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Mandarin and Wood Ducks – Spectacular Waterfowl for the Outdoor Aviary – Part 2

Mandarin Duck PairDucks are certainly not the easiest of birds to establish in one’s collection.  However, some species are, in my opinion, so flamboyantly-colored and interesting that the effort involved in their care is easily over-looked.  Consider, for example, East Asia’s Mandarin Duck (Aix graiculata) or the Wood Duck (Aix sponosa) of Canada and the USA.  Small, hardy, and readily available, they are among the most beautiful of the world’s waterfowl.  Please see Part 1 of this article for information on their natural histories and long associations with people.

Captive Habitat

Due to their small size and long history in captivity, Wood and Mandarin Ducks are among the most popularly-kept of all waterfowl, and are easily accommodated and bred in captivity.  However, a pair of either does need a substantial amount of space – a pond of approximately 6 feet x 6 feet, and a similarly-sized land area.

Both feed at the surface, so a water depth of 6 inches or so is sufficient.  A powerful filter is essential, and the pond must also be periodically drained and cleaned.


Commercial waterfowl pellets can form the bulk of the diet, but regular feedings of chopped greens and insects (mealworms, crickets, waxworms and wild-caught species) are necessary to maintain them in the peak of good health and color.

Cultivated or collected aquatic plants are greatly appreciated…Duckweed is a particularly important food item, and is nearly indispensible when young are being reared.  Fortunately, it’s hard not to grow Duckweed in an outdoor pond exposed to the sun!

Breeding Mandarin and Wood Ducks

Mated pairs will breed readily if provided with a quiet aviary and a suitable nesting box (unlike most ducks, Mandarin and Wood Ducks are tree-cavity nesters).  Even when kept in groups, males rarely pursue females other than their mate, a habit that led to the Mandarin Duck’s use as a fidelity symbol in China and elsewhere.  Unlike Mallards and other ducks, Mandarin and Wood Duck drakes generally possess a calm demeanor, even in the mating season.

Wood Duck PairThe base of the nest box should measure 9 inches by 12 inches, and its height can range from 24-28 inches.  Rough-cut as opposed to finished wood should be used in the box’s construction, as both Mandarin and Wood Duck adults and young use their unique, sharp claws to enter and exit the nest cavity.

The ducklings are unable to fly when they leave the nest and so merely plunge to earth…quite a feat (please see video referenced below)  considering that natural nests may be 60 feet or more above-ground!  Notches should be cut into the inner wall of the nest to assist the young in exiting, and an entrance ramp is helpful to the adults (and essential for wing-clipped or pinioned breeders).  Wood shavings make an ideal substrate for the nest box.

Suitably-sized hollow-logs also make attractive nest boxes and are readily accepted by both Wood and Mandarin Ducks.

Further Reading

Nest box installation programs have helped bring Wood Ducks back from the brink of extinction in several states.  This Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife article provides a wealth of information.

Video of Mandarin Duck hatchlings leaping from their nest hollow.



Mandarin Duck Pair image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Yoky
Wood Duck Pair image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by BS Thurner Hof


  1. avatar

    Hello Frank, just thought I’d provide this update.

    With summer drawing to a close I am happy to say that after a lot of work by my Dad and myself the aviary is pretty much finished. It is wood framed(taking advantage of an existing structure) and measures 6.5 feet in length and width and 8 feet in height. 20gauge 1/2 inch hardware cloth, plywood nailed in for various gaps that popped up, and a Rubbermaid storage shed modified into a double door of sorts. Perhaps neatest of all in my opinion is that the dining room window allows for a good view into the aviary unobstructed by mesh while eating. Pretty much got all the basics done.(need to add feeders, waterers, and a shelter from bad weather) 3 zebra finches will test run the aviary, then we’ll have to consider permanent residents.

    The question of substrate and cleaning comes up again. All the enclosures I saw appeared to have dirt floors(perhaps concrete base underneath?)…guessing keepers spot clean w a flat shovel occasionally?(many of the enclosures even had moss on the floors so it doesn’t seem they get cleaned often at all if so). And you were right…I did indeed spot several wily mice inside some of these said aviaries!

    I’ll admit to toying the idea of keeping these ducks but after reading this article this said enclosure is clearly too small. We do have an outdoor pond of the appropriate size which some pinioned birds could be kept on but I doubt neighborhood cats will be able to resist. Ah well, one can dream.

    All the Best

  2. avatar

    Hello Joseph, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your note and congrats on the aviary. I’m sure you’re in for a great experience. An enclosed pond is best for ducks, they can wander, and even if they avoid cats by spending the night n the water, great horned owls often find them (even in open ponds in the Bronx!).

    Spot cleaning is the best method for an aviary of that size, along with an occasional replacement of the top few inches of substrate; moss is nice but difficult to manage, some types “fill in” quickly, and are used in large enclosures with few small birds.


    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Hello Frank,

    Thanks for the info…I do hope it turns out to be a success. The aviaries I saw in at SD zoo were very impressive. I’ve heard that wooden structures cannot be cleaned or disinfected readily. Is their any way around this?(perhaps protecting them with plastic?). I plan on making it so birds are discouraged from hanging around on/near the framework so it does not get soiled also.

    Also, inline with ducks on outdoor ponds how do zoos cope with predators? Ponds brimming with flamingos and ducks(not to mention free flight birds during shows) surely would appear to be a tempting target for just about any hawk.

    All the Best

  4. avatar

    Hello Joseph, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback. Sealants or waterproof paint are options, finches won’t gnaw so less concerns than parrots.

    Predator control varies; in the Bronx Zoo we trapped skunks, possums, rats, dogs, raccoons and amazingly, a pair of coyotes (followed Bx River into city from Westchester). Hawks and owls usually easy to scare off, although once had to string piano wire across a rabbit exhibit to keep out a bold red tail. I’ve also had Black-backed Gulls fly off with young turtles and even small ducks (teal).

    I spoke with San Diego Wild Animal Park (the huge outdoor area, not the zoo itself) when visiting years ago; they have lost flamingos to Golden Eagles and also have trouble with cougars, coyotes….

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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