Why has a rare duck created a flutter in Assam?

Considered the most beautiful duck in the world, the Mandarin duck made an appearance in Assam’s Tinsukia last week after more than a century.

Floating in the Maguri-Motapung beel (or wetland) in Assam’s Tinsukia district for over a week is the spectacular and rare Mandarin duck. First spotted on February 8 by Madhab Gogoi, a Tinsukia-based birder and tour guide, the duck has since become the star of the wetland — an area affected by a blowout and fire at a natural gas well located close by in May 2020.

“When I heard that Madhab had spotted the duck, I did not believe him,” said Binanda Hatiboruah, a bird guide, also based in Tinsukia, “But when I saw it myself, I hugged him [Madhab] and almost lifted him up. I was that excited.” The bird was last sighted in this part of Assam more than a century ago, in 1902. 

What is the Mandarin duck and why is it exciting?

Considered the most beautiful duck in the world, the Mandarin duck, or the (Aix galericulata) was first identified by Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The eBird website, a platform that documents birds world over, describes it as a “small-exotic looking bird” native to East Asia. “It’s very beautiful, with majestic colours and can be spotted from a distance,” said Deborshee Gogoi, a Digboi-based professor of marketing, and a birder, who also spotted the duck last week, “It was a male — we could tell because in this species, the males are more colourful than the females.”

The eBird website describes the male as “very ornate with big orangey ‘sail fins’ on the back, streaked orangey cheeks, and a small red bill with a whitish tip” and the female with “narrow white spectacles on a shaggy grey head, bold pale dappled spots along flanks, and pale bill tip.”

The migratory duck breeds in Russia, Korea, Japan and northeastern parts of China, explained Gogoi. It now has established populations in Western Europe and America too. In 2018, when a Mandarin duck was spotted in a pond in New York City’s Central Park, it created a flutter among local residents.

The duck, however, rarely visits India as it does not fall in its usual migratory route. There are only a handful of recorded sightings here. “It was recorded in 1902 in Dibru river in the Rongagora area in Tinsukia,” said Hatiboruah, “More recently, it was sighted in Manipur’s Loktak Lake in 2013, and in Saatvoini Beel in Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve in Assam’s Baksa district 2014.”

According to ornithologist Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury, a former joint secretary of the forest department, while the duck is not a globally threatened species, spotting one is always considered significant because they only make “rare appearances.” Hatiboruah said it was a “historical sighting, especially because no one can say when we will see it again.”


This article was originally published in The Indian Express in August 2018. Full article here.