This is one of a series presented by the National Aviary. The National Aviary works to inspire respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.
Considered amongst the most beautifully colored of all waterfowl, the male mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) is a prime example of how birds may change appearance specifically for attracting mates. In the spring, male mandarin ducks develop bright, colorful plumage, including bright orange "sails," the majority of which they molt and do not re-grow until sometime in the fall.
The male mandarin duck has a red bill, a large white crescent above the eye, a reddish face and "whiskers." The breast is purple with two vertical white bars, and the flanks are ruddy, with two orange "sails" at the back. The female is similar to the female wood duck, with a white eye ring and stripe running back from the eye, but it is paler below, has a small white flank stripe, and a pale tip to its bill. Mandarin ducklings are almost identical in look to wood ducklings and appear very similar to mallard ducklings. But the eye stripe of mandarin ducklings stops at the eye, while in mallard ducklings it reaches all the way to the bill
In addition to the male's colorful plumage, mandarin ducks have an elaborate courtship display involving whistling calls, raising of crests and sail feathers, head bobbing and display preening. Unlike many other duck species, most male mandarin ducks remain with their mates and ducklings after the eggs have hatched and assist in their raising.
Mandarin ducks were once widespread in eastern Asia, but exports of the bird and the destruction of its forest habitat have reduced populations in eastern Russia and China to less than 1,000 pairs in each country. Japan, however, is thought to still be home to more than 5,000 pairs.
Ducks in captivity have been known to escape from private waterfowl collections. In the 20th century, a large feral population was established in Great Britain. There are now approximately 7,000 in Britain with other populations on the European continent.
In the United State, Black Mountain, N.C., has a feral population of Mandarin Ducks, as does Sonoma County, Calif., the result of mandarin ducks escaping captivity and breeding.
First Published February 8, 2012 5:00 AM