7th August 2014

 

For a few weeks in late summer male and female Mallards have similarly camouflaged plumage

For a few weeks in late summer male and female Mallards have similarly camouflaged plumage

During this period Mallards are unable to fly, having shed their flight feathers in one go.

During this period Mallards are unable to fly, having shed their flight feathers in one go.

A quick glance at Mallards around this time might lead you to think that all the males have disappeared! All birds have to moult their feathers to renew those that are worn or damaged. Many do this over quite a period of time in order that they can keep flying, to find food and to escape predation. Mallards, however, after they have been through the rigours of the breeding season, moult all their feathers in a matter of 2 or 3 weeks. This is called ‘synchronous moulting’. They begin by moulting their body feathers, with the males going into what is known as ‘eclipse’ plumage, which is duller and much more like the camouflage of females. Mallards then shed all their flight feathers which means they cannot fly for a few weeks in late summer. During this time they are more vulnerable to predation, which is why the males, too, need to be highly camouflaged. Before moulting some will have flown to areas where they can find more shelter, and there is less competition for food. Feathers contain about one third of a birds’ protein, and to replace them demands a high protein diet. Hence, before moulting, some Mallards move away from breeding areas to ensure they have access to enough protein sources. The males do a partial further moult before the breeding season when they regrow their bright, colourful plumage, which gives them the best chance of successful mating. Conditions: Warm and dry, with a breeze and plenty of sunshine. Temperature: Max 21-Min 15.

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