Mexican Ducks (Anas diazia), aka Mexican Mallards, can be difficult for identification because this species, like Mottled Ducks, look very similar to Mallard hens with darker plumage. This is because they are a part of the North American “Mallard Complex” consisting of American Black Duck, Mallard, Mexican Duck, and Mottled Duck, which are all related. Previously considered a mallard subspecies, in 2020, the American Ornithological Society officially deemed Mexican Ducks a distinct North American species. as one of the least studied and well-known waterfowl in America, Mexican Duck drakes of this species display a pale head and rich ruddy-colored chest that differ from the rest of their brown plumage.
The only difference in plumage between Mexican mallard sexes is that the hen’s chests are the same color as the rest of their body. Since both sexes have the same dusky orange colored legs and general plumage, the easiest way to distinguish between sexes using the bill color and relative body size. Experienced hunters have little problem shooting drakes only for these reasons. The hen’s bill more closely matches the orange leg color than the drake’s pale-yellow bill. Both have an iridescent blue-green speculum and light linings that contrast with the darker underwings readily seen during flight. As compared to other species within this mallard complex, only the Mexican Duck and Mallard express double white wing bars bordering their speculum.
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The estimated breeding population for Mexican mallards is robust, and has fared well with agricultural developments through the Sonora desert. The Mexican Duck does not travel very far and can be found year-round central Mexico because of their preference for arid locations. From years experience, I associate them primarily with the Sonora Desert and have seen nowhere that the density is greater than in the Yaqui Valley. Other populations can be found in New Mexico and Arizona at any time during the year. While few in numbers, Mexican Ducks have adapted to use man-made water sources used to irrigate regional crops. Natural habitats that they will use include lakes, reservoirs, and ephemeral and permanent wetlands. During breeding seasons the requirements are permanent water levels and dense vegetation. The few that do migrate for the wintering period will mostly stay along the border of Texas and Mexico. In Texas, Mexican Ducks, Mottled Ducks and American Black Ducks are collectively referred to as “dusky ducks,” with a 1-daily bag limit imposed.
Foraging and food sources are similar to mallards, primarily vegetative shoots and stems and invertebrates. During the months of November and December, when wheat crops are being irrigated, they will walk down planted furrows, gorging themselves on seed wheat, returning to freshwater ponds with their gullets full. Mexican ducks respond to decoys and soft, mallard-like calls similarly to mallards, and represent one of the most under-pressured mallard resources in North America.
Dr. Phil Lavretsky has conducted extensive genetic studies of species within the North American Mallard Complex, to include Mexican ducks. This fascinating topic was discussed on a Duck Season Somewhere podcast entitled Just a Mallard? Think Again.