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How to Take Care of Mandarin Ducks

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Kaycee is an exotic pet owner experienced in working with a variety of non-domesticated animals.

A drake in breeding plumage at the Curacao Zoo & Nature Reserve

A drake in breeding plumage at the Curacao Zoo & Nature Reserve

Owning a Mandarin Duck

Among all of the species of ducks in the Anatidae family, the mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) may just be the most beautiful and coveted species by aviculturists and waterfowl enthusiasts alike. It's easy to understand why with just a glance; upon reaching sexual maturity, male mandarin ducks sport incredibly intricate and colorful plumage during their breeding season in the spring. And while their female counterparts are far less vibrant, they are unique and beautiful in their own rights, painted in delicate shades of grey and white, oftentimes even having purple or blue hues to their feathers.

The beauty of these birds has captivated people for decades. Their ease of breeding, hardiness, and relative easiness to care for have caused them to become one of the most popular species of non-domesticated, or "exotic", waterfowl kept in captivity.

In order to care for mandarin ducks correctly, research must be conducted, preferably before someone obtains them. While this species of duck may be easy to care for, such claims are subjective and depend entirely on the person who owns them. This article is a guide to explain what it takes to care for mandarin ducks realistically, so you can get a better understanding of whether or not this species is right for you, be it as pets or part of a private zoological facility.

Mandarin ducks sharing a feeding station with wood pigeons.

Mandarin ducks sharing a feeding station with wood pigeons.

Diet and Nutrition

In their natural habitat, mandarin ducks are voracious consumers of seeds, grains, and invertebrates such as aquatic snails and crawfish. The ratio of food types consumed differs greatly from season to season, depending on availability. During their breeding season in spring, mandarin ducks can be observed eating larger amounts of protein-rich foods, such as small fish and invertebrates.

In captivity, this diet is easily replicated. Mandarin ducks are fairly adaptable to different circumstances and diets, but some guidelines must be followed regardless to keep birds in peak performance, especially if you intend to breed your birds. Overweight ducks with a high percentage of fat stored are less inclined to breed during the spring, and long-term obesity can be fatal.

Many people opt to feed their mandarin ducks commercial brands of waterfowl diets (such as Mazuri) and report great success, while others prepare their own food at home, balancing out a mixture of different ingredients. One such recipe used year-round by the Rockhampton Zoo includes the following food items:

  • Chicken starter crumbles
  • Sprouted finch seed
  • Vegetables (leafy greens, excluding iceberg lettuce)
  • Cracked corn
  • Insects (mealworms, crickets, etc.)

Mandarin ducks are light eaters compared to domestic ducks. A 12lb bag of Mazuri Waterfowl Maintenace Diet costs $25.99 at most retailers and will last a month for a pair of birds if fed correctly and stored in a container that prevents mice and rats from intruding.

Mandarin ducks also should have food available to them at all times, as they enjoy grazing throughout the day, consuming small amounts at a time. In addition, a water source should be located close by. Ducks of almost every species prefer to dip their food in water or drink after eating to aid them in swallowing and digesting their food, and mandarin ducks are no exception.

A DIY "hoop coop" made by bending heavy duty cattle panels into a frame.

A DIY "hoop coop" made by bending heavy duty cattle panels into a frame.

Housing

Arguably the most difficult aspect of owning mandarin ducks is their housing needs. These birds are small, delicate, and will almost certainly fall victim to local predators like hawks, foxes, and raccoons unless they are kept on a large body of water. Even some species of large colubrid snakes, such as the black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) may also prey on mandarin ducks, especially the young, if they are within reach. Therefore, any enclosure you purchase, or build yourself, must be absolutely secure. This may prove challenging to some people, especially those who are on a tight budget.

"Hoop coops" like the one pictured above are an affordable, secure, and visually appealing option for those looking to construct their own enclosure in a timely manner. Built by bending and anchoring cattle panels into a wooden frame, they can be constructed by a single person in roughly a day.

