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February 05, 2019

Delco birder photographs rare Mandarin duck at Ridley Park Lake

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Main Mandarin Source/Brian Quindlen

Mandarin duck photographed at Ridley Park Lake on Jan. 12, 2019.

New York City's famous Mandarin duck at Central Park has a counterpart in the Philadelphia area.

The colorfully feathered bird, native to East Asia, is naturally found in parts of China, Japan and Russia.

It is anything but native to Delaware County, but that's where another unexplained Mandarin duck turned up last month.

Straight Mandarin duckSource/Brian Quindlen

Mandarin duck photographed at Ridley Park Lake on Jan. 12, 2019.

Brian Quindlen, an avid birder and elementary school teacher in Garnet Valley, received a tip about the duck from one of his Philly-area bird texting groups. The exotic bird was somewhere to be found at Ridley Park Lake, the alert said.

"After all of the hoopla that surrounded the one in Central Park, I decided I had to go photograph this one," Quindlen told PhillyVoice on Tuesday. "I also really wanted to show it to my students."

Tilt MandarinSource/Brian Quindlen

Mandarin duck photographed at Ridley Park Lake on Jan. 12, 2019.

If a Mandarin duck appears in the United States, it's usually only because it has escaped captivity. A few isolated populations have nested on their own in California and North Carolina, Quindlen said, but they're otherwise almost always pets that have gotten loose.

"They make rather docile and agreeable pets to own," Quindlen said. "Aside from their beauty, people keep them because they're pretty friendly."

If their wings haven't been pinioned to prevent flight, Mandarin ducks will often leave on their own accord when they see an opportunity.


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That appears to have been the case with theĀ so-called "hot duck" of Central Park. The duck was clearly in captivity at some point because there was a band around its leg.

Delco's Mandarin duck didn't have such a band when Quindlen went to the lake on Jan. 12.

No band MandarinSource/Brian Quindlen

Mandarin duck photographed at Ridley Park Lake on Jan. 12, 2019.

"It was behaving like a captive," said Quindlen, who watched as the duck approached him and socialized with other, slightly larger mallards at the park.

Social MandarinSource/Brian Quindlen

Mandarin duck photographed at Ridley Park Lake on Jan. 12, 2019.

The video Quindlen posted on Twitter was digi-scoped using his iPhone and spotting scope. The rest of the photos seen here were taken with his digital camera.

Quindlen returned to the lake two days later and found it was frozen solid. The Delco duck was nowhere to be found. In fact, there were no ducks in sight.

Considering that the Central Park duck appeared in North Jersey at one point, Quindlen thinks it's possible the Delco duck may have found its way to a river and moved on from the area. In the wild, it's also at risk of becoming prey to a hawk or a fox, especially because it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Eyes mandarinSource/Brian Quindlen

Mandarin duck photographed at Ridley Park Lake on Jan. 12, 2019.

Birders keep what's called a "life list," Quindlen said, and while it only applies to native species in a defined territory for any given list, the chance to see a Mandarin duck was too good to pass up.


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"It's thrilling to see something so jaw-droppingly beautiful," Qundlen said. I've been birding my whole life and love any chance to bring it into the public eye."

Just this month, Quindlen was told of a snowy owl hanging out in Philadelphia (the exact location is kept under wraps to prevent its harm). He also went and took a video of the owl.

But the Delco duck will remain one of Quindlen's favorites.

"We have our own hot duck now," Quindlen said. "It's nice to show New Yorkers that we have it going on in Delco."

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