I fell in love with Mandarin ducks three years ago. They are different from the domestic Welch Harlequins, Black East Indies and Blue Runners I raised. They are beautiful in flight. Their voices are the familiar voices of wild birds, not quacking of farm ducks. The males whistle in everyday expression. When they are courting in spring, to win the prized female, they stretch their necks as high as they can, then lower it swiftly releasing a sound much like a human burp. This action is their most virile attempt to show the hen they are the best mate. The female voice sounds, to me, close to the cooing of pigeons.
The Asian native males are stunning birds. They are similar to the familiar Wood ducks of North America. Mandarins, in their nuptial plumage, possess “sails,” which arise on each side near the tail, and vary in color from a dark beige to bright orange. The dark brown and white body feathers are broken by a patch of grey-to-light brown on each side. Their white- trimmed flight feathers crisscross above brown tail feathers. The “hoods” on their heads are dark brown-to-auburn. Eyes are accented by white matching the white of their bellies. Vertical orange feathering frames the face and covers the neck. Their beaks are bright red. This beautiful arrangement disappears after spring mating and during summer molt they are hard to distinguish from females. They remind me of a Picasso painting. Of course, I named my first male Picasso.
The females are plain in appearance. They are still beautiful ducks. The faces are grey. Breasts and sides are brown with tan speckling. Eyes are encircled in white with a straight white line running back toward the neck. The hoods are grey. The flight feathers are white-trimmed and crisscross over dark brown tail feathers. Bellies are white. An iridescent blue paints the midsection of the flight feathers. The dorsal feathers are brown.
In the wild the female finds a hollow in a tree, sometimes as high as 70 feet, to make her nest. They average laying 8-12 eggs. The gestation period is 30 days. The ducklings are ready, on the second day, to climb up out of the hollow and jump. They fall unharmed to the ground. Mother is waiting below, calling, until the last one makes it down. With amazing speed the little ones run to the lake behind her. I provide an appropriate nesting box, attached to a 4X4 post, about 4 feet off the ground.
Picasso never sired a duckling. His first year he was swimming on their 120-gallon pond when somehow his penis was caught in a very small slit-like break at the upper edge of the thick prefabricated pond. Sometime later I found him with his penis stretched out about 3 1/2 feet. He was waiting to be rescued. It took some very delicate maneuvering but I was able to set him free. The damage was done and it eventually dried up and dropped off. Fortunately he grew another. He and his wife, Jackie, mated but unfortunately had no offspring. A predator broke in and nearly wiped out all my ducks the next winter. Picasso was one of them.
Last November I drove to Waco, Texas and bought a new husband for Jackie. His name is Jack. They wasted very little time bonding and this past spring Jackie laid 8 eggs. All of them hatched. Three fell victim to accidents by the second day. I now have 5 nine-week-old juveniles. Only one I can tell is a female. Her bill is black. I won’t be certain as to the sex of the others until it’s time for nuptial feathers, probably November. I know how to check the sex vent. I’ve gained trust and they come up to me easily. I don’t want to violate trust for the sake of knowing what sex they are now. I’ll know soon enough. That will allow me to trade appropriately with another owner of Mandarins to avoid inbreeding.
My Mandarins are my therapy. I go out every evening, at six o’clock, providing fresh food, water, and treats. I watch them as they dive down and popup from the water; flap their wings; get out and dry off; fly out around the pen; and dive back down in the pond again. They dabble for worms, slugs, or whatever other invertebrate they can find in the mud I provide. Usually there is a chase after the first one uncovers a treasured snack. Eating on the run is literal with them.
Below is a clip of brand new ducklings jumping from a tree.
These little ducks are only part of the joy each day brings. I thank the Lord for all His glorious creatures, sunrises and sunsets, rain, bright sunny days, flowers, trees and most of all His love for me.
© copyright 2017…..Phyllis Rogers