Mottled Ducklings Look Like Mallards, but Aren’t!

What a treat to look into the marsh and find this mama Mottled Duck with her 7 youngsters feeding in the marsh last week.  Mottled Ducks, Anas fulvigula, look a lot like female Mallards.  They are paler than American Black Ducks (usually) and both male and female ducks look similar.  Unlike most of our winter residents, Mottled Ducks stay in the Southeast to breed.  

Mottled Ducks have a relatively small range

I was really surprised that the range of these birds is so small: it’s just a short bit of the southeast coast; and they aren’t originally native to SC.  They were introduced to the ACE Basin in 1975, and have become naturalized here.  This range map is from Smithsonian’s Birds of North America, which has a ton of great information.

It was about May 15, when Old House Lane residents began asking each other if they’d noticed the female and the ducklings, and one described a big ruckus when the raccoon (seen in that video) was within pretty close proximity of the ducklings.  I first saw them the morning of the 17th, in surprisingly close proximity to an alligator, backlit by the sunrise.

From a habitat standpoint, they like water that’s only about 6 inches deep, which makes impounded wetlands a great nesting site. This impoundment has a particularly significant crop of widgeon grass this year, and these tiny friends are making the most of it.  My first glimpse of these ducks was in the sunrise so the light wasn’t optimal, but you could still see their fuzzy little outlines.

Lucky for me, the family came back in afternoon light and I had a couple of hours just watching them. I loved watching the little ones hang so close to the mother duck.

Mottled ducks are dabbling ducks.  Unlike our winter Bufflehead and Hooded Mergansers who dive for food, dabbling ducks feed mostly at the surface or in very shallow water, scooping up vegetation and invertebrates from the water.  The babies can pretty much feed themselves right away, so Mama can keep an eye out for predators like raccoons, otters, and alligators. If she senses a threat, she hastens away, with the ducklings hurrying behind her.

I watched them for hours!  If you would like a longer look at them, check out this video: