The mottled duck could be mistaken for the familiar mallard, but its much rarer in the mid-Atlantic. Photo courtesy of Kyle Klotz via iNaturalist.

Not a Mallard: Lookalike Duck Species Spotted in Md. for 1st Time

Thanks to a sharp-eyed bird-watcher at the C&O Canal, Maryland has a new duck species. It could easily be mistaken for our omnipresent mallard duck, and it’s so similar it may even have been overlooked before.

But the mottled duck is not a mallard. It’s more like a mallard cousin. The mottled duck is usually found in the southeastern U.S., especially Florida and the Gulf Coast.

Maryland Biodiversity Project announced Clive Harris was first to spot and report the duck at Carderock along the C&O Canal (close to parking lot C, for those who’d like to go looking for it) in Montgomery County, Md., on Dec. 26.

Pending official acceptance by the Maryland/District of Columbia Records Committee, this will be the first state record mottled duck.

Sightings continued until at least Jan. 3. More than a dozen photos have been posted to the Maryland Biodiversity Project, a nonprofit focused on cataloguing the living things of Maryland. More than 10,000 naturalists and photographers have already catalogued nearly 20,000 species (including 12,000 with photographs) since the project began in 2012.

According to Maryland Biodiversity Project, mottled ducks resemble American black ducks and mallard hybrids. The mottled duck has an overall warmer brown color than an American Black duck, a buffier face and buffy edges on feathers, a paler crown, and a prominent black spot at the base of the bill. It is different from a mallard or mallard hybrid because there appears to be no green on the head or reddish color on the breast, along with a few other subtle differences.

Mallard- mottled duck hybrids are common because the two species mated frequently when the ducks first arrived in Florida. But the Biodiversity Project says hybridization with mallards is “a real threat to the species’ future.”

But bird experts believe the duck in Montgomery County is a true mottled duck.

Maryland Biodiversity Project has just launched a species page dedicated to the mottled duck that you can see here to learn more about it.

-Meg Walburn Viviano