Those Gorgeous Wood
Ducks & Mandarins!
Both whe Wood Duck and mandarin are easy to care for and breed and have been commonly bred on game farms and in zoos for decades. The stunning beauty and charming behavior of the Wood Duck and Mandarin has made them among the most popular of all the ducks. There is information on the Wood Duck and Mandarin, including where you can get them, in each issue of the Game Bird Gazette magazine.
These ducks are true "gems" of the avian world that have held man's fascination throughout time, each ensconced in the cultures sharing their habitats and portrayed in countless art forms and literary works.
A source of wonderment and inspiration to the peoples of China and Japan for centuries, the cousin of the Wood Duck in Asia, the Mandarin, has been exalted to a much greater extent. In the orient it is a legendary symbol of interpersonal respect, kindness, and marital fidelity.
As indicated in their physical and behavioral simlarities, the wood duck and mandarin are close relatives. They are the only members of the genus Aix and belong to the perching duck tribe Cairinini. They have rather sharp, long claws enabling them to live effectively in a forest environment and climb on and nest inside tree cavities.
The photo of the wood duck on the GAZETTE cover (above left) and the mandarin duck (at right) illustrates the striking color difference between adult males of the two species. By contrast, female wood duck and mandarins are rather similarly marked and of a duller, mostly brownish plumage and some beginners find them hard to tell apart until they become familiar with the subtle differences. There will be an illustration and information on how to tell the hens apart in an upcoming issue of the magazine.
The natural breeding ecology of the mandarin and wood duck is remarkably similar considering they are found half a world apart in nature. Both generally inhabit wooded regions, lakes, ponds, or inland streams where they forage upon a wide variety of foods that include aquatic plants, seeds, acorns, grains, insects, and even small fish. Vacant woodpecker or other tree cavities are preferred nests sites (the two wood duck babies on the GAZETTE cover shown at right are coming out of a typical tree nesting site in the wild).
Interestingly, despite the fact wood duck and mandarin duck are close relatives with rather similar behavior, they are not generally known to interbreed with each other, even in captivity where the two are sometimes maintained together. Apparently the chromosomes are different enough to make hybridization a rare occurrence.
The Gazette would be interested in hearing from anyone with first hand knowledge of any hybrids and photographs. Of course, interbreeding wild species is to be strongly discouraged, but there is scientific value in recording that which may have occurred inadvertently. For example, whether two species are capable of hybridizing is, among other things, used by scientists in determining relationships.
As to their requirements in the aviary, a pretty good sized pond of six square feet or larger is recommended for both the wood duck and mandarin and, in our opinion, the larger the better. They are primarily surface feeders so the water depth is not too important but should be at least six inches. Many waterfowl breeders feed assorted Mazuri Waterfowl Diets (from Purina Mills, Inc.), assorted grains, lettuce trimmings, and dog food bits to the ducks. In advance of the breeding season, the latter part of February, they can be switched over to Mazuri Waterfowl breeder feed which supplies the type of nutrition needed for reproduction.
To ensure that wood duck, mandarins, and game birds receive all of the vitamins and minerals they need and to successfully produce young, many breeders add the product Vionate (vitamin-mineral supplement) to the layer feed during the breeding season. It contains over 20 vitamins and minerals that are considered important for proper nutrition in birds. By doing this you can often compensate for any vitamin deterioration that may have occurred in manufactured feed.
One of the more frequent inquiries we receive at the GAZETTE is what type of nest box is best for the wood duck. Actually, the design and dimensions of boxes varies greatly among different successful aviculturists. A popular design is about two feet in depth and has a bottom area of about 100 square inches (shown in illustration at bottom of this page). A square plywood structure or hollowed log can be used, but our experience is that optimal success is achieved with an inside diameter of 9-12 inches. There should be an entrance hole of about 4 inches in diameter at the top. It is usually best to use rough-cut lumber for constructing the box so that the hen can more easily climb up and out of the hole. But whether smooth or rough is used, it is always a good idea to install a ladder on the front inside wall of the box to make it easy for the female to climb out. The front inside wall leading up to the hole should either be scored with a saw every one half inch all the way up, or cross-kleets nailed up this inside wall to climb on. Also a ramp that is scored or thin pieces of lath or other wood cross nailed on it for traction is important for helping pinioned birds get into the box, and this ramp should be placed from the entrance hole at about a 45 degree angle down to the water surface or ground for pinioned birds to climb up to the hole on. Several inches of nest material like wood shavings, grass, etc. should be put on the bottom for them to nest in.
For those interested in keeping and breeding the wood duck and mandarin, there is information on breeding them in most issues of the Game Bird Gazette. Go to our home page for information on subscribing to the magazine.
More great links on ducks, geese and swans: