Ducks 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.
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.
The 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.
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