Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) have been observed foraging on intertidal Pacific sand crabs (Hippidae, Emerita analoga) in the swash zone of sandy beaches around Coal Oil Point Reserve, California, and several other beaches on the west coast since at least November 2010. Unlike foraging shorebirds, Mallards do not avoid incoming swashes. Instead, the incoming swash lifts and deposits them down the beach. Shorebirds and diving ducks commonly feed on sand crabs, but sand crabs appear to be a novel behavior and food source for Mallards. Previous surveys of beaches did not report foraging Mallards on regional beaches, whereas foraging Mallards were common in contemporary (recent) surveys and anecdotal reports. Observations of this potentially new behavior were separated by as much as 1,300 km, indicating that this was not a local phenomenon. Mallards foraged singly, in pairs, and in flocks. An expansion of diet to sand crabs carries risks of exposure to surf, human disturbance, high salt intake, and transmission of acanthocephalan and trematode parasites for Mallards but has the benefit of providing a dependable source of animal protein.
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Vol. 125 • No. 2