Sightings of wild Mandarin Ducks in the United States cause quite a stir, and it’s easy to see why. These small but eye-catching waterfowl are, in fact, native to the Far East of Asia, although their popularity as an ornamental species has resulted in their introduction to many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.
Mandarin Ducks rank easily as one of the world’s most distinctive and extravagant bird species. They show strong sexual dimorphism, and as is common among waterfowl, the male is the fairer sex. These are small, upright ducks with shortish necks and bills. They have orange legs with webbed feet and clawed toes.
Males in breeding plumage are covered in an eclectic mix of colors, ranging from pastel peach to metallic violet. Each area of their body seemingly displays a different shade, and the boundaries between each are clearly defined. They have unusual upturned feathers on either side of their lower backs that resemble orange shark fins.
The feathers on the head and neck are dense, creating the appearance of an outsized head, and pointed rufous plumage extends from their cheeks like a bushy red beard. They also have long crown feathers that run down the nape like slicked-back hair and can be raised to form a colorful backward-facing crest.
Female Mandarin Ducks are much more understated - they do not need the burden of showy plumage to attract a partner. They are most likely to be confused with the female Wood Duck. Identifying features include an all-brown back and a pure white belly. Their flanks are brown with large white spots, and they have a hint of red at the base of their bill. Their head is brown, with a white chin, and they have a thin white ring around each eye that runs back toward the nape.
Young ducklings start life with a covering of downy brown and golden feathers. Older juveniles look a lot like adult females, although they are less clearly spotted and duller overall.
Mandarin Duck Male
Mandarin Duck Female
Mandarin Ducks are small waterfowl, about half the weight of a Mallard. Females are smaller than males.
Adults typically measure between 16 and 19 inches long or 41 to 49 centimeters.
They weigh 15 to 24 ½ ounces or 0.43 to 0.69 kilograms.
These birds have a 26.7 to 29.1 inch (68 - 74 cm) wingspan.
Mandarin Ducks Female (left) and Male (right) resting by the edge of a pond
Mandarin ducks are relatively quiet waterfowl, although males produce a weak, cricket-like whistled note during courtship. Females make sharper ‘ack’ and ‘ket’ notes.
Mandarin Duck whistling during courtship
Mandarin Ducks are omnivores that feed on land and in the water. They eat everything from seeds and acorns to frogs and small fish. These dabbling ducks do not dive but will upend to feed on aquatic plants growing under the water.
Mandarin Ducklings are precocial and feed themselves with small insects caught on the ground.
Mandarin Ducks Male (left) and Female (right) feeding by the water
Mandarin Ducks prefer quiet freshwater bodies like ponds, lakes, and rivers with plenty of vegetation in and around the water.
Native to the Far East in Russia, China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, Mandarin Ducks are popular ornamental birds all over the world, and established feral populations occur in both North America and Western Europe.
Mandarin Ducks are ‘all-terrain’ waterfowl that spend their time on the water, on land, or even perched in trees. These birds are partial migrants in their native range, where they have no problem covering hundreds of miles or more in flight.
Wild Mandarin Ducks are a rare sighting in North America, although escaped birds do show up from time to time. A few small feral populations in various states offer the most reliable chance of spotting these spectacular waterfowl out in the wild.
With a wild population of over 14,000 Mandarin Ducks, birdwatchers in the United Kingdom have a much better chance of spotting these beautiful birds.
Female Mandarin Duck walking through grasslands
Zoos and private bird collections are the easiest places to find Mandarin Ducks in most parts of the United States. However, there are small free-flying populations in California and North Carolina.
Apart from the odd sighting in British Columbia and Quebec, Mandarin Ducks are rare birds in Canada. However, they are popular ornamental waterfowl, so escaped individuals could turn up just about anywhere.
Mandarin Ducks are fairly common and widespread in the United Kingdom, particularly from central to south and eastern England. There are also isolated populations in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland.
Mandarin Duck standing on the ice during the winter
Mandarin ducks can live for about ten years. Captive birds usually have a longer lifespan if given good care.
Mandarin Ducks are vulnerable to predators at each stage of their lifecycle. Mammals like mink and otters, and birds of prey like Goshawks and large owl species are their major enemies.
Mandarin Ducks are non-native species in the United States and the United Kingdom. They are not included in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the US but are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the UK. These birds are a second-class protected species in China and are protected by the Wildlife Conservation Act in Taiwan.
Mandarin Ducks are not endangered, although their native wild population is thought to be in decline. The species has a ‘Least Concern’ status on the IUCN Red List.
Family of Mandarin Ducks resting on the river bank
Mandarin Ducks are cavity nesters that use natural holes, woodpecker nests, or artificial nest boxes near water. They nest high above the ground, usually up to about 33 feet (10m). The poor ducklings must jump out of the nest, but they parachute down fairly gently, thanks to their downy feathers.
Mandarin Ducks nest in the spring and summer, producing a single brood each year. They lay their eggs in April in the United Kingdom but may begin as late as July in their native China. The eggs hatch after roughly four weeks, and the young birds fledge about six weeks later.
Mandarin ducks lay glossy, cream-colored eggs that measure 48 to 56 millimeters long and 36 to 38 millimeters wide. They lay a large, single brood that ranges from seven to more than twenty eggs.
Mandarin Ducks form monogamous pair bonds in the winter, and the couple remains together until after the female has laid her eggs. Their close bond has inspired their reputation as a symbol of affection in various Asian cultures.
Pair of Mandarin Ducks standing together in a shallow river
Despite their eye-catching plumage, Mandarin Ducks are shy birds. However, they can stand up for themselves against larger duck species.
Mandarin Ducks are most active in the low light of dusk and dawn. They rest on the ground or on branches and are one of the few ducks that perch in trees, aided by their clawed feet and agile flight.
Mandarin Duck resting on top of a fallen tree trunk
Mandarin Ducks migrate in their native range, moving between Russia and northeastern China in the summer and southeastern China in the winter. They do not usually migrate within North America or Europe.
Mandarin Ducks are not native to the United States of America. Feral populations of these ornamental waterfowl originated from escaped captive birds, but fortunately, they do not seem to be affecting the native nesting Wood Ducks.
Mandarin Ducks are not native to the United Kingdom. The local population has been established since the 1900s and has its roots in escaped or released birds brought over from its native range in the Far East.
Mandarin Duck in-flight during the breeding season
Many ducks and geese hybridize freely with similar species, although the Mandarin Duck is an exception. Even though the two often occur together, this species does not cross-breed with the common Mallard.
The Mandarin Duck ranks high among the world’s most spectacular waterfowl. Males in breeding plumage are prized for their beauty, but these birds are also a traditional symbol of fidelity and devotion.
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
41cm to 49cm
68cm to 74cm
430g to 690g
The Eurasian wigeon is a medium dabbling duck that commonly breeds across northern Europe, and winters further south, including in the British Isles and occasionally in North America. Rare vagrant breeding pairs can be found in the United States, and small breeding grounds have also been established in northern England and Scotland.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
Greater White-Fronted Goose
One of several similar wildfowl species in the Anser genus, Greater White-fronted Geese live up to their name with a distinctive white patch on the front of their face. The species is extremely widespread, although there are several sub-species, each with different breeding and overwintering ranges.
Larger than the Common Scoter this elegant European diving duck spends much of its time at sea and is often seen in company with mixed flocks resting on the water’s surface far out from land.
Tundra Bean Goose
The tundra bean goose is the most common species of bean goose, and breeds on Russian tundra landscapes. Winters are spent grazing on open fields, marshes and agricultural land in western and central Europe and East Asia.
The Tufted Duck is the UK’s most common diving duck and a familiar sight on lakes and ponds across the country. Known for their long, hair-like tufts, these small waterfowl are fairly easy to identify but may be confused with other ducks from the Aythya genus.
Fast and erratic in flight, the Teal is the United Kingdom’s smallest wildfowl species. Despite occurring year-round in low numbers, birdwatchers are most likely to spot these tiny ducks in the winter when large numbers arrive from abroad.
Taiga Bean Goose
Taiga bean geese are a common sight on northern taiga marshes of Siberia and northern Scandinavia in spring and summer, before heading south into Europe each winter. Several hundred individuals spend winters in the UK, with rare vagrant visitors occasionally reported in North America.
One of seven American goose species, the Snow Goose is a noisy migrant that visits the Lower 48 states each winter. These beautiful birds have increased dramatically since the second half of the 20th century.
Despite being only a rare winter visitor to the British Isles, the Smew is one of the countrys most unmistakable and easily identified duck species. Breeding across Central Asia and returning to Western Europe during winter months, smews begin to turn up on inland lakes as well as in coastal regions from November onwards.
