Rare Mandarin duck at park in Burnaby, BC, could be an escaped pet

Rare Mandarin duck at park in Burnaby, BC, could be an escaped pet
People Are Lining Up To See The Duck In Central Park
A rare duck native to East Asia is making a splash in a lake east of Vancouver, and experts believe it is an escaped pet.

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 native to east Asia – found in China, Korea, Japan, and parts of Russia. Its a migratory bird that weighs around 600 grams, or a little more than a pound. Its slightly smaller and lighter than the standard mallard. Mandarin ducks tend to be a bit introverted by nature, according The Wildlife Trusts, and like to hide behind overhanging willows. They eat water plants, rice, grains, pests, and some small fish and mollusks, and live for about 6 years.

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.

A single, male Mandarin duck flaunts his multi-coloured feathers as he swims out among a posse of mallards and wood ducks. Hes not a local, and its a mystery as to how he arrived. The theory that he escaped from a zoo or sanctuary has been ruled out so far. And since ducks arent allowed as pets in New York City, that theory also stands on shaky ground.

In the 1970s, the park association started putting up nesting boxes for them, so the wood ducks began to spend winters at the lake.

The duck was first spotted about a month ago by birdwatchers who frequent the park, but he fell off the grid for two weeks and reappeared a week or so ago. Since then, hes been traversing different bodies of water throughout the park. The twitter account Manhattan Bird Alert tweets out the location of the duck from time to time.

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.

In the wake of his growing celebrity, the New York City Parks Twitter account tweeted a request to visitors, asking them to “please remember to enjoy our new friend from a distance and do not feed him.”

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.

The duck has become Twitter famous as well, ever since The New York Times published an article that drew in a flurry of shares all over social media.

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.