Over 120 types of ducks live around the world, but the most beautiful has to be the mandarin duck.
The males have beautiful, colorful plumage sure to catch the eye. However, their populations are on the decline. Still, people around the world love them for their ornamental nature.
In fact, mandarin ducks are highly regarded in Asian culture as a symbol of love and loyalty.
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What Do We Call Them?
The mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) is also known as “yuangyang” by the Chinese.
The Story Of Ying Mei & Yuan Ge
The Chinese call mandarin ducks “yuanyang,” which refers to a “striking” couple. The male and female ducks look so different, that it’s also used to describe an “odd” or “unlikely” couple.
In fact, the story behind “yuanyang” deals with an unlikely couple. It is the love story of a gardener, Yuan Ge, and an official’s daughter, Ying Mei. Yuan Ge was hired by the girl’s father to do some yard work.
One day, during a festival, Ying Mei found herself in distress in a lotus pond. Yuan Ge jumped in to save her, but the girl’s father misconstrued his intentions. He locked Yuan Ge up for trying to take advantage of his daughter.
One night, Ying Mei visited Yuan Ge in prison to give him a beautiful, colorful robe. The guards saw this and told her father, who became very angry.
He ordered Yuan Ge to be thrown into the pond with stones tied to his feet. Distressed and heartbroken, Ying Mei jumped into the pond after Yuan Ge to be with him.
A few days later, a pair of beautiful mandarin ducks were swimming around the pond. The male was beautiful in color, like the robe that Ying Mei had gifted to Yuan Ge.
Because of those beautiful colors, the people believed the couple had taken the form of the two birds.
What Do They Look Like?
Mandarin ducks are sexually dimorphic. This means you can tell the difference between males and females by looking at them.
Like most birds, the males are very colorful. Their chest is a deep purple color with white and black stripes. Their wings are dark brown with an edge of blue-green feathers. They have large “sail fins” that peak over the top of their wings. They also have a large crown of brown and white feathers.
You’ll also notice that their cheeks have a streak of bright orange. Their beaks are bright red tipped with a small spot of white.
Having a very colorful body allows them to attract females. During mating season, females choose the most colorful male to mate with.
The females are much more subdued in coloration. Most of their body is a dull brown-black color, but they have some white markings around the eyes and throat. Their bill is also much duller in color compared to the males.
Both sexes have flat and thin webbed feet that make for easy swimming.
During flight, both sexes display beautiful iridescent colors of blue and green.
They are moderately-sized ducks. Their body length averages about 17.7in (45cm) with a wingspan of about 27.9in (71cm). Their weight averages about 1.15-1.39lbs (520-630g).
Mandarin Chick Coloration
Mandarin duck chicks are also very subdued in coloration.
In fact, they look very similar to the chicks of other species of ducks. Their back, wings, and chest are a combination of mottled brown and yellow. Their face is yellow with a streak of brown over their crown.
You’ll also notice a thin brown line running from the back of their eye to the back of their head.
White Mandarin Ducks
In captivity, you can also see a variety of color mutations among mandarin ducks.
The most common of these mutations is the white mandarin duck. This mutation probably came from constantly breeding related birds and selective breeding. Still, the exact cause of the mutation is unknown.
As the name suggests, these birds are mostly white, some more than others. Many white mandarin ducks have similar markings as “normal” mandarin ducks, just subdued.
A medium-brown coloration goes across their crest, chest, and parts of their wings and back. Other white mandarins are all white with just a hint of brown on their chest or wings.
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Where Can We Find Them?
These ducks live natively across eastern Russia, China, Japan, and Siberia. Over winter, they will fly to southern China and Japan, where it’s slightly warmer.
You can also find them across parts of Western Europe, but they are not native to that region.
Where Do They Live?
Mandarin ducks prefer to live in temperate forests and wetland habitats. They insist on living close to the water, often choosing to nest right over the top of a body of water. They are often near rivers, streams, lakes, marshes, swamps, and bogs.
