As you look out across Cheshire’s largest and deepest mere, a strange sight that might greet your eyes is of a splendid male Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) or maybe even several pairs and, occasionally, ducklings in tow. Rostherne Mere is now home to a self-sustaining population of Mandarins which is clearly still on the increase.
The first bird seen on Rostherne Mere was in 1969. Ones or twos were recorded annually for around 20 years but since the late 1990’s, sightings and numbers have been on the increase, with a record maximum of 44 birds seen in November 2011.
The Mandarin Duck is a native of north-east Asia and Japan and was introduced to British collections during the early twentieth century. The birds in Cheshire originally came from a collection, but the species now breeds throughout the County with core populations in the reservoirs near Macclesfield Forest, Radnor Mere and Rostherne Mere.
The male Mandarin is simply stunning with its distinctive golden-orange sails and a patchwork of colours and stripes including the purple-green crested head. However, the female should not be overlooked and is clothed in beautiful subtle mottled shades of grey.
Mandarin Ducks are tree-perching ducks using holes in trees and nest boxes (often put up with other species in mind) to breed in. They choose sites not far from water and have a preference for densely wooded areas. It is amazing how the tiny ducklings manage to clamber up the inside of a nest cavity inside a tree which may be over a metre in depth and then leap to the ground outside.
The species seems to have found a vacant ecological niche in the fringing tree vegetation around several of Cheshire’s water bodies and this colourful bird looks like it is here to stay.