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I'm sure many, if not most, readers of this list are familiar with the
existence of Mottled x Mallard hybrids, particularly those who participate
in bird counts of any sort. For example, the "problem" resurfaces every year
during the CBC's when we are studying these ducks through bins and scopes in
order to list Mottled vs. Mallard/hybrids. During the rest of the year it's
common for many birders to give only a cursory look at Mottled/Mallard
flocks and to mumble something about interbreeding and how "pure" Mottled
Ducks are disappearing in Florida and then to carry on looking at the other
"real" birds we'd rather be observing.

The criteria I've learned to use most reliably are the presence or absence
of curled upper-tail coverts and the color of the "cheeks" and bill of the
birds. Mottled ducks must have a fairly bright, buffy cheek color (no
grayish or dark wash or streaking to the cheek) with a yellow-orange bill,
the latter brighter on the males than the females. And obviously, any sign
of Mallard coloration on head, wings or body discounts the duck as a
Mottled. Mottled-looking ducks in a flock with even one Mallard-type duck
are suspect until proven innocent. Mottled-looking ducks with curled upper
tail coverts are relegated to the "female Mallard/hybrid" category.

During the 12/29 Aripeka-Bayport CBC in western Hernando County the team I
was on found two groups of ducks -totaling ten birds- that we listed as
Mottled Ducks. There were no Mallard drake-plumaged ducks in either flock,
none of them had curled upper-tail coverts and they all had bright buffy
cheeks and yellow-orange bills. There were several other flocks of Mottled x
Mallard hybrids on the lake that had drake Mallard, female Mallard or
Mottled-type plumages but the latter all had curled upper tail coverts and
gray-buffy cheeks or some mix of features.

And while we are on this subject, does anyone want to comment on whether or
not there are any "pure" Mallards in Florida? About 20 years ago I remember
seeing some really stunning Mallard drakes but they sure don't look as
stunning these days as the birds living in my memory. Drake Mallards around
west-central and south Florida all seem to have fairly drab plumage
coloration.

Marianne Korosy
Palm Harbor, FL

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