I am not actually really sure whether I like the sight of the male Mandarin Duck. On the one hand, it obviously is a splendidly dressed bird in a multitude of expressive colors. On the other hand, if somebody told me it had been designed by a straight male fashion designer with a strong desire to appear gay, I would also easily believe it.
Or to put it differently: if an imaginary child of mine ever drew up a male Mandarin Duck out of his or her imagination, I would immediately take away most of the crayons and maybe only leave those necessary to draw the female bird.
While this may sound like a serious criticism of the male duck’s fashion sense, let’s face it: it is the females that seem to prefer the gaudy males. So, if anything, their taste should be questioned, not that of the males …
The female is actually somewhat rarer than the male – not because of gender imbalance at birth but rather because the female does about 80% of the incubation – which apparently is rather energy consuming – and thus has much higher mortality during this period (source). Fair this is not.
It is not quite clear to me whether the Mandarin Duck is endangered or not. The HBW lists it as Least Concern, but the total number is only about 65,000 (source). Other, slightly older papers such as this one claim they are globally threatened.
One thing that helps the duck is that apparently, it tastes rather bad. A rather clever approach of evolution to reduce hunting by that rather misnamed species Homo sapiens.
The Latin species name of galericulata means hooded – this hood is not always visible but see below.
One thing that is quite common in Mandarin Ducks is intraspecific parasitism – females leaving their eggs in the nests of other females of the same species. In one study, 46% of complete clutches were parasitized (source: HBW) – the losses for the duped adoptive parents would be still much higher if they had to pay for college of the chicks thus adopted …
Interestingly, females do not place their eggs into the nests of random other females but rather prefer their relatives as adoptive parents (source). Whether this is because they rank them higher or they dislike them more than non-relatives is hard to say.
In Chinese culture, Mandarin Ducks are believed to be extremely faithful to their partner, and are symbols of love, devotion, affection, and fidelity. So, for example, a paper on newspaper coverage of a number of suicides of couples in Suzhou was titled “Fate-Bound Mandarin Ducks: Newspaper Coverage of the ‘Fashion’ for Suicide in 1931 Suzhou”. The “fate-bound Mandarin Ducks” are the couples committing suicide together.
How do Mandarin Ducks spend their time? Do they play Mahjong, smoke, watch TV, stare at their mobile phones? No. According to a paper on their activities in winter, Mandarin Ducks’ main activities were resting (37%), swimming (22%), foraging (21%), and maintenance (16%).
And as the topic of this post does not allow me to show any Japanese Tits, let me quote another part of the same study on Mandarin Ducks: “Sex had little effect on daily activity rhythms, mainly because both were involved in the same tasks to support similar requirements”.