The Mandarin duck, also called Mandarijneend, Mandarinente, or Canard Mandarin, is considered one of the most ornamental (and absolutely stunning!) duck breeds in the world.
These medium-sized wild ducks are closely related to the wood duck and are one of two species in the Aix genus. They are scientifically known as Aix galericulata.
In this blog, we will discuss everything there is to know about this duck breed, which includes:
- History and origin
- Physical characteristics
- Behavior and personality
- Tips in raising
If you’re intrigued about the attractive Mandarin duck, then let’s get right to the facts below!
Mandarin Duck History and Origin
Native to East Asia, particularly China and Japan, these stunning waterfowl have captured the imagination of people around the world for centuries.
The history of the Mandarin duck can be traced back to ancient China, where they were revered for their elegance and symbolism.
Researchers believe that the Mandarin duck first existed in the Pleistocene era, which lasted from approximately 2.58 million years to 11,700 years ago.
In Chinese culture, the Mandarin duck is considered a symbol of love, fidelity, and marital bliss.
It is often associated with the idea of a lifelong, harmonious partnership, making it a popular subject in traditional art and literature.
These birds have a strong pair bond, which is why they’re often used to represent marriages.
During the 18th century, these ducks were introduced to Europe; they quickly became a sensation among the European aristocracy.
We have records that Sir Matthew Barker, a minister and parliamentarian, kept Mandarin Ducks at his home in Richmond in 1745.
European breeders worked diligently to establish breeding populations because of their ornamental value.
One of the most distinctive features of the Mandarin duck is its strikingly colorful plumage, which we’ll cover in the next section.
Emerging in Europe and America
The London Zoo received two bonded Mandarin Duck pairs in 1830–four years later, they successfully bred for the first time.
From 1910 to 1940, people wild-trapped Mandarins and exported them to Europe and the US.
During World War II, their numbers greatly declined, but a few dedicated breeders kept the species alive in North America and Europe.
Now, in modern times, efforts have been made to conserve and protect the Mandarin duck’s natural habitat and populations, as well as to ensure their continued presence in captivity.
These efforts are a testament to the enduring allure and cultural significance of this remarkable bird, which has charmed people for centuries with its captivating history and origin deeply rooted in East Asian traditions.
You can find wild Mandarins in Korea, Japan, China, and eastern Siberia.
Though it is not their native home, a few hundred feral Mandarins live in England, and more are sparsely scattered throughout Eastern Europe.
Mandarin Duck Characteristics and Appearance
These ducks are notable for their strong sexual dimorphism, with males and females displaying markedly different appearances.
Both sexes have purple crests, though the males have much richer shades.
Mandarin ducklings look incredibly similar to wood ducklings and are also close to Mallards.
The visual difference between Mandarin ducklings and Mallard ducklings is the eye stripe.
Mallard ducklings have stripes that extend to the bill; for Mandarin ducklings, it stops at the eye.
Adult Mandarins are sixteen to nineteen inches (16-19 in) long and have a twenty-six to thirty-inch (26-30 in) wingspan.
Male Mandarin Ducks Appearance
Male Mandarin ducks are particularly eye-catching. They boast a flamboyant and intricate array of colors on their plumage.
The most striking feature is their ornate crest of elongated feathers that rise from the back of their heads like a regal crown.
The face is adorned with bold white stripes running across the eyes and neck, contrasting vividly with their deep orange “sideburns.”
Males have petite red bills with “whiskers” to the sides.
Their breast is a mesmerizing blend of deep maroon, purple, and emerald green, while their wings have an iridescent blue patch bordered by white and orange.
The lower body is mostly white, and they sport two slender orange “sails” extending from their backs. The flanks are ruddy.
Males weigh about a pound and a half at full maturity.
Female Mandarin Ducks Appearance
In stark contrast, female Mandarin ducks have a more subdued yet elegant appearance, well-suited for nesting and camouflage.
They lack the flamboyant colors and crests seen in males, instead exhibiting a predominantly mottled brownish-gray plumage with subtle white eye-rings.
Her plumage is more grayish-lavender, and she has a noticeably paler stomach.
She also has a light lavender beak, which is a quick and easy way to instantly tell females apart from males—especially when the males are in a serious molt when they lose a lot of their vibrant feathers.
The understated appearance helps females blend into their surroundings while caring for their nests and hiding their young ducklings.
Despite the subdued colors, female Mandarin ducks possess an innate charm that naturally complements the male’s vibrant flamboyance.
