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The Secret Life of Mandarin Ducks

My father once told me that “wildlife reveals its secrets to those who observe it closely and patiently, and you can learn about the personalities and stories of individual animals”. That was exactly what happened to me. I never imagined that my dedication to watching Mandarin ducks every day, in the early mornings and in the cold and rainy weather, would lead me to discover new aspects of their behaviour. Behaviours I never thought existed. Nor did I expect that it would help me publish a paper on their behaviour and land a job as an ornithologist at ZSL London. Little did I know that due to my passion, patience and perseverance, Mandarin ducks were the key to unlocking my dreams.

My love for nature started at a very young age. I remember exploring the natural world on my doorstep, in Richmond Park, with my father. We would sit for hours watching the birds, and wildlife. This is when I finally spotted my first sighting of a mandarin duck. The most beautiful bird in the world. I became obsessed. I was truly captivated by them.

This species aroused my curiosity so much that I pursued studying them for my MSc Research project. For 38 days in spring, from 26 March 2021 to 26 May 2021, I observed these ducks in Richmond Park, Isabella Plantation, for five days a week (8am-6pm). Only once in May, for the duration of 2 minutes, did I witness this behaviour. It never occurred again. After spending hours speculating what the ducks were doing, and reviewing the literature, due to the lack of knowledge surrounding mandarin duck’s wild behavioural ecology, I found nothing and so decided to turn to my supervisor, a renown waterfowl expert Dr Paul Rose, to seek answers. I finally got an answer. According to Paul, they were practicing courtship due to the lack of females in the area. I found this fascinating. To this day, I have not seen them perform this behaviour since.

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