Can a Mandarin and a Mallard Find Happiness Together?

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by Denise D. Greaves

Photographs © 2012 by Denise D. Greaves

Molly and Mandy, 11 May 2012. (Notice the fashionable wisp of down in her left nostril.)

A couple of years ago, a juvenile Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) showed up at the pond in Penitencia Creek Park in San Jose, CA. There are some feral colonies of Mandarins in California,1 but word has it that he did not originate from one of these. Rather, someone in San Jose came into possession of a Mandarin duck but felt he could not care for it properly, so he relocated the duck to the park. This beautiful little guy is very popular, frequently photographed, and watched for by regular visitors to the park. I call him “Mandy.”

In early 2011, I saw Mandy with a female mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) a couple of times, but later in the spring he was alone. I learned that I was not the only one watching last year’s ducklings carefully in case any hybrids had been produced. There was the usual assortment of wild and domestic mallard colorations, but nothing that would indicate a cross with anything as colorful as a Mandarin. It is claimed that Mandarins have produced hybrid offspring with mallards in captivity, but Mandarin hybrids in the wild are very rare.2

This year, Mandy has found another mate. I have been studying the females from last year and this year to try to see whether they are actually the same individual, since Mandarins and mallards, as well as other duck species, are reputed to mate for life. The brown patches on the upper bills of the two females does not quite match. Does anyone know whether this patch changes over time? If not, I think it is a different female.

When I saw Mandy and his mate—I call her “Molly”—in the park on Friday, they were on the grass outside the fence that surrounds the pond. Two male mallards kept inching closer to Molly, and when they got too close, Mandy would very assertively chase them off.

Mandy and Molly watched me cautiously as I came closer to get photos. After I sat down on the grass, they stayed several feet away but also sat down. And a few minutes later they got up and walked a couple of steps closer to me and sat down again. It was wonderful to sit there and hang out with these two beautiful creatures for a while. I’ll be watching for interesting hybrids again this year.

Molly and Mandy, 11 May 2012.

References:

1Lawton L. Shurtleff and Christopher Savage, The Wood Duck and The Mandarin: The Northern Wood Ducks, University of California Press: 1996. Accessed online at http://books.google.com/books?id=51-EhydjpjQC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

2Stephen Arthur and Joyce Arthur, “Duck Hybrids and Variants in Greater Vancouver,” Discovery the journal of the Vancouver Natural History Society, Vol. 23 #1, March, 1994. Accessed online at http://mypage.direct.ca/w/writer/ducks.html. See also Paul A. Johnsgard, Some putative Mandarin Duck hybrids Johnsgard, Paul A., “Some putative Mandarin Duck hybrids” (1968). Paul Johnsgard Collection. Paper 26. Accessed online at http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/johnsgard/26.

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