12 Facts About Mandarin Ducks

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iStock.com/panda3800

Recently, the mysterious appearance of a mandarin duck alongside the native mallards in ponds across Central Park has captivated New York City, with large groups lining up to catch a glimpse (and snap a photo) of the brightly colored bird. It's unclear where he came from—though he has a band on his leg, he doesn't belong to any zoos in the area, which has led some to speculate that he was a pet who either escaped or was dumped by his owner in the park—but one thing is clear. This "hot duck" is taking the internet by storm. Curious about where the mandarin duck is from, what it eats, if you can keep one as a pet, and even what it tastes like? Read on.

1. ITS NAME MEANS "WIGGED DIVING BIRD."

A close-up image of a brightly colored mandarin duck.
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Dubbed Aix galericulata by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, the Aix in the mandarin duck's scientific name is Greek for an unknown diving bird mentioned by Aristotle. The galericulata is something like "wig" or "cap" and references the bright breeding plumage on the male’s head.

2. IT'S NOT AS EXOTIC AS YOU MIGHT THINK.

A mandarin duck swimming.
iStock.com/MikeLane45

The native breeding area of the mandarin duck is eastern Siberia, Japan, China, and parts of North Korea, and they overwinter in southern China and Japan. But according to the citizen science website eBird, mandarin ducks have been spotted in multiple sites on the west coast of America—there's a growing population of the birds in California—and are present in Florida and a few other isolated areas. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission notes that “Species are present but not confirmed to be breeding. Population persists only with repeated introductions and/or escapes of individuals.”

They’re much more common in Europe, especially southeast England, which has an estimated population of around 7000 individuals. The ducks were mostly released in the early 20th century, although there are records of introductions as early as 1745 [PDF]. They've also been found in other parts of Europe, Israel, and Africa (although, as in Florida, some of these populations are escaped ornamental birds that aren't necessarily breeding on their own [PDF]).

3. MANDARIN DUCKS AREN'T DOING WELL IN THEIR NATIVE TERRITORY.

An image of a female and a male mandarin duck.
iStock.com/thawats

Sadly, they're threatened by severe habitat loss across their native range and have a global population of around 65,000 individuals. As a result, the European population is often considered important for the species survival. Officially, however, the bird is classed as "Least Concern" by the IUCN.

4. IT HAS DEEP MEANING IN MANY EAST ASIAN CULTURES.

A male and female mandarin duck touching beaks.
iStock.com/huanglin

It's thought that the first reference to mandarin ducks was from the time of Confucius, where they were name-dropped in a song. They're also significant in Buddhism, where there are references to their compassion and, most significantly, their marital loyalty. Multiple legends in Japan refer to a male and female mandarin duck getting separated and using supernatural means (such as transforming into humans) to be reunited.

5. THEY HAVE AN AMERICAN COUSIN.

A female and a male American Wood Duck standing on a rock.
iStock.com/mattalberts

Mandarin ducks belong to the genus Aix, alongside the American wood duck. They're both hole-nesting ducks with brightly colored males. But perhaps most surprisingly for ducks, they have claws. The claws allow them to perch on branches, and in the case of baby mandarin ducks, one paper says that when they're as young as one day old, they can dig those claws into wood, then leap half a foot, and then dig in the other claw [PDF].

6. MALE AND FEMALE MANDARIN DUCKS LOOK A LOT DIFFERENT.

A male and a female mandarin duck sitting on a rock.
iStock.com/Westbury

The male mandarin duck is extremely easy to identify. Considered one of the prettiest birds, it has orange, green, white, blue-ish, and black feathers, some of which curl up into a "sail" shape. (However, in eclipse plumage—a set of feathers sported by the ducks when it's not the mating season—the male is a much more standard gray.)

Female mandarin ducks are nowhere near as distinctive, and it can often be difficult to distinguish them from the closely related native female wood ducks (the males look completely different) [PDF]. Female mandarin ducks are gray but have a pale tip at the bill and a stripe behind the eye.

7. THEY HAVE ELABORATE COURTSHIP RITUALS.

A male mandarin duck with its beak open.
iStock.com/abzerit

Mandarin duck courtship rituals are, as is probably expected from their plumage, impressive affairs. They mock drink and mock preen, they shake, and emit a sound that one researcher likened to "a half-repressed sneeze." Most of the rest of the time they're rarely vocal, with the occasional "staccato hwick or uib uib" from the male and a "coquette call" from the female.

As for their famous monogamy, it’s thought to derive from observations of their frequent courtship displays and frequent ejection of intruders. In reality, they likely are monogamous for at least several years, although bigamy/polygamy is not unheard of.

