A Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) was spotted in Central Park in October and New Yorkers have been posting photos and noting sightings on social media ever since – New York is in love with this duck! 

While there has been much speculation how it ended up in a pond in Central Park, it’s really not much of a mystery.  Because of their beauty, Mandarin ducks have long been a favorite among waterfowl breeders and are commonly kept by bird enthusiasts.  The Central Park bird was likely owned by a bird fancier and either was released in or escaped to Central Park.  

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which operates four zoos and an aquarium in New York City, has long since confirmed that the Mandarin duck spotted in Central Park and other locations around the city did not come from one of its zoos. For those who want a sure way to see a Mandarin duck, this same beautiful species can be observed at the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, and Prospect Park Zoo.

At the Bronx Zoo, there is a male Mandarin duck, living in JungleWorld, an indoor rainforest habitat that features species from across the continent of Asia.

At the Central Park Zoo, Mandarin ducks are in the Tropic Zone and in the Tisch Children’s Zoo. The Central Park Zoo has a successful breeding program for Mandarin ducks and many other species of waterfowl.  At present there are 24 species of waterfowl at the zoo. This summer, the Central Park Zoo successfully hatched its first harlequin duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) and in 2011 was the first zoo in North America to breed the endangered scaly-sided merganser (Mergus squamatus) – a program that contributes to the conservation of the species in nature (LINK).

At the Prospect Park Zoo, which has had Mandarin ducks since 2011, there are three males and three females. Two of these ducks live on a marsh alongside other waterfowl species including Baer’s pochards, hooded mergansers, Sebastopol geese, trumpeter swans, and more. Mandarin ducks are also ambassador animals in the Prospect Park Zoo’s education programs.

Mandarin ducks are not endangered in the wild. Their native range encompasses much of East Asia including Russia, Korea, China, Japan, and Taiwan, with introduced populations in parts of Europe. They are a popular species in many private ponds. The climate in their native range is similar to that of the Northeastern United States.

Many of the waterfowl species at the WCS zoos are bred as part of Species Survival Plans (SSPs) which are cooperative breeding programs administered by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and designed to maintain genetic diversity in zoo populations.