• Claire Stott

Odd one out?

Whilst most days the avian residents of the harbour are predictable and familiar, just occasionally I can be rewarded with an unusual or completely new sighting of a species you haven’t seen in the area before.

Today not a new species, but rather a very recognisable mallard, one of many that have made their home along this particular stretch of water. One mallard drake however looked just a little out of place and different from his fellow ducks.

Not quite right?

At first I couldn’t quite work out why this individual stood out, but as he swam closer to the shore I could then see that he lacked the distinctive white neck ring seen in all male mallards. His body also appeared to be more of a russet brown colouration than the usual grey, particularly when viewed from his right side.

Mallard drake with missing white neck ring

Like most of the mallards here, this male recognised my human presence as a potential source of food and he waddled onto the bank to investigate, allowing me to get a lovely close up view.

Side by side with another mallard male the difference in size and colour of the two birds was much easier to compare.

Spot the difference?

Having sent these images to several groups and organisations to satisfy my curiosity, there is still some debate about the cause of this mallard’s unusual plumage. Possible theories are that this duck has melanism, a condition which causese a mutation in the normal colour pigments making feathers appear brown or even black.

Another explanation is that this mallard may be a hybrid, the resulting offspring of a wild mallard duck and another domestic duck species, possibly a runner duck or a campbell’s duck. Given the promiscuity of male mallards, hybrids are not uncommon among wild mallard flocks!

Making a splash

Have you seen a bird with unusual plumage? You can record your sightings and find out more about these anomalies on the BTO website.

— All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © www.greyfeatherphotography.com

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