8. THE YOUNG LEAP OUT OF TREES.

A male mandarin duck from above.
iStock.com/darek000

The natural nesting habitat of mandarin ducks is in tree holes, which can sometimes be up to 30 feet off the ground. The bird lays nine to 12 white eggs that are incubated for around a month. When the eggs hatch (which occurs within a few hours of each other), the ducklings start to crawl out of the nest. To get out of the tree and—eventually—into the water, the baby bird flings itself out of the hole and free-falls to the ground below (often with a little bounce). According to mandarin duck scholar Christopher Lever, "The female stands at the base of the tree with her head pointing upwards, uttering a soft encouraging call to her offspring."

9. IT'S NOT VERY TASTY.

A male mandarin duck cleaning its feathers.
iStock.com/anipecosa

It's widely said that one of the factors that has allowed mandarin ducks to survive in east Asia is their taste—which is not particularly nice. Christopher Lever quotes an authority as saying, "Mandarin duck in China are rather dirty feeders, often eating snails, small mice, fish spawn, etc., and consequently are well known to have an unpleasant taste."

10. MANDARIN DUCKS CAN HELP YOUR FENG SHUI.

A male mandarin duck standing on a rock in a pond.
iStock.com/MGTS

Feng Shui is a traditional Chinese method of balancing energy forces, and a large part of some schools involves placing certain objects to match and harness that energy. Many modern Feng Shui practitioners claim that, because of their association with love and monogamy, having a pair of mandarin duck figurines can attract and enhance love. Practitioners advise placing the figurines so they either face each other or the same direction. Never separate them, and if one breaks, the entire pair should be replaced.

11. YOU CAN BUY ONE.

A male mandarin duck sleeping.
iStock.com/PanuRuangjan

Mandarin ducks are very popular pets; in fact, according to one report from the Netherlands, they're "by far the most popular duck kept in private collections" in that region [PDF]. They're considered easy to keep, but just because you can buy one doesn't mean it's legal to have one: In New York, for instance, it's illegal to keep a duck as a pet (alongside bears, cobras, whales, and many other creatures).

12. IT MIGHT POSE A THREAT TO NATIVE SPECIES.

A male mandarin duck and a male American wood duck.
iStock.com/Devonyu

Paul Sweet, ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, tweeted that it was possible that mandarin ducks could become established and compete with native wood ducks. Little research has been done on mandarin ducks in the United States, but a recent report from the Netherlands suggests that there might be cause for concern [PDF]. There is some evidence that they destroy the eggs of other birds in a lab setting, although the extent of this behavior in the wild is unclear. They're also known to drive other birds away from food—although again, their impact is unknown. As for hybridizing, there’s a myth that they can’t reproduce with other birds. While crosses with other ducks are rare for mandarins, there have been reports in Europe of birds appearing that seem to be mixes of introduced mandarin ducks and introduced American wood ducks.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

SIGN UP TODAY: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping Newsletter!

Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

12 Fascinating Facts About Elephants

Photo by David Heiling on Unsplash

Known for their strong family bonds and intelligence, elephants have fascinated humans across time and cultures. As the largest living land mammal, a male African bush elephant typically stands more than 10 feet tall and weighs an incredible 6.6 tons. Although poachers still kill approximately 100 African elephants every day, conservation groups are working to save elephant populations from extinction. Read on for a dozen things you might not know about elephants, from their long history as a political symbol to their legit firefighting skills.

1. Contrary to popular belief, elephants are not exactly scared of mice.

Baby elephant looks startled.
iStock.com/szaphotography

Cartoonists have long depicted the funny juxtaposition of a giant elephant terrified of a tiny mouse. Zoologists and elephant trainers have conducted experiments to test whether elephants are truly afraid of rodents, and it seems to be a myth. Mice themselves don't frighten elephants, but the pachyderms have poor vision and can get extremely startled when anything suddenly scurries by. Elephants are probably more afraid of a mouse's sudden movement than the mouse itself.

2. Wild elephants could have populated the U.S., but abraham Lincoln nixed the idea.

A mother and baby elephant taking a walk.
iStock.com/saha_avijan

In 1861, President Lincoln received gifts, including elephant tusks and a handmade sword, from Siam's King Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut. The king of present-day Thailand also made an interesting offer: Mongkut proposed that Siam would send pairs of male and female elephants to the U.S. to breed in the forests. Americans could then tame the wild elephants and put them to work for the economic benefit of the country. William Seward, Lincoln's secretary of state, replied to Mongkut in 1862, graciously declining his offer. He told the king that since the U.S. already used steam power to efficiently transport goods within the country, elephants simply wouldn't be practical.

