An unusual animal has made its home in New York’s Central Park, dazzling passersby with its vibrant blues, purples, greens, and gold: a Mandarin duck. This creature is far from its homeland – it’s native to East Asia – and its presence is both baffling and exciting enthusiasts.
The duck, a male, was first spotted in Central Park's Pond on Oct. 10. A video of the bird was shared by the Manhattan Bird Alert, a Twitter account run by birder David Barrett that keeps New Yorkers up-to-date with rare bird sightings and beyond.
Thousands of people viewed the footage, many of whom were anxious to catch a glimpse of the rarity themselves. But the following day, the Mandarin duck had vanished.
Roughly two weeks later, the bird returned. This time, the duck – not to be confused with the North American wood duck – was spotted at the boat basin on West 79th Street, near the Hudson River. The creature “got a lot of publicity, but few people got to see it,” Barrett told Fox News on Thursday. “But then it shows up mysteriously at the boat basin.”
On Sunday, the bird was “noted again at the Central Park Pond,” he said with enthusiasm.
But what is perhaps the most exhilarating part of the bird’s story is how it arrived in Manhattan in the first place. Barrett theorized three possibilities, the first being the duck had escaped from a local zoo.
“The Mandarin duck is not native in the United States at all; it’s a wild bird in East Asia. The only way you would see that duck in our area is at a zoo, and the Central Park Zoo has a Mandarin duck that looks just like this one,” which is why he first thought the facility may have lost the colorful creature, he said.
But officials with the Central Park Zoo and others in different boroughs have not reported a missing Mandarin duck, Barrett confirmed after placing calls.
That leaves two other options: either the duck was owned privately – maybe in neighboring New Jersey or kept illegally as a pet in New York City – and had escaped or was dumped by an owner who no longer wanted it.
“Perhaps someone had a little duck farm and it escaped,” Barrett suggested, noting the animal was “definitely owned because it has a black band around its leg, signifying it was a captive bird.” It's also possible the Mandarin’s owner “got tired of it and decided to release it in the park,” an occurrence that is not uncommon with exotic pets, Barrett said.
While we may never know for sure how the creature arrived, the duck is integrating well with its surrounding wildlife, including mallard ducks — a Central Park staple.
“Ducks have their own community, so this is very important,” he said. “Ducks need to work together to protect each other, so we don’t want the others to ostracize it.” But luckily for this duck, “Things are going pretty well. The Mandarin is an aggressive duck and it’s asserting its dominance,” Barrett explained.
With winter on the way, Barrett expressed concern the duck could possibly die — not because of cold temperatures, but due to lack of food.
“There is a risk it could die if the water freezes over,” Barrett said, explaining the Mandarin duck is a “dabbler,” meaning it gets its food by feeding off of insects and vegetation on the pond’s surface.
Thankfully, there typically is an open patch of water at the Pond, allowing the bird to find food until spring arrives.
While the bird will likely never breed – there are no female Mandarin ducks currently at the Pond and the male is unlikely to cross-breed – Barrett said it could theoretically make its home in Central Park for the rest of its life.
If that's the case, Barrett is all for it.
“It looks so distinctly different ... it’s breathtaking,” he said.