts wrote his treatise on Minnesota birds in 1932, he reminisced of earlier times when the Mallard was so abundant “that almost every pot-hole had its breeding pair and the prairie sloughs were full of them.” But by the early 1900s, the absence of harvest regulations had taken its toll not only on the Mallard but on virtually all waterfowl populations.
Luckily, the intrepid Mallard survived these early years, and although numbers have never fully rebounded, the species recovered to the point that it was once again a common summer resident throughout the state by the early 1930s. Roberts (1932) reported that among waterfowl only the Blue-winged Teal was more abundant. Confirmed nesting records (nests with eggs) stretched from Lincoln County in the southwest north to Grant County in west-central Minnesota and farther north to Becker, Marshall, and Polk Counties. To the east, confirmed nesting records were reported from Goodhue, Stearns, and Wright Counties. Other reports of breeding activity came from Aitkin, Hennepin, Itasca, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, and Murray Counties and from Itasca State Park.
By the 1970s, the Mallard was still second in abundance to the Blue-winged Teal (Green and Janssen 1975), but it surpassed the teal just a few years later when Janssen again updated the species’ status in the state (Janssen 1987). Today, it outnumbers the Blue-winged Teal nearly three to one (Cordts 2015). Green and Janssen (1975) described the Mallard as statewide in distribution but “most numerous in the western regions.” A review of confirmed nesting records since 1970 compiled by Hertzel and Janssen in 1998 documented breeding records from all but 10 of Minnesota’s 87 counties. Its abundance statewide was further confirmed by the Minnesota Biological Survey (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2017).
During the MNBBA, participants reported 5,229 Mallard records from 56.6% (2,766/4,888) of the surveyed atlas blocks and from 62.5% (1,461/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was gathered in 1,028 (21.0%) of the surveyed blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The Mallard was reported from every county in the state and was documented breeding in all but two counties, Fillmore, in southeastern Minnesota, and Yellow Medicine, in southwestern Minnesota. Probable nesting, however, was reported in both counties. The high density of reports in the Brainerd Lakes region and the Twin Cities reflects the high number of MNBBA participants in those areas. An examination of the Mallard’s distribution in priority blocks illustrates its relatively uniform distribution throughout all but the far north-central counties, extreme southeastern and northeastern Minnesota, and the intensively cultivated portions of the Red River valley. The land suitability model for the Mallard emphasizes the importance of the Prairie Parkland Province and the prairie-forest ecotone from east-central Minnesota north through the Hardwood Hills Subsection (Figure 4). Wetlands in urban settings also provide highly suitable breeding habitats.
As widely distributed as the Mallard is today, it was largely restricted to western and central North America prior to the 1900s. Its expansion across the eastern United States and Canada was due largely to the release of captive-reared birds for hunting. The Mallard, for example, was “virtually absent” from Ontario prior to the 1950s, but it became “the most widely distributed duck in the province” (Cadman et al. 2007). It is now common in Quebec and the Maritime Provinces as well (Drilling et al. 2002). The only retraction of its breeding range has been in the south, where it was “formerly more numerous and occurred regularly to central Mexico, and rarely to northern Central America” (Drilling et al. 2002).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.