Diminutive though they are within the world of web-footed waterfowl, gorgeous is grossly understating the striking colours of both the North American wood duck and the East Asian mandarin duck.
Though coming from half a world apart, their habits and habitats are remarkably the same. They are the only two members of the genus Aix and belong to Cairinini, the perching duck tribe.
My first interest in these two breeds of ducks started with a breathtaking gasp on first seeing their exquisite beauty. This was way back a long number of years ago when I was still scratching zits in the double-digit pre-teen years. I was fortunate in being able to volunteer my spare time in an upland game sanctuary that was then situated about a five-mile bike ride south of our home-place three miles northwest of Rockwood.
Off of a winding gravel road, known colloquially as the Indian Trail, just prior to crossing the river’s bridge, wound a well-curved woodland lane. Both sides were hugged by thick groves of mature cedar, among which strategically located clearings were cut. In these out-of-the-wind, sun-catching openings nestled multiple lengthy pheasant enclosures. The gamekeeper’s cabin was within and betwixt, and beyond the barn from where peacocks roamed freely, looking down on the river, was the spacious twin-storey summer home of the owner.
Low damming of the river’s curve with natural stone created a still-water pond on which five very large Canada geese (then an endangered species) and a pair of snow-white mute swans cruised both daily and nightly.
Beside this home were three netted pens, with built-in pools through which water, pumped from the river, constantly trickled. They contained mated pairs of both Mandarin and wood ducks. It was a summertime paradise that brought a choking to my throat each time I had to leave and go home. It was here that I became fascinated with the uniqueness of both mandarin and wood ducks.
Their physical and behavioural similarities indicate they are closely related, and yet their chromosome differentials discourage hybridization. In the wild, they both generally inhabit wooded areas with shallow ponds and streams. Both are tree nesters making use of vacant woodpecker holes or other natural tree cavities. Similar diets are made up of aquatic plants, seeds, nuts, grains and insects.
Down through the years, though I have bred and hand-fed many of the larger hook-billed birds of the exotic parrot family, I have never grasped the opportunity of owning either of these birds.
But recently (pardon the pun), I went out on a limb, as these birds are capable of doing, and I purchased a pair of Mandarin ducks, filling a longtime want, not a need.
I am now busy building an eight-by-ten inch, two-foot-high nesting box with an oval four inch entrance hole. I may even tack on strips of bark to rival Mother Nature.
Take care, ‘cause we care.