An Eco-sustainable World
BirdsSpecies Animal

Aix galericulata

Aix galericulata

The mandarin duck (Aix galericulata Linnaeus, 1758) is a bird belonging to the Anatidae family.

Systematic –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Animalia,
Phylum Chordata,
Aves class,
Order Anseriformes,
Family Anatidae,
Subfamily Anatinae,
Cairinini tribe,
Genus Aix,
Species A. galericulata.
The term is basionym:
– Anas galericulata Linnaeus, 1758.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The Aix galericulata is an anseriform bird that was once widespread in eastern Asia, but large-scale exports and destruction of its forest habitat have reduced populations in eastern Russia and China to fewer than 1,000 pairs in each country; Japan, however, is believed to still contain around 5,000 pairs. Asian populations are migratory and winter on the plains of eastern China and southern Japan.
Specimens often escape from collections, and a large feral population became established in Britain in the 20th century; more recently, small numbers have bred in Ireland, concentrated in Dublin parks. Now, around 7,000 people are found in Britain along with other populations on the European continent, the largest of which is in the Berlin region. Isolated populations exist in the United States.
The preferred habitat of its breeding range is the thick, shrubby wooded edges of rivers and lakes. It is found mainly in low-lying areas, but can breed in valleys at altitudes up to 1,500 m. In winter it is also found in swamps, flooded fields and open rivers. Although it prefers fresh waters, it can also be seen wintering in coastal lagoons and estuaries. In its introduced European range, it lives in more open habitats than its native range, around the edges of lakes, marshy meadows and cultivated areas with nearby woodland.

Description –
The Aix galericulata is a small and compact duck 41-49 cm long, with an average weight of 440-570 g and a wingspan of 65-75 cm.
It is one of the smallest types of waterfowl, with a shorter height and smaller overall body size than other ducks.
The adult male has a small, red bill, a large white crescent above the eye, and a reddish face and “whiskers”. The male’s chest is purple with two vertical white bars, his sides are reddish, and he has two orange feathers on his back (large feathers sticking out similar to boat sails). The female is similar to the female Anas platyrhynchos, with a grey-lavender shade of plumage and a white eye ring and stripe running back from the eye. The female is paler underneath, has a small white stripe on her sides and a pale tip of her beak.
Both males and females have crests, but the purple crest is more pronounced on the male.
Like many other duck species, the male undergoes a moult after the mating season into an eclipsing plumage. When in eclipse plumage, the male appears similar to the female, but can be distinguished by its bright yellow-orange or red bill, lack of crest, and less pronounced eye stripe.
The ducklings are very similar to the ducklings of A. platyrhynchos. They are distinguished because the ocular stripe stops at the eye, while in the ducklings of A. platyrhynchos reaches up to the beak.

Biology –
The Aix galericulata is a monogamous species that tends to have a single partner for the rest of their life. If for any reason one of them were to lose their life, it would be difficult for the couple to find another.
To breed, they tend to build their nests near lakes, ponds, rivers, streams or swamps. They prefer wooded areas where, furthermore, if there are trees with already a cavity that could be used as a nest, then they will build it in that tree.
The location of the nest is chosen very well by the couple, since they prefer to locate their nests in places with little access and very hidden if they cannot find a tree with a hole (in fact their nests can hardly be located at first glance).
To attract females, males compete in various ways. The female tends to favor males that display the brightest colors that express superior quality of her genes, and her suitor’s level of health and strength, meaning that she will produce superior quality offspring.
However, for the female to notice these qualities, the males will have to attract her attention, which they achieve by practicing a sui generis courtship ritual, where the movements of the head, neck and wings are the most notable, while at the same time they emit small screams and other sounds typical of the ritual. The energy and grace with which the male expresses his courtship will add to the characteristics indicated above, since, in any case, it will be the female who will make the final decision, with which male she will form a couple which, as mentioned, will be for the whole the life.
The breeding season begins at the end of April. Once the female chooses the male, they mate for several days and frequently to ensure the fertility of the eggs. The female lays her eggs in the nest that she has built, which can be made with twigs, straw, dry leaves and, close to the deposition, with a little down taken from the chest area (even in the case of a nest in the tree ).
Additionally, having an easy-to-access water source is important, as couples typically mate inside the liquid element.
Normally the duck lays 8 to 12 eggs, which she incubates exclusively for 28 days. The male does not take part in incubation.
Almost immediately, after all the eggs have hatched, and when the ducklings are already dry, the female leaves the nest and from below encourages the ducklings to jump towards it (since they are nidifugous birds that leave the nest at birth), which they almost certainly do after their mother’s call. The softness of their down and the position of the body during the fall work as a kind of natural parachute that slows down during the fall and this, combined with the abundance of forest leaves, completely cushions the blow, after which the duckling will go to do the first snack at the nearby water source.
Ducks make excellent mothers and usually successfully raise all their ducklings (if no predators or fatalities are involved). The male is also an excellent father, since, unlike other duck species, he always accompanies the family in his role as protector.
At birth the chicks are fed by the female who indicates to them which herbs, aquatic plants, insects and small animals and aquatic insects they can eat, which she does by giving an example, so they learn by imitation. Like all their species, ducklings know how to swim from the first moment. They don’t need to learn it, as their swimming is instinctive. Very soon even baby ducks learn to look for their own food in the shade of their parents.
The parents will take care of their little ones for a period of approximately two months. The growth and development process of mandarin ducks actually lasts several months, until they reach sexual maturity at 2-3 years of age. Having said this, the chicks grow relatively quickly, but will only reach adequate plumage that allows them to fly when they reach around 8 weeks of age, when, from that moment on, they will tend to become independent from their parents, even if they continue to grow by developing organically.
Juveniles are similar to females and reach independence at approximately 45-60 days of age.

Ecological Role –
The Aix galericulata is one of the most famous ducks for its elegant beauty, held in high esteem by the Chinese people where it has influenced art and culture over the centuries.
Compared to other ducks they are shy birds, preferring to seek shelter under trees such as overhanging willows and forming smaller flocks, but they can become bolder as a result of domestication due to frequent interaction with humans.
These ducks feed by dabbling or walking on the ground. They feed mainly on plants and seeds, especially beech trees. The species also adds snails, insects and small fish to its diet. The diet of these ducks changes seasonally; in autumn and winter they mainly eat acorns and cereals. In spring they feed mainly on insects, snails, fish and aquatic plants. In summer they eat worms, small fish, frogs, molluscs and small snakes. They feed primarily around dawn or dusk, perching in trees or on the ground during the day.
Among the threats to this duck are minks, raccoon dogs, otters, skunks, Eurasian eagle owls and grass snakes; however, the species by which it is preyed upon changes with its range.
The biggest threat to this duck is the loss of its habitat to loggers. Hunters also pose a threat to A. galericulata, because they are often unable to recognize it in flight and in movement.
However, according to the IUCN Red List it is a species of least concern.

Guido Bissanti

– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– C.Battisti, D. Taffon, F. Giucca, 2008. Atlas of nesting birds, Gangemi Editore, Rome.
– L. Svensson, K.Mullarney, D. Zetterstrom, 1999. Guide to the Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Near East, Harper Collins Publisher, United Kingdom.

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