12 Facts About Mandarin Ducks

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iStock.com/panda3800

Recently, the mysterious appearance of a mandarin duck alongside the native mallards in ponds across Central Park has captivated New York City, with large groups lining up to catch a glimpse (and snap a photo) of the brightly colored bird. It's unclear where he came from—though he has a band on his leg, he doesn't belong to any zoos in the area, which has led some to speculate that he was a pet who either escaped or was dumped by his owner in the park—but one thing is clear. This "hot duck" is taking the internet by storm. Curious about where the mandarin duck is from, what it eats, if you can keep one as a pet, and even what it tastes like? Read on.

1. ITS NAME MEANS "WIGGED DIVING BIRD."

A close-up image of a brightly colored mandarin duck.
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Dubbed Aix galericulata by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, the Aix in the mandarin duck's scientific name is Greek for an unknown diving bird mentioned by Aristotle. The galericulata is something like "wig" or "cap" and references the bright breeding plumage on the male’s head.

2. IT'S NOT AS EXOTIC AS YOU MIGHT THINK.

A mandarin duck swimming.
iStock.com/MikeLane45

The native breeding area of the mandarin duck is eastern Siberia, Japan, China, and parts of North Korea, and they overwinter in southern China and Japan. But according to the citizen science website eBird, mandarin ducks have been spotted in multiple sites on the west coast of America—there's a growing population of the birds in California—and are present in Florida and a few other isolated areas. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission notes that “Species are present but not confirmed to be breeding. Population persists only with repeated introductions and/or escapes of individuals.”

They’re much more common in Europe, especially southeast England, which has an estimated population of around 7000 individuals. The ducks were mostly released in the early 20th century, although there are records of introductions as early as 1745 [PDF]. They've also been found in other parts of Europe, Israel, and Africa (although, as in Florida, some of these populations are escaped ornamental birds that aren't necessarily breeding on their own [PDF]).

3. MANDARIN DUCKS AREN'T DOING WELL IN THEIR NATIVE TERRITORY.

An image of a female and a male mandarin duck.
iStock.com/thawats

Sadly, they're threatened by severe habitat loss across their native range and have a global population of around 65,000 individuals. As a result, the European population is often considered important for the species survival. Officially, however, the bird is classed as "Least Concern" by the IUCN.

4. IT HAS DEEP MEANING IN MANY EAST ASIAN CULTURES.

A male and female mandarin duck touching beaks.
iStock.com/huanglin

It's thought that the first reference to mandarin ducks was from the time of Confucius, where they were name-dropped in a song. They're also significant in Buddhism, where there are references to their compassion and, most significantly, their marital loyalty. Multiple legends in Japan refer to a male and female mandarin duck getting separated and using supernatural means (such as transforming into humans) to be reunited.

5. THEY HAVE AN AMERICAN COUSIN.

A female and a male American Wood Duck standing on a rock.
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Mandarin ducks belong to the genus Aix, alongside the American wood duck. They're both hole-nesting ducks with brightly colored males. But perhaps most surprisingly for ducks, they have claws. The claws allow them to perch on branches, and in the case of baby mandarin ducks, one paper says that when they're as young as one day old, they can dig those claws into wood, then leap half a foot, and then dig in the other claw [PDF].

6. MALE AND FEMALE MANDARIN DUCKS LOOK A LOT DIFFERENT.

A male and a female mandarin duck sitting on a rock.
iStock.com/Westbury

The male mandarin duck is extremely easy to identify. Considered one of the prettiest birds, it has orange, green, white, blue-ish, and black feathers, some of which curl up into a "sail" shape. (However, in eclipse plumage—a set of feathers sported by the ducks when it's not the mating season—the male is a much more standard gray.)

Female mandarin ducks are nowhere near as distinctive, and it can often be difficult to distinguish them from the closely related native female wood ducks (the males look completely different) [PDF]. Female mandarin ducks are gray but have a pale tip at the bill and a stripe behind the eye.

7. THEY HAVE ELABORATE COURTSHIP RITUALS.

A male mandarin duck with its beak open.
iStock.com/abzerit

Mandarin duck courtship rituals are, as is probably expected from their plumage, impressive affairs. They mock drink and mock preen, they shake, and emit a sound that one researcher likened to "a half-repressed sneeze." Most of the rest of the time they're rarely vocal, with the occasional "staccato hwick or uib uib" from the male and a "coquette call" from the female.

As for their famous monogamy, it’s thought to derive from observations of their frequent courtship displays and frequent ejection of intruders. In reality, they likely are monogamous for at least several years, although bigamy/polygamy is not unheard of.

8. THE YOUNG LEAP OUT OF TREES.

A male mandarin duck from above.
iStock.com/darek000

The natural nesting habitat of mandarin ducks is in tree holes, which can sometimes be up to 30 feet off the ground. The bird lays nine to 12 white eggs that are incubated for around a month. When the eggs hatch (which occurs within a few hours of each other), the ducklings start to crawl out of the nest. To get out of the tree and—eventually—into the water, the baby bird flings itself out of the hole and free-falls to the ground below (often with a little bounce). According to mandarin duck scholar Christopher Lever, "The female stands at the base of the tree with her head pointing upwards, uttering a soft encouraging call to her offspring."

9. IT'S NOT VERY TASTY.

A male mandarin duck cleaning its feathers.
iStock.com/anipecosa

It's widely said that one of the factors that has allowed mandarin ducks to survive in east Asia is their taste—which is not particularly nice. Christopher Lever quotes an authority as saying, "Mandarin duck in China are rather dirty feeders, often eating snails, small mice, fish spawn, etc., and consequently are well known to have an unpleasant taste."