Most of their habitat area resides at about sea level. But some populations may live as high up as 5,000 ft (1,524m) above sea level.
It is also common to see these ducks in suburban areas, hanging out in towns, in parks, and in people’s gardens.
What Do They Eat?
Mandarin ducks are omnivores and feed on various plant and animal materials. Their favorite meals include seeds, small fruit, acorns, snails, insects, and small fish.
Most of the year, they rely more heavily on plant matter for most of their diet. They dine more heavily on small animals during the spring and summer.
How Do They Behave?
Most of the time, mandarin ducks are social animals, forming large flocks to forage and travel. They break off into pairs only during the breeding season.
In the far east, where the ducks are native, they make long migrations over winter. They can fly as far as 500 miles (804.7m) in under 24 hours.
They’re non-native to western Europe but they are a shy species. They don’t cause much of a disturbance and prefer to hide in the shade of overhanging willow trees.
Because the European population was introduced, most birds did not migrate. Instead, they choose to stay in the same general area their whole life.
Mandarin ducks are also considered “perching” ducks. They love being high up in trees. “Perching ducks” describes a special group of ducks, including wood ducks.
Mandarin ducks communicate through a series of sharp “quacks” and high-pitched whistles.
How Do They Reproduce?
Mandarin ducks often choose to remain with the same partner. They stay with each other throughout several breeding seasons.
Females are attracted to a male based on his bright colors, but it’s actually the female that does the courting. Their courtship display is very impressive and includes shaking and mock drinking.
The actual act of mating between ducks can become quite violent and unpleasant. Mating takes place in the water, where the male will mount the female.
Unlike most birds, female ducks have a vaginal opening, and male ducks have a penis. The male will insert his penis into the vaginal opening to deposit his sperm.
But, many times, this act is unwanted by the female. Unwanted mating is a huge problem among ducks. So much so that females have evolved a twisting vaginal opening. This makes it more difficult for the male to insert his penis.
In response, male ducks have developed a corkscrew-shaped penis. It’s meant to make entry easier.
When they are ready to mate, they find a treehole to build their nest. The female ultimately chooses the nesting site, but the male will go with her in the search. They prefer to stay high aboveground where it’s safest, often finding holes over 30ft (9.14m) off the ground.
To prepare for her eggs, the mother lines the nesting hole with down. She will then lay between 9-12 eggs. She lays one egg every day until she’s laid every egg. The eggs look like standard duck eggs, oval in shape and white in color.
Once the mother has laid her eggs, she incubates them for about 28-30 days. She spends about 80% of her time incubating her eggs and receives no help from the male. She spends the other 20% of her time searching for food for herself.
Once they begin to hatch, all the chicks will emerge within a few hours of each other.
Raising the Offspring
Although they often stay with the same partner, males do not help incubate the eggs in the nest.
Once they hatch, the ducklings will immediately leave the nest. They do so at the beckoning of their mother.
The way in which mandarin duck chicks reach the ground may seem alarming. But it’s actually quite common for most bird species.
The mother starts by calling out to her chicks. In response, they leap from their nest high up in the tree.
Once the mother has coaxed her young to the ground, they will make their way to the nearby water. Parents often builds the nest in a tree overhanging water, so it’s never a long journey. Once they’ve made their way to the water, the father will return to the family to protect his young chicks.
The chicks will stay with their parents for about 6-8 weeks until they learn to fly. They will then leave their parents to go off on their own or join a new flock. Still, they will not reach sexual maturity until about one year of age.
How Long Do They Live?
Mandarin ducks have a moderate lifespan, usually living to about 6 years of age in the wild. When kept in captivity, they may live for up to 10 years.
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How Many Are Left?
Researchers estimate that there are about 66,000 individuals left in the wild. They are not a threatened species. As of today, the IUCN lists them as a “least concern.”
