Mandarin

Aix galericulata

41-49cm

Appearance

The Mandarin, with its display of contrasts and colours, is a spectacle of British birds. It is plump and its head is large, though its bill is small. For most of the year the male has his colours displayed in tufts and plumes; an orange, white, greenish and brown mane, a green and purple crest, orange plumes rising from his cheeks, and orange feathers reminiscent of boat sails on his back. He has a purple breast, orange-brownish flanks and a dark back. Some details in his pattern include a thick, pale section from eye to nape, a white ring around his eye, vertical stripes down his dark breast and a bright red bill with a pale tip. The female is distinctive too, though she does not have the same elaborateness. She has a white eye ring and stripe which is compared to a pair of glasses; she's grey-brown with spotted flanks. Her bill is small and dull pink with a pale tip, and she's white around the bill and throat. In flight, the Mandarin has dark wings with a white edge and the pale belly is visible. The juvenile bird is like the adult female, though its markings are less distinct.

Habitat

The Mandarin can be found in the wild, in bird collections, and as an ornamental duck in parks. It breeds in wooded edges of lakes and rivers in lowland territory, especially where branches overhang water. This bird particularly likes lakes surrounded by rhododendron.

Character

Can often be seen on fallen tree trunks or on branches dangling over water. It's an agile bird who takes off easily from water and is a rapid flier. It swims with its body high in water, up-ending only occasionally.

Food

An omnivorous bird, feeding on aquatic insects in spring and summer. It's primarily vegetarian at other times with a diet of seeds and nuts, particularly acorns in autumn.

Breeding

In Britain, Mandarins begin breeding in mid-April. The preferred nest-site is a hole in a tree, often an oak, usually up off the ground to a height of 10m. The female lays 9-12 eggs into a cup of feathers, and she incubates them for about 28 days. The male sometimes roosts nearby. The young leave the nest soon after hatching and can feed themselves. They fly after 40 days and can begin breeding when they're 1 year old.

Population

Originates from China and the Far East. It's been a popular bird in captivity for a long time; some were deliberately released while others escaped to make what is now a stable population. Feral Mandarins in Britain probably outnumber their numbers in the wild. The population in Britain are predominately sedentary, but in Asia (excluding Japan), Mandarins are migratory. There are approximately 7000 Mandarins in Britain.

Observation Tips

Present in most wildfowl populations and can sometimes be found on duck ponds in villages, too. For more natural circumstances, Virginia Water in Windsor Great Park is a good place to look.

Voice

A quiet bird, but displaying males have a soft whistle. The female often utters a gentle croak in flight.
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