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Colorful mandarin duck becomes star after deciding to spend winter in Tartu

A colorful mandarin duck has decided to spend the winter in Tartu.
A colorful mandarin duck has decided to spend the winter in Tartu. Source: Airika Harrik

This winter, Tartu residents have become captivated by a new arrival in town. A colorful mandarin duck from Southeast Asia, has decided to spend the winter season in Estonia's City of Good Thoughts, socializing with the other birds on the Emajõgi River and Anne Canal.

While he tries to blend in as best he can with the local birds on the Emajõgi River and Anne Canal, there is simply no avoiding the fact that for residents of Tartu, the colorful mandarin duck has become a major star. Since word spread of his arrival, Tartuvians have been flocking to see and photograph the exotic bird as he goes about daily life in Estonia.

One local resident, Hilja, said she had been searching a long time for the duck before she was finally able to get a long-awaited photo.

"I've been coming to see him for a long time, ever since I found out he was nesting here. I've been to the canal and here and there along the river, but now I've seen him. Beautiful. It's unbelievable that he can be here in Estonia to hibernate," Hilja said.

"Since I recently started following the (Facebook group) "Nature Photo Bank" ("Looduse pildipanka"), he really caught my eye. So, I thought I'd look it up. He was so colorful and I wanted to see him for myself. Something so exotic in our grey climate," said Maire, another Tartu resident.

It is not the first time mandarin ducks have visited Tartu. Last spring for example, a similar bird was spotted swimming on the Emajõgi River.

"In spring it is perhaps not such a rarity, but in winter it is. In winter, we don't usually have these types of birds. /.../ It's possible that it hasn't come here naturally, because it's a Southeast Asian species. It's unlikely that it would come here on its own," said Marko Mägi, ornithologist at the University of Tartu.

40 kilometers away from Tartu, there is a small farm and animal shelter, where a number of birds and other animals are kept. A mandarin duck had been among those in residence, but that was over a year ago. Could he be the same duck who has now caused such excitement along the banks of the Emajõgi?

"The keeper opened the cage door and it flew out into the sky. That was that, and he was never seen here again. He even left his female behind," said Marjet Lembera, the owner of Haldjamaa Bird and Animal Shelter.

"I don't know if he's our duck, but it was a great joy to see him," she said of Tartu's newest superstar.

Lembera said that animals have left her shelter in the past, but they have always been brought back home.

"One peacock was running around in the forest for a bit. Then a golden one ran around the field and the roadside. But they're usually all brought back home. It's mostly the male birds that escape. It kind of gives them some thinking space. The females are always more likely to be the homemakers," Lembera said.

Fans of the Tartu mandarin duck have noticed that recently the bird always stays close to the same female. Mägi however was quick to quash rumors of a potential winter romance.

"I don't really believe that he has found a mate here right now. He just happened to be sitting on the ground with one of the female mallards. Let's wait until spring and then maybe we can talk about that further," said Mägi.

According to Mägi, a mandarin duck can manage the Estonian winter pretty well as long as there is always water available. However, it could be threatened by Eurasian goshawks.

"Life will tell how he does. For now, as long as there's free water, I don't think the ducks will have a problem. They'll get enough to eat from the water and they'll feel comfortable enough. And as the weather gets warmer, the cooler it gets, the easier it will be for them. /.../ He does have to be a bit careful though. He's a relatively tiny duck, and there are Eurasion goshawks in Tartu that might, if they're lucky, be able to grab him," explained the ornithologist.

Mägi advises people in the city not to feed the ducks on the river or canal, and certainly not to throw bread or pastry products to them.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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