I’m sure you’ve heard that over the last two months, the stunning Mandarin Duck pictured above has been hanging out in New York City’s Central Park. Its favorite spot is the Central Park Pond, at the southern end of the park at 60th Street and Fifth Avenue. The bird also spent time in New Jersey, in North Bergen, Weehawken, and Edgewater.
The species, of course, is native to Russia, China, Korea, and Japan. It is often held in captivity, and this duck is believed to have been released or escaped from its owner.
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Since it’s not truly wild, it’s not countable on birders’ life lists, but by hanging out in our most populous city and the center of the American media world, the bird has garnered an incredible amount of attention.
Stories about the Mandarin Duck have been published in the New York Times(twice!), Elle Magazine, Gothamist, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the UK’s Independent.
A photographer from Queens summed up the bird’s appeal to the Independent: ““So many people are drawn to this bird because its vibrant, vivid colors are associated with sunsets and rainbows.”
While the bird isn’t notable from an ornithological perspective, it appears to be a “spark bird” for a lot of people: the bird that piques their interest in birds and birding.
David Barrett, who runs the Manhattan Bird Alert Twitter account, says he thinks the duck “is bringing many new people to birding,” he says. “Since the arrival of the Mandarin Duck, our account following has grown by over 8,000. We see much more engagement with all of our tweets, including those about wild birds — which of course are our focus.
“Many birders who come to watch the Mandarin Duck take photos of our other ducks, too, such as our handsome Wood Ducks, and share them on Twitter. We also see more people coming out to other water bodies in the park to see the Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, and others about which we tweet. And Mandarin Duck viewing on the Pond has become a social event, bringing a great variety of people together. Going out to see ducks on the Pond has become a cool thing to do.
“We are fortunate to have several owls in Central Park this season, too,” Barrett adds. “Owl photos have proved popular, and new people want to see them in person. Weekend bird walks in the park are drawing more attendees. All positive things for birding!”
Andrew Maas, a spokesperson for New York City Audubon, notes that his co-workers have heard from their non-birder friends who want to see the duck.
“We do think the bird has gotten non-birding, non-nature enthusiasts to come to the park and has made people aware that Central Park is great, managed habitat for birds and other wildlife,” he says.
“There are also two owl species currently in Central Park, so we hope that many who are coming to see the Mandarin Duck are also hearing about the Northern Saw-whet and Barred Owls in the park and choose to seek them out as well,” Maas adds. “So, definitely it could be a spark bird. It is great that the duck has gotten people to view Central Park as a place to see wildlife. Hopefully, quite a few of them will continue coming into the park to seek out birds and other wildlife in the park.”