Be Your Own Birder

Discover the Mandarin Duck

Many ducks have gorgeous plumage and unusual feathers, and none is more spectacular and stunning than the Mandarin duck. But there’s much more to know about this beautiful duck than just its beautiful plumage!

Male Mandarin Duck - Photo by Mike Beaumont
Male Mandarin Duck – Photo by Mike Beaumont

Mandarin Duck Fun Facts

  • The Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) belongs to the Anatidae bird family, along with all other ducks, geese, and swans in the world. Its closest relative is the wood duck (Aix sponsa) of North America, which has equally stunning plumage and markings.
  • Like many ducks, male and female Mandarin ducks look dramatically different. Males have brighter colors and specialized “sail” feathers during the breeding season, while females are more muted so they are better camouflaged while nesting.
  • The stunning, elegant plumage of the male Mandarin duck has made it a favorite for artists. These birds are widely depicted in Asian art, including paintings, drawings, and sculptures.
  • The Mandarin duck is native to parts of Asia and is seen year-round in Japan and Taiwan. On the Asian continent, the Mandarin duck has both breeding regions in parts of northern North Korea, northeastern China, and southeastern Russia, as well as non-breeding regions in eastern China.
  • In addition to their native range, Mandarin ducks have also been widely introduced in western Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany. Small populations are also found in California and North Carolina in the United States. Because of their beauty, these ducks are also popular in zoos, aviaries, and private collections around the world.
  • Mandarin ducks are classified as perching ducks. They have longer talons than many other ducks, and perch well in trees. These ducks often prefer wooded habitats alongside lakes, rivers, or streams, and they will nest and roost in trees.
  • These ducks are monogamous and mate for several seasons, with some pairs remaining bonded for life. Because of that relationship fidelity, Mandarin ducks are a symbol of everlasting love and commitment in many Asian cultures, particularly in China and Korea.
  • Though many beautiful birds have long histories of hunting and persecution by feather collectors and fashionistas, Mandarin ducks aren’t typically hunted because their meat is not palatable. The unpleasant taste is due to the birds’ “dirty” diet that includes snails, slugs, fish, and worms, as well as nuts, rice, and grain.
  • Mandarin ducks have a genetic anomaly in their chromosomes, making it impossible for these birds to hybridize with any other duck species.
Mandarin Duck Female - Photo by Mike Prince
Mandarin Duck Female – Photo by Mike Prince

Adding the Mandarin Duck to Your Life List

These ducks are easy to add to your life list if you visit wooded riparian habitats alongside rivers and lakes in their native range, particularly where nut-bearing trees are present to provide adequate food. Depending on how you keep your life list, you might also add sightings of these birds in areas where they have been introduced or where escaped birds may make new homes. Watch for the ducks swimming near waterway edges, often in pairs, or look for adults perched in trees, especially near hollow trees that make good nesting sites. If you enjoy birding in zoos, you may also see Mandarin ducks as part of captive collections.

Learn More About the Mandarin Duck

The beauty of this duck has inspired a great deal of study, and the following resources are a great start to learn more about the mandarin duck.

Mandarin Drake - Photo by Mike Prince
Mandarin Drake – Photo by Mike Prince

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