|Family: Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
This splendid duck of the Gulf Coast from Mexico around through Florida is closely related to the Black Duck and Mexican Duck. As with those two species, males and females have very similar plumage. And also like them, Mottled Ducks often hybridize with Mallards.
Mottled Ducks form pair bonds earlier than most other dabbling ducks, usually by November, long before the nesting season will start the following spring. And also unlike most dabbling ducks, pairs of Mottled Ducks stay together well into the incubation period and sometimes even after chicks hatch.
Mottled Duck numbers fluctuate widely in response to periodic drought conditions. Wetland drainage in Florida, degradation of coastal marshes by saltwater intrusion and erosion in Louisiana and Texas, and urban development throughout its range pose serious conservation challenges, and perhaps the biggest cause of the species’ decline is hybridization with introduced Mallards. (Farm ducks are a domesticated form of Mallards, and game farm owners bring in Mallards for canned hunts, too.) Mottled Duck hybridization with Mallards is most pronounced in Florida, where 10 percent of the population is estimated to have Mallard genetic material.
The Breeding Bird Survey numbers indicate that Mottled Ducks declined by an estimated 3.1 percent per year between 1966 and 2015—a cumulative decline of 78 percent! Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 460,000. Its Continental Concern Score is 17 out of 20 and the species is on the Red Watch List, Partners in Flight’s highest level of conservation concern. Nevertheless, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entrusts regulations on hunting to individual states because this is a non-migratory species. Most of the Gulf states focus their conservation strategies on trying to discourage hybridization with Mallards. In recent years between 20,000 and 50,000 Mottled Ducks have been taken by hunters each year.