Although they aren’t considered endangered, their population is declining.
One reason these ducks are not threatened is that they aren’t hunted by humans for food. People say their meat tastes bad, so this has played a large role in their survival.
Threats & Predators
Although their populations are not threatened, they do face danger from habitat destruction.
In 1911, the Tung Ling forest was cleared for settlement. By 1928, few areas remained that were adequate for breeding. Today, their populations continue to decline due to the loss of their ideal habitat.
Although these ducks aren’t ideal for eating, they are still in danger of capture. Because of their beautiful plumage, they are popular animals kept as pets and as trophies. People illegally capture these animals to sell them to different countries.
Despite this, they don’t make very good pets. They’re not very friendly, and they’re more difficult to breed than other duck species. Because of this, no one has domesticated mandarin ducks. Still, people do choose to keep them as pets.
Predators vary depending on the region in which the ducks are living. Some predators include minks, raccoons, dogs, otters, polecats, grass snakes, and Eurasian eagle-owls.
What Role Do They Play in the Environment?
Mandarin ducks do not play a significant role in the environment. But they do make an important prey source for other animals.
Even in western Europe, where they’re non-native, they don’t really threaten the ecosystem.
Mandarin Ducks in Asian Culture
Mandarin ducks are held in high regard in both Chinese and Japanese culture.
They are a symbol of loyalty and love. They also symbolize eternal love that began its roots in the unlikely couple of Ying Mei and Yuan Ge. Because of this, mandarin ducks are often used for decorating weddings.
Mandarin Ducks in Feng Shui
Feng shui came about in ancient China. It is a metaphysical system that incorporates various symbols. These symbols invite certain energies into the home.
Feng shui centers around connecting with nature. The Chinese use the natural world to inspire their daily life.
One of the symbols used in feng shui is the mandarin duck. Mandarin ducks are a symbol of marital happiness and fidelity across Asian culture. Because of this, the symbol usually comes in pairs.
When a couple gets married, they receive unlimited amounts of “life force energy” called “qi.” It is also traditional for the couple to be gifted a pair of mandarin ducks on their wedding day.
The symbol of the mandarin duck is often found in pieces of artwork. They may appear on textiles, screens, vases, and figurines. It is often paired with other symbols like the “double happiness” symbol for joy. You may also see it paired with the “lotus” symbol or peace.
What Is the Difference Between a Mandarin Duck and a Wood Duck?
Although they are different birds, the mandarin duck and the wood duck are often confused. The two species are closely related. They both nest in trees and prefer to spend their time in quiet and still waters.
Both mandarin and wood ducks look very similar. But the males have distinctive color differences. Male mandarin ducks are brighter and more striking than wood ducks.
The females of both species look almost identical and are difficult to distinguish. The most noticeable difference is the white around the eyes. The white coloration is larger on the female wood duck. It is thinner on a mandarin duck and more looks more like eyeliner.
How rare is a mandarin duck?
The mandarin duck is a relatively rare bird. There is an estimated population of just 66,000 individuals. Their natural populations are only found across parts of Russia, China, and Japan. However, some small populations have been introduced to western Europe.
Are mandarin ducks expensive?
Due to their small population and beautiful colors, mandarin ducks can be expensive.
Most hatcheries across the United States sell them for an average of $100-600 per duck. The rarer white mandarin duck will cost you more, with an average cost of $600 per bird.
Can you eat mandarin duck eggs?
Mandarin duck eggs are as safe to eat as any other kind of duck egg. But there doesn’t seem to be any resources saying whether they taste good.
Unlike more common duck species, the meat of mandarin ducks tastes terrible. So it’s possible that their eggs may taste terrible as well.
Can you keep mandarin ducks as pets?
Mandarin ducks are not the best pets because they’re not very friendly. You cannot use them for meat, and it’s difficult to use them for egg production. Because of this, people who own them do so simply for their ornamental value.