One look at the bill of a northern shoveler should be enough to provide you with an accurate species identification: their flattened shovel-like bills are unique among waterfowl and allow them to feed on tiny plankton by sweeping their heads across the water’s surface.
A large colourful duck, often found in coastal areas, the shelduck, is an established breeding waterbird in the UK. British wetlands are also a major wintering ground for the species, hosting up to 30 percent of Europe’s shelduck population each autumn.
A medium-sized diving duck, the greater scaup is known simply as the scaup in Europe, and locally as the ‘bluebill’ in North America. Only a handful of scaup breed in the UK, making it the rarest breeding duck in the British Isles.
A striking and fascinating little diving duck with an unusual courtship display, the Ruddy Duck is a widespread migrant in North America.
Colourful and instantly recognisable diving ducks, red-crested pochards are present in the UK in small numbers, believed to have initially been introduced into the wild from private wildfowl collections. Some breeding does occur in Britain, although the best chance of a sighting comes with the arrival of several hundred migrants each winter.
A speedy migratory wildfowl with a hardcore hairstyle, the Red-breasted Merganser is widespread in coastal and estuarine habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
During the winter the population of this rare resident breeding duck increases by 55 times to that of the summer, with the influx of many thousands of others overwintering, having arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern Pintails are distinctive migratory waterfowl. Drakes in breeding plumage are particularly attractive, although the drabber females and non-breeding males are still identifiable by their long necks and graceful form.
Although the pink-footed goose does not breed in Britain, it is a common winter visitor, with over half a million migrating individuals arriving each autumn from breeding grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard peninsula.
One of the world’s heaviest flying birds, and one of the most beautiful too, the Mute Swan is a majestic waterfowl with a mean reputation.
Instantly recognizable, the Mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck that is familiar to people all over the world. These adaptable waterfowl are the ancestor of the modern domestic duck and are found everywhere from remote wilderness lakes to suburban backyards.
One of the most distinctive duck breeds, thanks to their extended streaming tail feathers, the long-tailed duck is a coastal waterbird that spends winters at sea, foraging for crustaceans in marine waters, after breeding on Arctic tundra landscapes.
The Greylag goose is the largest grey goose from the Anser genus of the Anatidae family of waterbirds. A stout, robust and heavyweight bird, the Greylag goose is the closest wild relative and ancestor to the domestic goose. Greylag geese are distributed across much of Europe and Asia, extending into eastern Russia and China. Most populations migrate, but some are sedentary, including in much of Northern Europe.
Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, the common merganser is the largest of the saw billed fish eating ducks. There are three sub-species with the Eurasian variant frequently known as the Goosander.
Goldeneyes are distinctive diving ducks that thrive in cold environments, breeding in boreal forests across Canada, northern Scandinavia and northern Russia. Only when the lakes and coastal areas on their summer territories begin to freeze over as fall approaches do they begin to head south to milder regions where they spend winter months foraging on inland lakes and around sheltered bays.
The Gargeney is a dabbling duck, slightly smaller than a mallard, and considered a rare breeder in the UK, with just over 100 pairs recorded. A fully migratory species, all garganeys spend winters in southern Africa, leaving breeding grounds as early as July, so your window for spotting one on British waters is only a very brief one.
The Gadwall is a widely distributed dabbling duck of the Anatidae family that breeds in the Northern Hemisphere. This hardy duck breeds as far north as Siberia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and coastal Alaska and is found across both the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large and widespread sea duck that is perhaps best known for its valuable insulating down feathers.
Regarded as being sacred by early Egyptians, this native goose of the African continent was introduced into Europe and elsewhere as an ornamental wildfowl species in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The word scoter is often used to define northern sea ducks. There are six different species of scoter, all of which are monotypic and three of which are confined to North America. The Common Scoter like the Velvet Scoter can only be found in Europe and Asia whilst the Stejneger’s Scoter is a native of Asia alone.
Once decimated through overhunting and habitat destruction, the Canada Goose has rebounded to become one of North America’s most abundant and familiar wildfowl.
A small goose species with a short, stubby bill, the brent goose (or brant, as it is known in North America), breeds in the high Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Siberian Russia and northern Europe’s Arctic islands. Brant spend winters along North America’s Pacific coast, part of the east coast of the US, and in north-western Europe, from the British Isles to Denmark.
A subspecies of the North American tundra swan, Bewick’s swans breed in Siberia and arrive in the UK each autumn. Worrying declines have been observed in the European population in recent years, and today only around 4,350 individuals migrate to the UK each winter.
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