Historically, wild mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) normally winter in Florida in widely scattered, small flocks and are seldom seen in large concentrations except in some of the northern counties. These wild birds migrate out of our state to northern breeding areas in the spring and are not present in Florida during the mottled duck breeding season.
However, captive-reared mallards are being unlawfully released by humans in large numbers in Florida. It is estimated that more than 12,000 mallards are purchased statewide from feed-and-seed stores and potentially are released each year. These domesticated mallards are being purchased by well-intentioned individuals and are being released on local ponds, lakes and canals for aesthetic reasons.
Currently, these domesticated mallards can be found year-round throughout Florida on water bodies at city and county parks; apartment and condominium complexes; and in other urban and suburban areas. They are not part of Florida's native wildlife and like other exotic species, are causing problems.
State biologists are observing more and more mixed flocks and mixed pairs in the wild and these feral mallards are mating with mottled ducks, producing a hybrid offspring. These hybrid offspring are fertile, which further compounds the problem. Every mallard released in Florida can potentially contribute to the hybridization problem and the result is that fewer and fewer pure-bred Florida mottled ducks are left each year. An estimated 7 to 12 percent of mottled ducks are already exhibiting genetic evidence of hybridization and biologists list this hybridization as the biggest immediate threat to the conservation of Florida's mottled duck.
Because of the relatively small size of the mottled duck breeding population (estimated at 30,000 to 40,000), the complete hybridization could result in the extinction of the Florida mottled duck.
History has proved that the concern over the loss of the Florida mottled duck to hybridization is a real one and should not be taken lightly.
Other Examples Of Mallard Hybridization
Mallard releases in other parts of the world have devastated local populations of closely related species.
New Zealand grey duck -- Mallards did not occur in New Zealand naturally, but were released to provide hunting stock. Now because of hybridization, approximately 95 percent of the native gray ducks in New Zealand are hybrids.
Hawaiian duck -- This endangered bird is most likely completely hybridized on the island of Oahu, and may be genetically intact only on the island of Kauai.
Meller's duck -- This highly endangered duck occurs in Madagascar and the remaining birds are being hybridized by introduced mallards.
The situation in Florida with mottled ducks and feral mallards is comparable to these examples in that we have a small, isolated population of a subspecies that is closely related to the mallard.
What Is Being Done About The Hybridization Problem?
The release of mallards is prohibited in Florida under 68A-4.0052 of the Florida Administrative Code (FAC). Additionally, permits are needed for anyone to possess, buy or sell mallards in Florida.
FWC biologists believe though that the best way to reduce these releases and the resulting hybridization is through public information and education campaigns.
The FWC has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to facilitate direct control of feral mallard populations. FWC biologists along with Boston University developed a genetic technique to identify hybrids and determine the extent of hybridization. Periodic samples are taken of the mottled duck population to better assess the proportion and distribution of hybrids.
What You Can Do To Help
Because feral mallards exist in so many areas of the state, it will take the efforts of everyone to solve this problem. What can you do to help? Do not release mallards, and do not support existing feral mallards by feeding or sheltering them. If there are ponds and canals near you that have mallards on them during the summer, they are feral mallards. Help spread the word to friends and neighbors that releasing and supporting feral mallards is threatening our native Florida mottled duck.
It is unlawful by state law to release mallards and in Florida, all mallards are protected by federal law and cannot be touched unless one possesses the proper federal and state permits. Most people are uneducated on the issues of hybridization or the fact that releasing mallards is unlawful. If ponds in your neighborhood (golf course, housing development, etc.) have mallards, notify the manager of your concern regarding the problems these ducks can cause and ask for their commitment to not release any more mallards in the future.
If you would like additional information about the feral mallard hybridization problem or would like more information about the removal of mallards, please contact one of the FWC waterfowl offices at (850) 488-5878 or (321) 726-2862.
Licensed, permitted trappers may assist you with the removal of mallards. A list of trappers is available by visiting our nuisance wildlife trappers page.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services also has the authority and can assist you with such removal efforts. Their services are available year-round and they can be contacted at (352) 377-5556.