Estimates of range-wide abundance, harvest, and harvest rate are fundamental for sound inferences about the role of exploitation in the dynamics of free-ranging wildlife populations, but reliability of existing survey methods for abundance estimation is rarely assessed using alternative approaches. North American mallard populations have been surveyed each spring since 1955 using internationally coordinated aerial surveys, but population size can also be estimated with Lincoln's method using banding and harvest data. We estimated late summer population size of adult and juvenile male and female mallards in western, midcontinent, and eastern North America using Lincoln's method of dividing (i) total estimated harvest, inline image, by estimated harvest rate, inline image, calculated as (ii) direct band recovery rate, inline image, divided by the (iii) band reporting rate, inline image. Our goal was to compare estimates based on Lincoln's method with traditional estimates based on aerial surveys. Lincoln estimates of adult males and females alive in the period June–September were 4.0 (range: 2.5–5.9), 1.8 (range: 0.6–3.0), and 1.8 (range: 1.3–2.7) times larger than respective aerial survey estimates for the western, midcontinent, and eastern mallard populations, and the two population estimates were only modestly correlated with each other (western: r = 0.70, 1993–2011; midcontinent: r = 0.54, 1961–2011; eastern: r = 0.50, 1993–2011). Higher Lincoln estimates are predictable given that the geographic scope of inference from Lincoln estimates is the entire population range, whereas sampling frames for aerial surveys are incomplete. Although each estimation method has a number of important potential biases, our review suggests that underestimation of total population size by aerial surveys is the most likely explanation. In addition to providing measures of total abundance, Lincoln's method provides estimates of fecundity and population sex ratio and could be used in integrated population models to provide greater insights about population dynamics and management of North American mallards and most other harvested species.