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Mandarin Duck

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Mandarin Duck - Male

Mandarin Duck - Male

Tony Hisgett

Boldly colored and with unusual feather shapes, the drake mandarin duck is widely considered to be the most beautiful duck in the world. In Chinese culture, a pair of these birds symbolizes love, martial fidelity and relationship respect, all admirable qualities that these ducks demonstrate during the mating season as they work together to raise their ducklings.

Common Name:

Mandarin Duck, Mandarin, Yuan-Yang, Mandy

Scientific Name:

Aix galericulata

Scientific Family:

Anatidae

Appearance:

  • Bill: Spatulate, red with a white nail in males and gray or red-gray in females
  • Size: 16-19 inches long with 28-inch wingspan, large head, long tail
  • Colors: Iridescent, orange, red, tan, gray, black, white, purple, blue-green, yellow
  • Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a long iridescent crest that may show purple, orange or green in bright light, and a large white crescent over and behind the eye in the same shape as the crest. The face is orange, and orange-red “whisker” auriculars cover the cheeks and sides of the throat. Flanks are tan, and the dark purple breast is bordered by a pair of vertical white and black bands. Orange-brown “sail” feathers are prominent at the rear of the dark back, and the wings may show iridescent green. The tail is black-brown and the abdomen and undertail coverts are white.

    Females have a gray head with a shaggy crest and thin white eye ring that extends to a thin line behind the eye. The upperparts are gray with gray-black mottling, and the breast and flanks are mottled gray and white in a scaled pattern. The abdomen and undertail coverts are white, and the wings may show an iridescent green-blue patch in good light. For both genders, legs and feet are yellow and eyes are dark. Juveniles resemble females but show more brown coloration and less distinct markings. Species is monotypic.

    Because these birds are popular in captive ornamental collections, additional colorations are often bred for greater exotic appeal. Albino plumages and pale “apricot” variations are the most common, and escaped individuals may be sighted with wild mandarin ducks.

Foods:

Aquatic plants, seeds, insects, nuts, mollusks, small fish (See: Omnivorous)

Habitat and Migration:

These perching ducks prefer wooded habitat near inland lakes and rivers, typically with deciduous trees and brushy cover for adequate shelter. Mandarin ducks are native to eastern Asia and can be found year-round in Japan and Taiwan, with their summer range extending to include eastern Russia and Mongolia. In winter, migratory populations of mandarin ducks can be found in eastern China.

These birds have been widely imported around the world and strong feral populations can be found in many areas of Europe, including the United Kingdom. Feral mandarin ducks are less common but still found in North America, and escapees from domestic collections can turn up worldwide. Captive mandarin ducks are common in zoos and aviaries.

Vocalizations:

These are fairly quiet ducks but do have a short, high-pitched, breathy whistle call and a variety of clucks or clicks that can be used as warnings or calls.

Behavior:

Mandarin ducks are dabbling ducks that are usually solitary or found in small groups, though outside the breeding season they will form mixed flocks with other ducks. They forage actively at dawn and dusk, and in midday are often found resting in shaded areas, possibly perching in trees. Males can be aggressive and fighting is part of their courtship behavior.

Reproduction:

These are monogamous ducks that choose mates through the males’ elaborate courtship rituals that include fighting, preening, head dips and flashing the unique sail feathers at females. While they do not typically mate for life, a mated pair may remain together for several years while renewing their bond annually. As a cavity-nesting species, they prefer vacant woodpecker nest sites or natural tree cavities 20-25 feet above the ground, and the nest is often lined with wood chips, down or grasses.

The female incubates a brood of 8-12 buff-white eggs for 28-30 days, and the precocial young are ready to leave the nest shortly after hatching. After the mother and ducklings leave the nest, they rejoin the father and both parents care for the young for 50-60 days. While the male may fight off intruders or other threats, the female will use distraction displays feigning injury to lead potential predators away from her ducklings.

Attracting Mandarin Ducks:

These are not backyard birds, but can be attracted to scrubby wooded habitat with a sufficient water source. Adding a nesting box can encourage these ducks to nest nearby, and nut-bearing trees can provide a natural food source.

Conservation:

While mandarin ducks are not considered threatened or endangered in any way, they are vulnerable to habitat destruction and poachers that either hunt the birds for their beauty or to export for captivity. Anyone interested in acquiring domestic mandarin ducks should be sure their birds come from a reputable provider.

Similar Birds:

  • Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)
  • Baikal Teal (Anas formosa)

Photo – Mandarin Duck – Male © Tony Hisgett
Photo – Mandarin Duck – Female © Joanne Goldby

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