Mandarin Duck: From Molt to Magnificent

This gallery contains 5 photos. Over the course of several months this year, I had the privilege of witnessing one of Nature’s most stunning creatures undergo a stunning transformation from egad-what-on-earth-is-that to drop-dead-gorgeous. 

My subject was a male Mandarin Duck who had decided to take up residence at Burnaby Lake’s Piper Spit in May 2018. Mandarins are not native to North America, but call Asia their home range, as well as parts of the U.K., Russia, and other areas of Europe where feral populations–the descendents of formerly captive breeding stock that had escaped hobby farms–had established themselves in their wilds of their new homes. 

Male Mandarin Duck in Eclipse Plumage. © W.H. SIM PHOTOGRAPHY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Male Mandarin Duck in eclipse plumage (lacking colors, red beak, and feathers. Our first meeting! (June 17)
f/6.3, 1/320, 370mm, ISO 500

Our first encounter saw the much touted male Mandarin Duck at his most sorry-looking state. He was in his absolute prime just the month before, and now he had shed all that beautiful plumage. Right now, he looked like a plucked duck!

No eye-catching cinnamon ruffs or sailfins yet, but at least he doesn’t look so woebegone! (Aug 26)
f/6.3, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 640

It was speculated that this adult male Mandarin duck was an escapee, probably from an Oregon, U.S.-based hobby farm. Whatever the circumstances of his freedom, we were glad to have him. But there were so many conditions that had to be met for me to document his changes. He had to be at Piper Spit for months as he underwent his molt (once he started losing his feathers, he would be unable to fly); he had to be safe from predators (he was, relatively speaking, safe, although bears and bobcats do roam the area), and we had to hope that his owner wouldn’t come to claim him (given all the media attention focused on him, that was a strong possibility).

Mandarin Duck at Piper Spit / Burnaby Lake. © W.H. SIM PHOTOGRAPHY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be impressed: a living, walking painting! (Oct 14) 
f/6.3, 1/250, 313mm, ISO 1600

Through the course of his changes, this feathered celebrity, although not shy, was a bit more reluctant to go into the limelight for bird seed than the resident waterfowl. By the time he was dressed to the nines–with his cinnamon-hued “sailfins” and ruffs–he stood out even from his well-dressed male Wood Duck cousins, and, I’m told, had even made a few passes at the female Wood Ducks (who can’t resist the male Mandarin Duck in all his breeding regalia?)

Mandarin Duck at Piper Spit / Burnaby Lake. © W.H. SIM PHOTOGRAPHY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
This headon shot shows off those flowing russet-colored ruffs and that fire engine red beak (Oct 14)
f/6.3, 1/320, 340mm, ISO 800

Despite his best efforts and dazzling plumage (both species can produce hybrid offspring), he did, however, remain unattached on the relationship front, and his last sighting was in late October 2018. Perhaps his owner had come to claim him. Perhaps he had flown off to look for others of his kind. One thing’s for sure: wherever he goes, he has no shortage of admirers. I hope he finds what he’s looking for.

A color palette like no other. That multi-colored crest reminds me of a bicycle helmet! (Oct 14)
f/7.1, 1/320, 340mm, ISO 1600



13 thoughts on “Mandarin Duck: From Molt to Magnificent

  1. A beautiful series! I do hope he is safe wherever he is. Mandarin Ducks are “locals” here, but they always attract admirers when in their full plumage glory 😀 If I may say so, the females are beautiful too – sure they are brown, but show a lovely shade of “lipstick” 🙂 ❤

    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

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