Thinking about my last piece on parakeets ( see here ) I was reminded of another brightly coloured exotic bird that has come our way – the mandarin duck, a native of China and other far eastern countries.
This flamboyant and ornamental duck was brought here in the eighteenth century to brighten up waterfowl collections. Inevitably some escaped and now there are 4,000 or so resident birds, supplemented by about the same number again coming here from mainland Europe in the winter. They are concentrated in the south east but are also found in the West Midlands. There is a pair for instance on Blackroot Pool in Sutton Park.
Just like parakeets mandarins nest in holes in trees, but unlike in-your-face parakeets they are shy birds of wet woodlands and tree-fringed ponds. With plenty of their habitat we can expect to see more of them.
They are chunky ducks, smaller than mallards, the males having orange ‘sails’ on their back, orange sides and orange plumes on either side of their face. As with many other ducks the females are a much duller combination of greys and browns. In spite of all the decorative feathers they are agile flyers, easily navigating their way through woods.
Mandarins serve to demonstrate our mixed attitudes to introduced species. There are some we seek to destroy (such as ruddy duck and Japanese knotweed), some we encourage (such as Buddleia), some we ignore (such as pineapple weed), some we really like (such as little owls and snowdrops) and some we protect (such as brown hare).
In the case of mandarins it may be that, with low numbers and two centres of population on either side of the world, they are in danger of dying out. This has led to suggestions that the mandarins here should be thought of as a ‘reservoir’ of birds which will help to prevent their extinction.
I wonder if this concern is because they are particularly attractive, although that quality did not help ruddy ducks, or because they have not yet become very numerous as did Canada geese.
As mandarin numbers build will we hear calls for their control? I hope not.
In our polluted and degraded world wildlife has to thrive where it can. If we have unwittingly helped this innocent duck to survive thus far we should be happy with that.