Females weigh about two and a half pounds at full maturity, making them about a pound heavier than their male counterparts.
Mandarin Duck Behavior and Temperament
Mandarin ducks tend to be quite shy and wary around humans.
They prefer to keep their distance from people and are quick to take flight or swim away when approached.
This behavior has made them somewhat elusive in their natural habitats and difficult subjects to study.
With that said, we know that Mandarin ducks are omnivorous and feed on a varied diet that includes aquatic plants, small fish, insects, and crustaceans.
They are often seen dabbling at the water’s surface or upending themselves to reach food below the water. It’s rare to see a Mandarin duck stray far from the water.
While some Mandarin ducks are sedentary and stay in their breeding areas year-round (usually those in warmer climates), others engage in seasonal migrations.
These migrations may be triggered by changes in temperature and the availability of food.
During the non-breeding season, they may move to larger bodies of water in search of suitable habitats.
Breeding and Mating Behavior
Mandarin ducks are highly social birds, often seen in pairs or small groups.
They form strong monogamous bonds during the breeding season, and these pairs often stay together year-round.
Their commitment to their partners is quite remarkable, and they are well-known for their loyalty, often exhibiting affectionate behaviors towards their mates.
During the breeding season, Mandarin ducks become territorial, defending their chosen nesting sites and surrounding areas.
Males may engage in displays of aggression towards other males that encroach upon their territory, which often involves raising their ornate crests and making distinctive mating calls (as seen in the video below).
Mandarin ducks build their nests in tree cavities, often near water bodies.
They are known for their meticulous nest-building skills.
After the female lays a clutch of eggs, both the male and female take turns incubating the eggs and caring for the ducklings once they hatch.
This shared parental responsibility is a noteworthy aspect of their behavior.
Mandarin Duck Purposes
In their native habitats, Mandarin ducks play an important ecological role as part of the local ecosystem.
They contribute to the balance of aquatic ecosystems by consuming various organisms, including aquatic plants, small fish, insects, and crustaceans.
Their foraging activities can help control populations of certain aquatic species and maintain the health of water bodies.
In some regions, Mandarin ducks are considered a conservation priority due to habitat loss and declining populations.
Conservation efforts are aimed at protecting their natural habitats, preserving genetic diversity, and ensuring their continued survival.
These efforts can have broader implications for conserving wetland ecosystems and other species that share their habitat.
For birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts, Mandarin ducks are a favorite subject.
Observing these ducks in their natural habitats or at wildlife reserves can provide a unique and rewarding recreational experience.
Mandarin ducks are highly prized for their striking and colorful plumage. They are often considered living works of art and are admired for their aesthetic beauty.
In many cultures, they are celebrated as symbols of grace and elegance, and their presence in parks, zoos, and wildlife sanctuaries adds to the visual appeal of these places.
Captive breeding programs are established to maintain healthy and genetically diverse populations of Mandarin ducks outside their native range.
They hold a strong cultural significance in various parts of the world, particularly in East Asia.
In Chinese culture, they symbolize love, fidelity, and marital happiness. They are often used as motifs in art, textiles, and ceramics.
In Japan, they are associated with luck and prosperity and are considered a symbol of happiness and enduring love.
Though Mandarin ducks typically don’t have utilitarian purposes like some domesticated fowl, they are valued for their ecological contributions, aesthetic appeal, cultural significance, and recreational value.
Tips for Raising Mandarin Ducks
Raising Mandarin ducks is a tough but rewarding experience if done correctly.
Mandarins do not breed readily in captivity, so you’ll have to provide the best possible life for them as you can.
If you’re interested in breeding and raising Mandarins, you’ll have to learn about Mandarin duck behavior, habitat preferences, and dietary needs.
Thoroughly understanding their natural behaviors will greatly help you provide them with suitable care.
Check local and national regulations regarding the ownership and care of Mandarin ducks, especially if you plan to keep them as pets or in captivity. This should be your first step.
If you’re interested in breeding Mandarin ducks for conservation purposes, consider joining a reputable breeding program or organization specializing in avian conservation.
They can be beneficial in your breeding journey, and they will help you be successful much faster than if you do this alone.
Food and Water
Feed them a well-balanced diet that mimics their natural foraging habits.
Mandarin ducks are omnivorous, so their diet should include a mix of waterfowl pellets, grains, seeds, vegetables, and aquatic plants.
Their diets change every season, with different ratios of food types rotating out depending on availability.
For example, they tend to eat a lot more protein in the spring, thanks to the abundance of small fish and invertebrates available then.
The Rockhampton Zoo feeds their Mandarins a blend of chicken starter crumbles, sprouted finch seed, leafy greens, cracked corn, and an assortment of insects, like crickets and mealworms.
Offer access to clean, fresh water for drinking and bathing every day.
They may also forage for small aquatic creatures, so a pond or shallow water source with natural vegetation is ideal.
Mandarin ducks are social birds and often form strong pair bonds. It’s best to keep them in pairs or small groups to prevent loneliness and stress.
Provide environmental enrichment to prevent boredom and encourage natural behaviors. This can include logs, rocks, and hiding spots in their enclosure.
Provide nesting boxes or suitable cavities for breeding pairs.
Mandarin ducks typically breed in tree cavities, so offering artificial nest boxes can be helpful. You might want to check the video below to get an idea.
The Lifespan of Mandarin Ducks and Mandarin Duck Reproduction
Most Mandarin ducks live six years in the wild or ten years old if in captivity.
Mandarin duck couples (bonded pairs) tend to stay together for several breeding seasons.
During these breeding seasons, they nest in tree holes where they lay about a dozen eggs.
These eggs hatch after the parents take turns sitting on them for thirty days.
Some Mandarin ducks practice nest parasitism, which means they sometimes sneak their eggs into other females’ nests in order to avoid constructing their own nests and incubating the eggs they lay.
Right after the ducklings hatch, they have to jump out of the nesting tree. This is called a brood leap.
Sometimes, this is a massive thirty-foot jump—remarkably, they are seldom harmed and immediately follow their parents to the water to eat.
Mandarin Ducks Conservation Status
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Nature Resources (IUCN) has Mandarin ducks labeled “LC” or Least Concern.
Their numbers are declining, but not at a rate that is an issue yet.
They have a huge home range that they are native to, making it easier for them to adapt to climate change, logging, and the rapid expansion of agriculture and urbanization.
It is estimated that there are 65,000 individual Mandarin ducks in the world.
Where to Find Mandarin Ducks for Sale
Mandarin ducks are available throughout the United States, though they are uncommon.
Here are a few farms where you can order them online, plus their cost at the time of this writing (September 2023).
Don’t forget that you may be able to find local Mandarin ducks for sale through Craigslist, Facebook Groups, eBay, your local newspaper, or your nearby feed store’s bulletin board.
- Murray McMurray Hatcheries has juvenile pairs for $225; individuals are $112.
- Mallard Lane Farms offers Mandarin pairs for $299 for standard pairs or $490 for white pairs.
- Purely Poultry sells standard juvenile pairs for $598 or White Mandarins juvenile pairs for $979.
- California Hatchery has bonded Mandarin pairs for $299.
- Cackle Hatchery offers Mandarin pairs at $450.
FAQ on the Mandarin Duck Breed
How Rare Is the Mandarin Duck?
There are about 65,000 Mandarin ducks in the world. They are labeled as “least concern” regarding their population.
Still, finding domestic Mandarin ducks for sale is not easy. You will have to take your time to look for them.
Do Mandarin Ducks Mate for Life?
Some Mandarin ducks will mate for a few seasons, a few years, or a lifetime. Others will change partners every season.
They are best described as “seasonal monogamists.”
They pair up before the breeding season and stay together for the full season. Then, the females raise the ducklings almost or completely on their own.
Are Mandarin Ducks Hard to Raise?
Mandarin ducks are difficult to find to buy, and they lay small clutches of nine to twelve eggs per year.
Many Mandarin ducks do not take well to captivity, so it could be years before they finally breed and try to hatch eggs.
Generally speaking, Mandarins are difficult to raise.
Final Thoughts on Mandarin Ducks
The Mandarin duck stands as an unforgettable species in the waterfowl world.
Its unique blend of beauty, rich history, and symbolism has enamored people for centuries.
From their role in maintaining aquatic ecosystems to their representation of love and fidelity, Mandarin ducks offer both ecological and cultural value.
Whether in their native habitats or as ornamental birds in captivity, the Mandarin duck continues to inspire awe and appreciation.
Though they are difficult to raise in captivity, they are worth the hard work, both as domestic and wild birds.
Preserving their habitats and understanding their needs is vital to ensure the continued presence of this enchanting breed, a living testament to nature’s artistry.
Are you interested in learning about other duck breeds? You might want to check the articles below!