The food habits of a hand-reared Mallard population

P J S Olney


A study of the food habits of a hand-reared Mallard population was made after they had been released into the wild. This was based on 77 birds obtained during the four shooting seasons of 1958-62 from a 6 acre lake within a private estate near North Frith, Kent. A number of conclusions were reached: a) From a survey of the flora of the immediate vicinity and from stomach analyses it became obvious that a good deal of their diet was made up of naturally occurring plant seeds, even though grain was being fed to them throughout the period of observation. b) Three species, oak Quercus robur, bur-reed Sparganium erectum and hornbeam Carpinus betulus were eaten more frequently and in greater volume than any other food item. c) Yearly differences in feeding habits became apparent, particularly in 1959 when virtually no Quercus seeds were produced and in consequence comparatively more grain was eaten. d) There were also obvious differences in feeding habits as the season progressed. Cereal grain formed the principal food item during September, when the main naturally-occurring bulk of the natural foods had been eaten. During October, November and December Quercus formed the main food, with Sparganium seeds being taken in each month though proportionally more were eaten during October and November, and Carpinus seeds only being eaten from October onwards. This corresponds to their periods of greatest abundance. e) The amount of seed production can be roughly ascertained in September, and then if necessary the amount of grain to be fed can be increased or decreased. It is suggested that the three main plant species, which are the same for similar areas throughout the country, can be actively encouraged and managed.

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