Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wood Duck or Mandarin Duck?

Duck at Huntington Central Park

My Picture from Central Park

Wood Duck Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

Female Wood Duck--Aix sponsa Courtesy of US Fish &
Wildlife Service

Notice that the pictures are very similar, but not the same. In my post A Walk in Huntington Central Park West 10/15/2007 , I identified a small duck I had seen on my walk as a female Wood Duck. However, there were small differences between the pictures that I had studied of female Wood Ducks and this cute little bird. And it bothered me. Actually, the differences started nagging at me. I began to look for other ducks that looked like this bird from the park. I looked at lots of pictures and videos. Look at some with me.

Take a look at the following pictures of the female Wood Duck, and like the Wood Duck photo above also all Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service. (Hint the female is the drab one. The drake --the male duck--has all the flash.)

Wood Duck Pair Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service Male and Female Wood Ducks. Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service
Female Wood  Duck Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service Female Wood Duck Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

Wood Duck Pair Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service
Wood Duck pair Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice in each photo of the female Wood Duck that white surrounds the eye. It is almost like the eye is set in a large, white tear drop. However, if you look at my picture, that is not the case. The little female in my picture has a very thin white line around the eye and a thin line going toward the back of her head like spectacles. The crest is shaggier and more prominent. The coloring looks different in different light, but is very similar. Most of the markings are very close, but not exact.

Now click on these links, and take a look at the female Mandarin Duck. (And the drake has the most flash of any duck I've seen. Isn't he something?)

Confusing Ducks and Hybrids from Cornell University

Pictures. Good article on telling ducks in general apart. You have to page down to see the female Wood Duck.

Telling Mandarins from Wood Ducks

Good article on telling one species from the other. A good comparison of females that gets right to the heart of differentiating these two ducks.

Mandarin Ducks from the Honolulu Zoo

Good article and pictures.

Male Mandarin Duck added 04/17/2010. San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Mandarin Duck Video from the Internet Bird Collection

Video that shows the difference. Especially the last shot. Stick around for the whole video.

Now, let's take a look at my duck again.

The Duck at Huntington Central Park


Note the similarities and differences between my picture and the female Wood Duck and my picture and the Mandarin Duck. When I first looked at both ducks, they seemed to be almost exactly the same. But once I looked at a lot of pictures and videos, it became to easier to recognize that they are two separate species.

Watch the video below. In this video, you can also hear the duck from Central Park call as she stands behind the male Mallard Duck. The call is a bit sudden and explosive like a whistled sneeze or cough.

Now, I think it is obvious that this female duck is a Mandarin Duck and not a Wood Duck. So, how did I make such a mistake? Well, first of all, I am human. All birders on occasion make mistakes--even experts--which I am not. Second, I made an assumption that I knew what the bird was without really observing it. It wasn't observation, but assumption that guided my identification. I had heard that there was a female Wood Duck at Huntington Lake in Central Park, and I assumed other birders knew better than I did. I was lazy. And I assumed that this was the bird I had heard about. So either the other birders were wrong, or this was not the bird they saw. Always observe the bird you see, and not the bird you think you should see. Hold off for a few minutes jumping to an identification and observe what you are seeing. Note the markings and behavior , the size, sounds it makes, and its color. Then after noting all the characteristics you are seeing, make a hypothesis. Guess. Look it up and see if it matches what you saw. Are there differences in appearance, sound, or behavior? What are the differences? And finally could this be any other bird? After comparing and accounting for differences, make an identification.

So, the lesson I learned was observe, observe, and then observe some more. Go thou, and do likewise.

OC Birder Girl Links of Interest

Wild Ducks of Orange County

Central Park in Huntington Beach

Mandarin Duck

Wood Duck--Aix sponsa

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