Fawthrop Lagoon is located within the harbor city of Portland on the west coast of Victoria. The lagoon and surrounding wetland habitat has been developed partly as an urban park and the remainder has been conserved as water bird habitat where a good range of water bird species, including migrant shorebirds, may be found.
The lagoon discharges via a tidal creek into a protected industrial harbour where large ocean going cargo ships come and go, transporting aluminium (ore and smelted ingots), timber and grain. Portland is, in part, an industrial city.
On a visit to the park we noticed a family with young children making their way over a footbridge to a small island. Before they had crossed the bridge a flock of a dozen or so Mallards swam with obvious purpose and expectation to meet the family as they came off the bridge. A similar sized flock of Pacific Black Ducks followed close behind the Mallards.
|The Mallards are coming! Four males and one female, part of a flock at |
Fawthrop Lagoon Portland, hopeful of a hand out.
The children were soon throwing pieces of stale bread to the ducks, a scene that can be witnessed in urban parks all over the world, because Mallards have a wide distribution across the northern hemisphere and they have been widely introduced in many countries in the southern hemisphere including New Zealand and Australia where they were first introduced from England in the 1860’s.
Mallards as a duck species (Northern Mallard(1), Anas platyrhynchos) have adapted very well to urban environments and no doubt this behavioral trait is partly why so many domesticated duck species originated from Mallards.
At the park in Portland, the slightly larger and certainly bolder Mallards outcompeted the Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) for the bread scraps and soon enough the supply of bread was exhausted and the hectic activity subsided as the family departed. As I moved up with my camera for some photos the Mallards swam towards me boisterously quaking for food – smart birds, they soon realised I was not a bearer of food and turned silently away.
As for most introduced species I have to admit my enthusiasm for photographing the Mallards was not great, though I concede they are an attractive bird, especially the brightly coloured males.
|The attractive male Mallard complete with distinctive curled tail feathers. |
The blue speculum, wing-mirror, is covered.
My interest soon perked up when I noticed what might have been a hybrid bird among the Mallards and remembered that the Mallards are a potential threat to our native Pacific Black Ducks as they can cross-breed with them and therefore there is a risk over time for corruption of the Pacific Black Duck gene pool. I later discovered that the Pacific Black Duck is a Mallard and the female Mallard bares a striking resemblance to the Pacific Black Duck including the facial markings.
|The female Mallard is very similar to the Pacific Black Duck - see next photo for comparison.|
|One of the Pacific Black Ducks in flock accompanying the Mallards at Fawthrop Lagoon. |
Note the dark mark on the bill tip, Mallards also have the same mark on their bill tip.
After checking field guides, I decided that the bird was a female Mallard and not a hybrid and I further concluded that the birds in the following photo were juvenile Mallards and not hybrids.
|Juvenile or immature Mallards - note the blue wing-mirror is visible on the closest bird.|
Whenever exotic species, plant or animal, have been introduced, whether deliberately, inadvertently or self introduced, they nearly always turn out to be a problem as they always disrupt ecosystems, sometimes subtly and sometimes disastrously. The Mallard probably fits the subtle end of the impact spectrum, however since their introduction in the 1860’s Mallards have become widespread in Australia, especially around human development. It is thought that Australia’s harsh drought prone conditions have limited the spread of Mallards here. In New Zealand where the climate and conditions are far more benign the Mallard has become far more widespread and some NZ banded Mallards have been found in Australia showing that they are capable of moving long distances to new locations and becoming resident there when conditions suit them.
The biggest threat posed by introduced Mallards in Australia appears to be hydridisation with our native Pacific Black Ducks!
(1) Regarding “Northern”, Ian Fraser and Jeannie Gray in their book, Australian Bird Names, A Complete Guide (p17), say “It is unclear what delineating purpose is served by the relatively recently adopted Northern descriptor.”
Whether the name Mallard or Northern Mallard is used, it is the same bird/species.