Country: Nature Notes

Click to follow
EVERY DAY now the sky above our valley intermittently comes alive with the strident "ark ark" of mandarin duck scudding away to nesting sites high up the river. One peculiarity of the species is that the ducks nest in holes in trees, and have feet prehensile enough for them to perch on branches. At this time of year they also alight on chimneypots, like jackdaws, as if assessing the possibility of nesting down in the flues.

The male mandarin is an exceedingly handsome fellow, with orange patches on his cheeks, bright white above the eye, a crest of feathers protruding from the back of his head, and two further tufts rising like little fins on either side of his rump. The species was first brought to this country from the Far East early in the 18th century, and its high colouring made it a favourite for ornamental lakes and ponds.

Oddly enough, although mandarins are declining in their original home, almost to the point of being endangered, they are flourishing here, and the British population is now thought to number more than 7,000. Most live south of the Thames, in counties like Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, but there is also a colony at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge, on the Severn, and it is birds from there which come up-river to breed along the streams in the deep valleys of the Cotswold escarpment.