The timing is right to bring up the most-known and abundant of the wild ducks in the Northern Hemisphere.

The mallard is a social animal. It prefers to congregate in groups or flocks of varying size. The species is the main ancestor of most breeds of domesticated ducks.

The adult male mallard is well-known for its green head, rust-brown chest and white neck ring. The hen mallard is a combination of browns and tans. Both sexes have similar brown wings with violet-blue patches and bright orange feet. Females sound differently than males. The former makes a loud quacking sound, while the latter has a lower, reedy quack. While the mallard's average life span is three to five years, a male mallard banded in Louisiana on Jan. 9, 1981, and shot Jan. 17, 2008, in Arkansas was 27 years, 7 months old. Such information gives insight into the possible longevity for the mallard.

Mallards are surface-feeding, or "dabbling," ducks. They tip and reach down to feed off the bottom, with their hind ends in the air and feet dabbling for balance. Most of the time they feed off the surface. They favor shallow ponds, creeks and marshes.

Mallards mainly eat vegetation, feeding on seeds of sedges, grasses and smartweeds.

Like other dabbling ducks, the mallard springs vertically into the air from land or water, and flies away in a strong, well-sustained flight.

Ducks have been tracked flying more than 50 miles per hour.

Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.