Another popular option for housing is outdoor flight pens, or aviaries. These take a much greater amount of labor to build but can be customized to your liking. Many zoological facilities and private owners even add their own pond systems to these, complete with aquatic plants and stunning rockscapes.

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Regardless of your design, all enclosures should be fully enclosed using fencing no weaker than 9 gauge wire to protect against aerial and terrestrial predators. Mandarin ducks are shy birds and greatly benefit from having ground cover plants and hiding places, and if you would like your birds to breed, a raised nesting box must be provided; types used for wood ducks (Aix sponsa) are perfectly fine and can be purchased online.

A fully customized aviary for exotic ducks.

A fully customized aviary for exotic ducks.

The cost of building an enclosure varies greatly depending on what materials you use. A standard hoop coop will cost around $200 USD to build, while an aviary can easily exceed triple that amount. Getting creative with your pen design may help you find out what works best for you, but always keep in mind the basic requirements outlined above.

A pair of white mandarin ducks.

A pair of white mandarin ducks.

Incubation and Breeding

An option some people may want to consider is obtaining mandarin duck eggs from a reputable seller, either local or online. I do not personally recommend this method, as mandarin duck eggs are exceptionally fragile and prone to becoming scrambled or broken during shipping. You will most likely spend more money buying eggs to try to hatch than you would have spent buying a pair of adult birds.

If you do proceed with this option, adhere to the standard incubation guidelines for most birds. Use a reliable, high-quality incubator set to 99.5 Fahrenheit or 37.5 Celsius, turning at least 4 times a day if you don't have an incubator that turns your eggs for you. Mandarin duck eggs have an incubation period of 28 to 30 days, only slightly longer than that of a chicken.

The breeding season for mandarin ducks begins in spring, around late April. As mentioned previously, females will require a raised nesting box to reproduce. This box should be around 5" tall, 9 1/2" wide, and 9 1/2" deep, while the entrance hole should be 3" tall and 4" wide. Mandarin duck hens are excellent mothers and will successfully raise their own ducklings if left to incubate their clutch of eggs.

A nesting box with a cluch of mandarin duck eggs.

A nesting box with a cluch of mandarin duck eggs.

Pricing and Costs

Mandarin ducks are far more expensive than common breeds of domesticated ducks, and while commonly sold, average around $200-$300 USD for a male and female pair of normal colored adults. White or apricot-colored mandarin ducks will cost anywhere from $500-$600 USD for a breeding pair. If you cannot find someone selling them locally, then an additional cost of $100-$200 will be necessary for shipping them to your local post office for pickup.

These birds are also quite difficult to find in stock from breeders and commercial hatcheries due to their popularity. People interested in purchasing mandarin ducks may have to join a wait list, especially if they are seeking a rare color morph.

Are Mandarin Ducks Right For You?

While mandarin ducks are as beautiful as they are unique, they may not be suitable for everyone to own. Hopefully those reading this guide will have a better understanding of how to care for this lovely species of bird and feel more confident in making their choice to own them.

Despite being listed by the IUCN Red List as "Least Concern" in the wild, their natural habitat is gradually declining due to deforestation, pollution, and logging. It is important for healthy populations of mandarin ducks to flourish in captivity, so that we may secure them and ensure they always remain protected for future generations.

References

Gooders, J., and T. Boyer. 1986. Ducks of North America and the Northern Hemisphere. Facts on File Publications.

Johnsgard, Paul, A. 1992. Ducks in the Wild. Prentice Hall General Reference.

BioExplorer.net. (2022, February 13). What Do Ducks Eat? Explore Duck Diets, Hunting & Eating Habits. Bio Explorer. https://www.bioexplorer.net/what-do-ducks-eat.html/.

Beskeen, K., 2018. Husbandy Guidelines for Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata). 1st ed. [PDF] Available at: <http://rares.world/wp2/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Aves-Anatidae-Aix-galericulata-Mandarin-Duck-2018KB-v-1.pdf> [Accessed 13 February 2022].

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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