The Mandarin duck, with its vibrant golden, green and blue plumage, is attracting visitors to Burnaby Lake and was first seen in May, says Irene Lau, chair of the Burnaby Lake Park Association.
Records show that about 10 years ago there was a sighting of a Mandarin duck in the area, Lau says, although she adds that there is only that one record.
The Mandarin duck is a distant cousin of wood ducks, which have been calling the park home since they were first sighted in the 1960s, she says.
In the 1970s, the park association started putting up nesting boxes for them, so the wood ducks began to spend winters at the lake.
Harold Eyster, a PhD student studying biodiversity and nature conservation at the University of British Columbia, says it seems likely that this bird is an escapee, since these birds are popular garden ornaments.
Male and female Mandarin ducks share an elaborate courtship ritual before forming monogamous pairs at the beginning of winter. Because of this, Mandarin ducks in China are a symbol of love and healthy relationships.
There's likely nothing on the books that says you can't keep Mandarin ducks as pets, says the BC SPCA in a statement.
Geoff LeBaron, director of the Christmas bird count at the National Audubon Society, says the ducks are a very popular bird with people who raise water fowl, so this bird could be an escaped pet.
There was a bit of a flurry of Mandarin ducks being seen in the area for a number of years in the 1980s and 1990s, he says, which possibly came from breeders.
There is a second duck. Its in Vancouver, Canada, where it has been living since May because the Canadians are too polite to brag about it. Its the same breed. And nobody knows where it came from.
What began as a charming mystery has started to feel more like a sinister global conspiracy. Why would there be two hot ducks? Are the ducks siblings, or perhaps … clones? And how did they end up in Vancouver and New York, two cities thousands of miles apart? Some theories:
1) A Banksy-esque prankster is releasing these ducks around the world as part of a conceptual art project.
7) The ducks were twins separated in their parents messy divorce. One of them moved to Vancouver and one of them moved to New York, and soon they will reconnect at duck summer-camp and try to get their parents back together.
I was starting to feel very scared. But then I got on the phone with David Barrett, a.k.a. Manhattan Bird Alert, and he said that the actual story is probably a lot more mundane.
In the United States [and Canada], the Mandarin duck isnt wild, he tells me. It will only be coming from captivity of some sort, and the possibilities are a zoo or private owner. Apparently every year, a number of domestic ducks get dumped in Central Park, and we just dont noticed them because they arent as hot (he says they are usually very drab). David explains our Mandarin duck probably flew from a farm in New Jersey, or was a pet that someone chose to release. As for the Vancouver duck, he says, There are farms throughout the country that have these Mandarin ducks and occasionally they escape, so thats the source in general in North America, and its probably also how the Vancouver duck got there.
I told him some of my theories, which he quickly shot down. Theres no worldwide outbreak of them, they pop up, he added. I think now that our duck is in the news, other people are more attuned.
Still — and Im sorry to bring this up even though we have obviously all been thinking it — if something horrible happens to the Central Park duck, theres always the Vancouver duck, which the Canadians have been treating with custom deference.
He has been around since May. The Burnaby Lake community has been very Canadian-like as we are with any unfeathered celebrity and not bothered him too much by keeping a respectful distance.