The news channels are aflutter (or is it atwitter) with the news that a Mandarin duck has been sighted in Central Park in New York City and is attracting crowds of thousands. Most stories then go on to say that the species is native to southeast Asia, leaving the impression that this particular bird has wandered by itself from Cambodia to New York, perhaps drawn by the bright lights. Put simply, this is either fake news or displays a deep ignorance combined with journalistic laziness.
Mandarin ducks are the most spectacularly plumaged of all the waterbirds, seemingly designed by an artist intent on creating a fantasy bird and using all the brightest colours in the palette. I recommend that you check out this bird on Google. With its incredible plumage, Mandarins are favourites of bird hobbyists, hobby farms, aviarists, etc., and are widely seen in bird collections all over the world. Being birds with wings they also regularly escape or are released from the locations to which they are introduced. Hence the bird in Central Park. Over the years Mandarins have sometimes been present for extended periods at Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park and a bird is currently being reported at Central Park in Burnaby. I have three reports of the species on the Sunshine Coast with the first being present for at least two days in April 1991 at the Sechelt Marsh.
Birds escaping or being released into the wild from captive situations have been an ongoing development all around the world since time immemorial. Today, they are often referred to as invasive species. Generally, the practice is undesirable, though some species have a greater negative impact than others and humans view the consequences differently based on their perspective. Game birds have been widely introduced around the world and all the ring-necked pheasants of North America and Europe are originally from the Himalayas. An introduced species currently expanding its range in western North America is the wild turkey, which is native to the east. There are now a few scattered self-supporting colonies around southern B.C., including Saturna Island. For the last two summers, a single California quail of unknown origin has been present at the Wilson Creek estuary. A related species, the peacock, is also prone to introduction and escape into the wild.
Geese and ducks are, of course, widely domesticated and escape or are released into the wild. A particular problem with these species is that they easily hybridize with related wild species, resulting in cross-breeds with weird plumage.
I will return to the issue of introduced species in a future column. To report your sightings or questions contact email@example.com or 604-885-5539. Good birding.