Here is my For the Birds column that ran Thursday in The Hour (Norwalk, CT) and will run this Monday in the Keene (NH) Sentinel. It is about an interesting sighting I had in Stamford, CT, early this week. As always, feel free to share your sightings by clicking “contact me” above.
Don’t forget tomorrow’s BirdCallsRadio show with Lloyd Spitalnik as guest. Thanks for your support of BirdCallsRadio.
It was a first for me, that’s for sure.
Earlier this week I came across my first “wild” Mandarin Duck in New England. A pair was sitting on the retaining wall near Holly Pond in Stamford. I’ve seen plenty of Muscovy Ducks, but never before had I seen a Mandarin Duck.
Muscovy Ducks are common on ponds and escapees often are found in the wild. I saw a very tame Muscovy Duck at Wood’s Pond in Norwalk a few years ago.
Mandarin Ducks, on the other hand, are seldom seen on the East Coast. They are native to China and other parts of Asia. There is, from what I’ve read, a “wild” population in Sonoma County, California. Those ducks were released after being transported to the United States.
I knew they were Mandarin Ducks the second I saw them. Nothing else looks like a Mandarin Duck. Well, our native Wood Duck is a relative and looks somewhat similar. I’ve often described Wood Ducks as being “gaudy” with their variety of flashy colors. Mandarin Ducks are even more gaudy.
Most field guides in the U.S. do not even offer an entry for the Mandarin Duck because they are not native and therefore many birdwatchers have little interest in the species. But, despite a lack of attention given to the duck, you’d know one when you saw it.
The male is strikingly ornamental — which is why they are sought after for farms and zoos. They have red bills, a large white crescent running from the front of the head to the back of the neck and a reddish-orange face, complete with feathers that look like whiskers. The back of the neck is blue. Their bodies are just as colorful and varied — even more so than a Wood Duck’s. Pewter, brown, blue, purple, white and black are some of the colors featured on this beautiful bird.
Females are much more dull with mostly muted browns and grays — similar to female Wood Ducks.
So why is the New England birding world not jumping up and down over this bird in Stamford? Well, as mentioned previously, Mandarin Ducks are not native to the U.S. and these birds are likely escapees from a farm or zoo somewhere. The male had a band on its right leg. In fact, seeing these birds would not add another notch to a birdwatcher’s official state list as they are not native to the region.
Official or not, I’m glad I got to see the ducks here in New England. I’ve probably seen them before in zoos, but didn’t pay them a lot of mind. Seeing one in the “wild” though was a different experience.