Duck, Mandarin

Aix galericulata

Adult length: 16 – 19 in (41 – 49 cm); wingspan: 25.5 – 30 in (65 – 75 cm); coloration: males have a red bill, large white crescents above the eyes and reddish faces and “whiskers”. The breast is purple with two vertical white bars and the flanks ruddy, with two orange “sails” at the back. Females have white eye-rings and stripes running back from the eyes, are paler below with small white flank stripes and a pale tip to its bill. The plumage of the Mandarin duckling is similar to the Mallard: Black backside (with some yellow spots) and yellow underside (with streaks by the eyes).








Native: China, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, and Province of China Taiwan; Introduced to: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Slovenia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom; Vagrant: Hong Kong, India, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Spain, Thailand, and Viet Nam


Freshwaters with a dense marginal growth of woodland and shrubs, reeds or sedges. They are dependent on holes in deciduous trees for nesting.

Life Expectancy

Ranges from 10 - 20 years

Sexual Maturity

Approximately 1 year


In the wild, they eat plants, seeds, snails, insects and snail fish; in the Zoo, they are fed a scientifically developed, commercially available pelleted waterfowl diet, greens and insects.


IUCN – Least Concern


Mandarins feed by dabbling (up-ended foraging in water) or grazing on land. They feed mainly near dawn or dusk, perching in trees or on the ground during the day. Asian populations are migratory, overwintering in lowland eastern China and southern Japan. Mandarins are highly social but males have been observed spontaneously fighting with one another. The male produces a nasal; whistling note during display, whereas the female makes a high pitched courtship call that sounds like “keet”. The male also makes a high-pitched staccato bark, a barely audible whistle and is heard least often to emit a grunting sound, similar to that of a wild pig. The calls of the Mandarin sound similar to “ge,ge”, “wooing” and “bifu”. In the wild, Mandarin ducks breed in densely wooded areas near shallow lakes, marshes or ponds. Males display an aggressive courtship flight for females and include mock-drinking and shaking. Pairs are formed at the beginning of the winter and may continue for many seasons. Although the female chooses the exact nesting site, the male accompanies the female on nest searches. They nest in cavities in trees close to water and during the spring, the females lay their eggs in the tree’s cavity after mating. Clutch sizes range from nine to twelve white oval eggs that are laid at daily intervals. The males take no part in the incubation, simply leaving the female to secure the eggs on her own. However, unlike other species of ducks, the male does not completely abandon the female. Shortly after the ducklings hatch, their mother flies to the ground and coaxes the ducklings to leap from the nest. After all of the ducklings are out of the tree, they will follow their mother to a nearby body of water where they usually encounter the father, who will rejoin the family and protect the ducklings with the mother. If the father isn’t found then it is likely that he may have deceased during his temporary leave. Once the chicks are able to fly (after 40-45 days), they leave to join a new flock. If the same partners are still alive through two breeding seasons, they typically re-form old bonds rather than establish new ones. In early summer their molting period begins and ends around late September. During the molt, Mandarin ducks typically seek protection in forests or areas well hidden by heavy branches. The timing of the female’s molt is determined by her condition at the time. If she is nesting, the molt is delayed. Fortunately the male’s loss of color acts as a camouflage and protects him from predators.


Special Interests

Feral mandarin ducks are found in many countries, but the invasive potential of the species is low, and negative impacts have not been recorded. Mandarin ducks may compete with other species for tree-hole (cavity) nest sites. The word duck comes from Old English *duce “diver”, a derivative of the verb *ducan “to duck, bend down low as if to get under something, or dive”, because of the way many species in the dabbling duck group feed by upending; compare with Dutch duiken and German tauchen “to dive”. Some people use “duck” specifically for adult females and “drake” for adult males, for the species described here; others use “hen” and “drake”, respectively. A duckling is a young duck in downy plumage or baby duck; but in the food trade, young adult ducks ready for roasting are sometimes labeled “duckling”.


In the eyes of ancient Chinese, Mandarin ducks form a life-time couple, unlike many other species of ducks. Hence they are frequently featured in Oriental art and are regarded as a symbol of conjugal affection and fidelity. The Mandarin Duck symbol is also used in Chinese weddings, because in traditional Chinese lore they symbolize wedded bliss and fidelity. Because the male and female plumages of the Mandarin duck are so unlike, “yuan-yang” is frequently used colloquially in Cantonese to mean an “odd couple” or “unlikely pair” – a mixture of two different types of the same category. For example, yuanyang (drink) and yuan-yang fried rice.


Destruction of habitat has had a severe impact on the oriental populations of Mandarin ducks. In 1911, the Tung Ling Forest, a Mandarin duck stronghold, was opened up for settlement and the forests were cleared. By 1928, few sufficient breeding areas remained. The current Asian population may be under 20,000 birds. One factor that has helped the Mandarin duck to survive is that they taste bad; they are not hunted for food. Mandarin ducks are listed as Class II key state protection animals of China. Worldwide population status is unknown. This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion. Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion. The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion. For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern. Why do zoos keep this animal? Keeping Mandarin ducks as ornamental fowl has a long tradition. Zoos keep them for educational purposes because they display interesting behaviors, and as an ambassador species for wetland conservation.

Jacksonville Zoo History

Found on the Jacksonville Zoo’s animal inventory from 1965 to 1999 and then brought back again in 2008. The Jacksonville Zoo has successfully bred this species.


River Valley Aviary