Wildlife Column: Ri se of the striking Mandarin duck

Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.
Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.
I do get quite a few enquiries about the various odd-looking and exotic ducks and geese wenow find across the region.

Of these, the most striking is the Mandarin, a species that has quietly colonised local rivers, lakes and ponds over the last thirty years or so. The Mandarin Duck is widely regarded as the most beautiful duck in the world and with good reason.

Although they are now threatened in their native habitats in south-east Asia, with fewer than 1,000 pairs in each of eastern Russia and China, and around 5,000 pairs in Japan.

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Destruction of forest habitats and exports to collections around the world combined to cause the declines. In Britain, escapees from collections and deliberate releases into the wild have led to a growing population through the twentieth century, with something over 7,000 established by the 1990s. They also occur in the USA and Canada, Ireland, and various other European countries too. The British birds began to arrive in the 1700s, but widespread escapes were mostly in the 1900s particularly in south-east England.

Unusually for ducks, the adult birds, (which live to about six years or so), nest in holes and cavities in trees. They tend to feed dusk and dawn and often shelter along the water’s edge under overhanging branches and shrubbery, or perch on tree branches. Although the males are stunningly striking, the bird is often quite shy and the female, dull, pale brown with white markings, can easily be overlooked. The duck lays around eight to twelve eggs in the nest in a tree hollow in April and the male may defend the brooding female. However, once they hatch then the mother and babies are left to fend for themselves. When the youngsters are ready, the mother has to coax them down from the nest site, which can be quite a leap into the unknown, and they then follow her to the river, lake or pond.

Traditional Chinese culture regards Mandarin Ducks as life-long couples, unlike other most other duck species. They are therefore seen as symbolic of conjugal affection and fidelity. Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues. ??????????????

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