3. Trunk-sucking is the elephant equivalent of thumb-sucking.

Baby elephant sucking its trunk.
iStock.com/bucky_za

When baby elephants want to comfort themselves, they instinctively start sucking their trunks. Trunk-sucking is also a way that a baby elephant can learn how to use her trunk (which contains between 40,000 and 50,000 muscles). Although most elephants, like human babies, grow out of sucking behavior, some adult elephants also suck their trunks when they feel anxious.

4. Elephants have been the symbol of the Republican Party since 1874.

Elephant symbol for the Republican party.
iStock.com/Niyazz

Although elephants had been occasionally used as a symbol for Republicans during the Civil War, cartoonist Thomas Nast, who drew an elephant in an 1874 issue of Harper's Weekly, gets the credit for linking the animal with the political party. In later cartoons, Nast continued to draw an elephant to portray the Republican Party, and other cartoonists adopted it, establishing the animal as the GOP symbol.

5. Barnum & Bailey once trained elephants to play baseball.

U.S. stamp with a circus elephant on it.
iStock.com/Valerie Loiseleux

Baseball is America's pastime, so why not teach elephants how to play the game? In 1912, thanks to the work of Barnum & Bailey's elephant trainer, Harry L. Mooney, the intelligent animals played their first ballgame. Although playing baseball was just one of many tricks that circus elephants learned, Barnum & Bailey capitalized on the concept of elephant baseball by using the image on posters to sell tickets for shows.

6. Some elephants have been convicted of murder.

Elephant foot in chains.
iStock.com/Pentium2

Although elephants are typically viewed as gentle giants, they are capable of attacking and killing humans. Male elephants undergo musth, a hormonal change that makes them temporarily produce tons of testosterone, resulting in aggression. But even female elephants can kill. In 1916, a town in Tennessee charged an elephant named Big Mary with first-degree murder for killing her handler. Big Mary, who worked for the Sparks Circus, attacked her handler, possibly after he struck her with a bullhook as she was trying to eat a watermelon rind. Big Mary was convicted and sentenced to execution. Some 2500 residents of the town gathered to watch Big Mary's dramatic hanging, which featured a 100-ton crane and a chain that broke under her weight.

7. Elephants grieve death.

Elephants mourning the death of a baby elephant.
iStock.com/brittak

Although we can't know exactly what elephants feel and how they process death, they seem to show signs that they experience grief when a member of their family (or another elephant) dies. When they see a dead elephant, they may vocalize, use their trunks to "hug" the dead animal, or stay with the carcass for hours. Some elephants have also tried to bury the dead body by covering it in leaves and soil.

8. Trained elephants fight fires in Indonesia.

Elephant with water spewing out of its trunk.
Ishara S.KODIKARA, AFP/GettyImages

You probably won't see an elephant riding on a fire truck anytime soon, but elephants in Indonesia are a vital part of fighting fires. In 2015, East Sumatra was plagued with multiple fires over a period of several months, so 23 trained elephants from a conservation center went to work. Carrying water pumps and hoses, the elephants helped patrol the land and made sure that new fires weren't ignited.

9. If you're in Zambia, you might see some elephants strolling through your hotel lobby.

An elephant walks into the lobby of the Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia.
An elephant walks into the lobby of the Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia.
Lars Plougmann, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Some guests at Mfuwe Lodge in the African country of Zambia get an unusual animal sighting before they even leave the lobby. Each year between October and December, families of elephants walk through the lodge's reception area to eat wild mango from a tree in the courtyard. The elephants' giant size and seeming indifference to their hotel lobby surroundings make for quite a striking sight.

10. In 2015, scientists recorded elephants yawning for the first time.

An elephant's open mouth.
iStock.com/filrom

Although scientists speculated that elephants probably yawn, scientists from the University of California, Davis captured the first video of an elephant yawning. If you enjoy watching sleepy animals stretching and yawning, this is for you. Warning: extreme cuteness ahead.

11. Elephants starred in YouTube's first-ever video.

Man taking a photo of an elephant on his phone.
iStock.com/iudmylaSupynska

On April 23, 2005, Jawed Karim made internet history when he uploaded the first video to a certain nascent video-sharing website. Karim, one of YouTube's founders, posted an 18-second scene of himself standing in front of elephants at a zoo. In the video, he speaks about how cool the elephants' long trunks are. As of August 2019, the video has more than 74 million views.

12. Elephants love to snack on old Christmas trees.

Two elephants snacking on pine trees.
VADIM KRAMER, AFP/Getty Images

Zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin, a zoo in Germany, feed unsold Christmas trees to their elephants in early January. The trees are certified pesticide-free, and the elephants seem to enjoy their special snack. Berlin isn't the only place where elephants eat Christmas trees, though. Zoos in Prague also treat their elephants to the tasty conifers.