10. MANDARIN DUCKS CAN HELP YOUR FENG SHUI.

A male mandarin duck standing on a rock in a pond.
iStock.com/MGTS

Feng Shui is a traditional Chinese method of balancing energy forces, and a large part of some schools involves placing certain objects to match and harness that energy. Many modern Feng Shui practitioners claim that, because of their association with love and monogamy, having a pair of mandarin duck figurines can attract and enhance love. Practitioners advise placing the figurines so they either face each other or the same direction. Never separate them, and if one breaks, the entire pair should be replaced.

11. YOU CAN BUY ONE.

A male mandarin duck sleeping.
iStock.com/PanuRuangjan

Mandarin ducks are very popular pets; in fact, according to one report from the Netherlands, they're "by far the most popular duck kept in private collections" in that region [PDF]. They're considered easy to keep, but just because you can buy one doesn't mean it's legal to have one: In New York, for instance, it's illegal to keep a duck as a pet (alongside bears, cobras, whales, and many other creatures).

12. IT MIGHT POSE A THREAT TO NATIVE SPECIES.

A male mandarin duck and a male American wood duck.
iStock.com/Devonyu

Paul Sweet, ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, tweeted that it was possible that mandarin ducks could become established and compete with native wood ducks. Little research has been done on mandarin ducks in the United States, but a recent report from the Netherlands suggests that there might be cause for concern [PDF]. There is some evidence that they destroy the eggs of other birds in a lab setting, although the extent of this behavior in the wild is unclear. They're also known to drive other birds away from food—although again, their impact is unknown. As for hybridizing, there’s a myth that they can’t reproduce with other birds. While crosses with other ducks are rare for mandarins, there have been reports in Europe of birds appearing that seem to be mixes of introduced mandarin ducks and introduced American wood ducks.

The Tower of London Welcomes New Baby Ravens for the First Time in 30 Years

Some of the baby ravens born at the Tower of London
Some of the baby ravens born at the Tower of London
Tower of London Twitter (screenshot)

There are some new residents at the Tower of London. They're only about 11 inches tall, are very noisy, and eat rats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fortunately, they're also adorable—not to mention protected by legend.

On May 17, the Tower of London announced that their breeding pair of ravens, Huginn and Muninn, had welcomed four healthy chicks, the first born at the Tower since 1989. The ravens are part of an unkindness that's been located at the Tower for centuries as a sort of protective asset. According to legend, the Tower must always have ravens, or both the Tower and the kingdom will fall. It's not exactly clear when the legend began, but according to the Tower, Charles II decreed there must always be six ravens present.

Huginn and Muninn are newer additions, having arrived at the Tower in late 2018, and they weren't expected to breed this spring. So it was a surprise in mid-April when the devoted Tower Ravenmaster, Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife, noticed something exciting going on. "My suspicions were first piqued that we might have a chance of baby chicks when the parents built a huge nest suddenly overnight and then almost immediately the female bird started to sit on it," Skaife said in a Tower press release. On April 23, Skaife noticed the birds flying to the nest with food, but it was only this week he was able to get close enough to see the four healthy chicks. The sight delighted him: "Having worked with the ravens here at the Tower for the last 13 years and getting to know each of them, I feel like a proud father!"

The chicks have grown quickly, already quadrupling in size since they were born, and eat a diet of quail, rats, and mice the Ravenmaster provides. The raven parents have an egalitarian feeding arrangement: Huginn, the male, preps the food and passes it to Muninn, the female, who feeds it to her tiny chicks.

The plan is for one of the chicks to stay at the Tower and join the rest of the ravens there. "As the ravens started to hatch on the 23 April, St. George’s Day, the raven that will be staying at the Tower will be called George or Georgina in honor of the occasion," the Tower explained in a press release. According to The Telegraph, the breeding program at the Tower kicked off in response to a decline in the number of legal raven breeders in the UK.

The last raven chick born at the Tower was Ronald Raven, born May 1, 1989. In his 2018 book, The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London, Skaife wrote that "a baby raven looks a bit like a grotesque miniature gargoyle, but then you see them grow and develop ... It really is wonderful."

The baby ravens born at the Tower of London in 2019
The baby ravens born at the Tower of London in 2019 making some noise
Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife

Dozens of Donkeys, Mini-Donkeys, and Baby Donkeys Are Looking for New Homes

iStock.com/huggy1
iStock.com/huggy1

Cats and dogs aren't the only rescue animals that need permanent homes. At the Humane Society of North Texas (HSNT), there are over 60 donkeys, miniature donkeys, baby donkeys, and Thoroughbred horses up for adoption, the Cleburne Times-Review reports.

Many of the equines at HSNT's ranch in Joshua, Texas came from owners who had to give them up, and others were transferred from different animal rescue groups. As part of the ASPCA’s Help A Horse Home Challenge, HSNT is hosting events to help find new homes for its horses and donkeys.

Between April 26 and June 30 this year, the ASPCA is challenging equine organizations to adopt out as many animals as they can. The groups that see the biggest increases in adoptions between this year and last year's Help A Horse Home Challenge will share $150,000 in grant funding. On May 18 and June 8, HSNT is holding open houses at its ranch for anyone interested in adopting an animal. The events will also be used as opportunities to educate the public about the demands of equine ownership.

If you're not free to swing by one of HSNT's open houses, you can still apply to adopt a horse or donkey. Interested owners can fill out and submit this form [PDF] to equine@hsnt.org. And if you'd like to spend time with baby and mini-donkeys without taking one home, HSNT is also looking for volunteers.

[h/t Cleburne Times-Review]

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