Are These Mallards Wild or Domestic Ducks?

If you spotted a mallard with unique coloring it might be a domestic duck. See what the birding experts say about domestic ducks and geese.

What Does a Domestic Mallard Duck Look Like?

domestic mallard duckCourtesy Todd Gorski
One of these mallard ducks doesn’t look like the others.

“This large duck hangs out with mallards but looks completely different. What is it?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Todd Gorski of Mishawaka, Indiana.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman: “Most domestic ducks are descended from the mallard, first domesticated in the Far East more than 2,500 years ago. Many distinctive forms have been selectively bred for new colors and sizes. These are not separate domestic duck species, just different varieties, much like there are many breeds of dogs. These varieties all interbreed with each other, producing intermediates. More than 80 mallard varieties have been named. Some are large and dark with a white bib, such as the bird in your photos. Your bird doesn’t seem like an exact match for any named breed, but it’s similar to both Duclair and Swedish Blue ducks.”

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These are escaped domestic ducks. Courtesy Roy and Debbie Pardee
These escaped domestic ducks are related to mallards.

“We saw these ducks (above) while at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex last October. What kind are they?” asks Roy and Debbie Pardee of Ukiah, Connecticut.

Kenn and Kimberly: “The short answer is that these are escaped domestic ducks, but the long answer is more interesting. Most domestic ducks are descended from either mallards or Muscovy ducks, and those in your photo are in the mallard line. Over the last several centuries, people have developed many distinctive breeds of these ducks, ranging from all white to glossy greenish black, and many colors in between. These two look most similar to a rare breed called the Ancona duck, but they are not completely typical. When domestic ducks escape from captivity, they may wander in the wild for years, causing confusion for bird watchers.”

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Domestic White Crested Duck

Bbxmar15 JodyingellisCourtesy Georgette Ingellis
The white crested duck has a unique crown of head feathers.

“This photo was taken at a lake in Columbus, Ohio. Can you tell me what kind of duck this is?” asks Georgette Ingellis of Bristol, Connecticut.

Kenn and Kimberly: “Over the centuries, waterfowl breeders have developed many distinctive varieties of domestic ducks, with almost all of them descended from the familiar mallard. This attractive breed is called a white crested duck. It has been a recognized variety for more than 300 years, with ducks of this type seen in Dutch paintings of the 1660s. Like other domestic duck breeds, white cresteds are sometimes seen wandering around in the wild or visiting park lakes.”

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Domestic Goose

14 Johnyinger Bbxjuly17 domestic gooseCourtesy John Yinger
This unique looking goose is a hybrid.

“I saw this goose in a group of Canada geese and noticed that it was different. What kind is it?” asks John Yinger of Columbus, Ohio.

Kenn and Kimberly: “Interesting goose! It looks like a hybrid—a cross between a Canada goose and a domestic greylag goose. This kind of thing happens occasionally, because geese are not always very picky in mating season. Canada geese are often involved in these mixed pairings, but then the trick is to figure out the identity of the other parent. For the bird in your photo, the overall body color, large pinkish bill and heavy rear end all suggest that a domestic greylag was the other member of the pair.”

Next, learn how to tell the difference between a canvasback vs a redhead duck.

Molly Jasinski
Molly Jasinski is a writer, editor and social media manager for Birds & Blooms. She enjoys watching the robins, cardinals and occasional goldfinch seen around her apartment.