Most of the mallard drakes are molting into their Eclipse Plumage. Drakes molt twice a year: at the end of the breeding season (now) and again in the fall when they regain their mating attire to be attractive to the hens for next year’s adventures. Online sources say mallards begin bonding in autumn, but I haven’t seen them pairing up until mid-January in this region.
Eclipse plumage provides drakes with camouflage while they cannot fly. They lose their flight feathers during the molt and it takes a few weeks for the new ones to grow in. You can see how the usually light gray chest and flanks of this drake (right) are now dotted with rust colored feathers and his head’s iridescent green has become scruffy with tan feathers interspersed. Compare his markings to this exceptional drake in full dress as mating began in April of last year.
By the time he’s finished molting, he will look like the two combatants in the top photo who are vying for the bystanding hen. Some breeding, is still going on. The last brood was born on September 1st in 2011 so I suspect we’ll see a few more. Disputes between males, however, won’t end when their drive to mate wanes. Urban ponds have a higher concentration of ducks due to humans feeding them. That encourages dust ups over food and territory as well as mating partners. Rarely are these scuffles violent and usually last less than a minute. On average, they aren’t as vigorous as the ones initiated by hens protecting their ducklings.