The male and female mottled duck (Anas fulvigula) look about the same—unremarkable. Either one of them could easily be dismissed as just another female mallard, when in reality they are rare finds inland. So note the details.
The mottled duck has a buffy tan head and throat, contrasting with the mottled brown body that gives the species its name. Other than this, there is little contrast to be seen in the plumage when the duck is resting on the water. The mottled duck’s bill is solid yellow, with no mottling. However, it does have a black spot at the corner of its mouth, giving it a slightly smiling expression.
In flight, you may see a little more contrast. This duck displays a greenish blue to purple speculum bordered in black. The underwings are lighter than the rest of the body. Also note the mottled duck’s direct, powerful flight with rapid wing beats.
Best Field Marks
- Solid yellow bill.
- Greenish speculum bordered in black.
The mottled duck has a raspy voice. The male’s call sounds something like kreeb, kreeb, while the female quacks much like a female mallard.
Distribution & Occurrence
The mottled duck calls the Gulf Coast home, normally only migrating 20 miles inland or less. However, it may show up as far as Cheyenne Bottoms from time to time. While this is most likely to occur during spring and fall migration, mottled ducks have been seen nesting at this birding hot spot in summer, as well.
Elsewhere in Kansas, the mottled duck seems to appear on a strictly accidental basis.
The mottled duck is surprisingly tame for a wild duck. It prefers to spend its time in pairs or in small groups. It eats more insects, mollusks, and crustaceans than many duck species, but it still rounds out its diet with seeds and aquatic plants.
Mottled ducks pair off in late fall or early winter and remain together until they molt. Nesting usually takes place in June at Cheyenne Bottoms. The nest is a simple plant-lined depression, embellished with down from the female and always well hidden. Marshes and fields are the preferred nesting habitats. The female lays an average of eight creamy to greenish-white eggs. The young are ready to leave the nest soon after hatching and are typically seen at Cheyenne Bottoms throughout much of the summer.
Most birdwatchers are not likely to have opportunities to attract mottled ducks.
Hunters may have some difficulties finding decoys to use on mottled ducks. Special mottled duck decoys do exist, but are not common and can be expensive. Therefore, many hunters buy mallard or American black duck decoys and repaint them. Because mottled ducks are less social than some species, hunters should place mottled duck decoys in pairs away from a larger spread.
American Black Duck
This is an identification challenge that can baffle many birdwatchers. Use the species names as a clue. The American black duck is much blacker and less mottled than the mottled duck. If you have time to check for subtler details, look at the bill and the speculum. The black duck lacks the spot at the corner of the mouth, and in good lighting its speculum is purplish instead of greenish.
One field mark that will never let you down when trying to tell a mallard from any other duck species is the speculum. The mallard is the only duck with a blue to purple speculum bordered in white. In this case, the bill is also a good diagnostic. The female mallard’s bill is a mottled orange, unlike the solid yellow bill of the mottled duck.
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.