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Captured free-living male mallard Anas platyrhynchos at Abberton in southern Britain showed peak mass gain immediately prior to simultaneous remex moult. Individuals of both sexes were heavier before shedding wing feathers than when flightless confirming literature accounts that show mallard accumulate fat stores in anticipation of moult to contribute to meeting energy needs during remex re-growth. Over the course of four seasons, males lost 13 17% of initial body mass on average during re-growth of flight feathers, females 13 23%. Based on energy expenditure of 1.3 times BMR, male mallard were estimated to be able to fulfil 42 60% and females 41 82% of their energy needs throughout moult from stores. Free-flying male mallard fed ad libitum in a predator-free environment did not differ in starting body mass or rate of mass loss during wing moult compared to free-living Abberton birds, suggesting depletion of fat stores, irrespective of available sources of exogenous energy. Based on this evidence, we reject that the hypotheses that mass loss in moulting mallard is due to 1) simple energy stress and 2) restrictions on feeding and consider that 3) attaining the ability to fly at an earlier stage on incompletely grown flight feathers is not the primary factor shaping this trait. Rather, we consider the accumulation and subsequent depletion of fat stores, together with reductions in energy expenditure, enable mallard to re-grow feathers as rapidly as possible by exploiting habitats that offer safety from predators, but do not necessarily enable them to balance energy budgets during the flightless period of remex feather re-growth.