by Kyle Sweet, Sanctuary Golf Club Superintendent
The Mottled duck, which is a close relative of the Mallard, is the only dabbling duck specialized for nesting in southern marshes. Throughout Florida however, the “pure” stock of the Mottled Duck is being threatened due to interbreeding with Mallards, which are probably the most familiar duck to many people and are still one of the most abundant ducks in the world. Mottled ducks are found in Florida year-round as well as other coastal Gulf of Mexico areas, with some documented to migrate from the northern Gulf of Mexico Coast to Eastern coastal Mexico.
The Mottled duck is often found in fresh and brackish ponds along the coast rather than in the actual salt marsh. They are seldom seen in large flocks, generally traveling in pairs or small groups. Both the typical habitat choice and the behavior of their grouping can be observed all around the golf course in any of our seven lakes here at The Sanctuary. Recently, for the first time that I have observed, two pairs of Mottled ducks have had offspring here on the golf course. They grow so quickly that by the time I was able to photograph them they looked well into their teenage years ( Photo provided ) and were getting along well beside their parents in early May.
Mottled ducks feed by dabbling the mud just below the water’s surface where they can feed on aquatic plants, grasses, insects, snails and occasionally small fish. Interestingly, young ducklings feed almost exclusively on insects.
They lay between 5 – 13 eggs with the incubation period being a short 24 – 28 days. After hatching, the young quickly leave the nest and are able to feed themselves. They are capable of short flights within two months and are fully flight ready at three months. When mature, the males and females can be very similar in size but one distinct identifier is the bill. The male has a bright yellow bill whereas the female has a black bill with an orange / yellow tip. As photographed, the male is on the far right and the female on the far left.
The Mottled duck is a welcome sight on Sanibel because it needs good habitat for feeding and protecting, enriching and enhancing our habitats all around the island is worked on by many. If you find the right habitat you will probably find a pair or two of these somewhat solitary and widespread ducks……maybe even with some chicks for the next month or so. Enjoy!