The flawless crowd-pleaser; the Mandarin duck.
There are many beautiful natural encounters that reward patience in the Peak District, such as starling murmurations over the moors and breeding peregrine falcons nesting on the cliff tops. But one bird I’ve seen to excite many with its unpredictable presence closer to civilisation is the Mandarin duck. While more common to parks and gardens in southern England, in Buxton, Derbyshire, there is a novelty to the sight of a Mandarin duck in the Pavilion gardens. Often one or more will be seen on a daily basis, whilst on other occasions they will be absent for weeks on end before appearing again. My encounters of seeing them had me mulling over their introduction to the UK and their ecology here.
This handsome duck originates from the Far East and has become established in pockets of England after captive collections sourced from China spilled over into the wild, dating back to the 18th century. And it isn’t just a non-native species in England- the European introduced population (through both deliberate and accidental releases) may make up almost half of the world’s total of around 250,000 pairs. While this species is of least concern in conservation status, Europe may protect a stronghold of these birds if something were to threaten their native populations. So are they an invasive species? The population is seemingly having a minimal, if not none-existent, impact on our native wildlife, economy and society. However, with their ecology so similar to other wildfowl, it is arguable that such an introduced species taking up space on water bodies for breeding, nesting in tree hollows and sharing a herbivorous diet adds a slight competition for our own fauna.
The often fleeting visits of Mandarin ducks to the resident mallards, coots and muscovies (also introduced) of the Pavilion gardens could well be a nuisance, as I’ve seen the males displaying particularly feisty behaviour, especially in front of a female. As in most ducks, the male boasts a stunning colourful plumage, and amidst a pond of mallards it looks incredibly out of place. The females are duller yet still have beautiful detail to their appearance, and although a shy and often elusive species, a closer look through the camera lens is a treat for any budding wildlife photographer.
We’re easily swept up in the stunning look of this bird, and in spotting a pair it’s hard to ignore the romantic connotations associated with such a beautifully sexually dimorphic species; they are, after all, a symbol of love and fidelity in Far Eastern culture. I think the lack of guarantee in spotting them here in Buxton also adds to the enjoyment people get from these birds, and while their migratory patterns are inconsistent, it’s plausible to assume they are always on the move between water bodies, ready to surprise and excite the next onlooker.
For more information on introduced species like the Mandarin duck, the GB non-native species secretariat website is worth a look- www.nonnativespecies.org
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