A gorgeous male Mandarin duck that appeared in Central Park has became the latest New York City internet star. As its name suggests, the colorful duck is normally found in East Asia but has inexplicably turned up in New York City (a relative apparently showed up in Vancouver this past May). Inspiring a Pokemon Go-like frenzy, Central Park’s Mandarin duck has turned a few delighted birders into excited crowds, and now into a full fledged line packed with New Yorkers and tourists alike waiting their turn to capture the duck. Often at Central Park Pond near the Hallett Sancutary close to 59th Street and 5th Avenue, the Mandarin duck was also spotted at the 79th Street boat basin at some point. Sarah Samaroo, a medical illustrator who took up birding as a hobby last year, captured these beautiful photographs of the duck this past Saturday.
The Mandarin duck’s official binomical name is Aix galericulata, with galericulata a Latin word for “wig.” The male Mandarin duck has some notable features: a purple breast, a red bill, the orange “sails” on its back and the orange and white “whiskers.” This Mandarin duck also has deep blues, greens, and reds. After mating season, it will moult and shed its colors, looking more similar to its female partner (although this duck will have to mate outside his species!). The Mandarin duck is related to the North American wood duck, and is expected to be able to survive well in its newly adopted habitat. It mainly eats seeds and plants, feeding off of the top layer of the water or food on land, but will also eat small aquatic animals like snails and fish.
As to the duck’s origins, New York City’s zoos have confirmed it is not an escapee from them. It could have escaped from another location, or was discarded as a pet. It does have a band around its right leg. The flocks of monk parrots in Brooklyn (and on Long Island and New Jersey) may have had a similar origin story – although the common lore is that they escaped from a container at JFK Airport thanks to the mob. Gothamist reports that a reader’s mom has been feeding the Mandarin duck since April (with photo documentation since June).
NYC Parks officials say they are planning to let the stay in its current habitat, unless it is injured or in danger. When we asked NYC Parks for a comment, John McCoy, Deputy Director of the Urban Park Rangers, said, “The Mandarin duck is healthy and happily mingling with the mallards of Central Park. While it’s exciting to spot such a rare bird in New York City’s backyard, like every other celebrity sighting, New Yorkers should know to give him space and not to disturb him.”
NYC Parks also tells us, “It is likely that this duck escaped captivity or was released. Unfortunately, it’s not totally uncommon for people to release pets into a park when they can no longer care for them. This is both against Park rules, and bad for the animal. We have confirmed that it did not come from any of the local zoos. If parkgoers see a tame, abandoned pet, alert an Urban Park Ranger or bring the animal to Animal Care & Control. If you see an injured animal, the best thing to do is leave the animal where it is and locate an Urban Park Ranger in the park. Tell the ranger what kind of animal it is, the size and color of the animal, and its observed condition (is it dead, acting disoriented, bleeding, or just walking around?). The more information you can provide, the better.”
You may get a glimpse of the Mandarin duck on our next tour of the Secrets of Central Park on Sunday: