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An Open Letter to the Central Park Mandarin Duck

cc: all other hot ducks

Dear Duck Xiānshēng, 

I hope this letter finds you well. I understand you recently took a little vacation from the hubbub you've been causing in Central Park. Did you get some rest? Was it a nice reprieve? Did you go leaf peeping and antiquing in the Hudson Valley? I hope so. That part of the country is absolutely lovely this time of year.

But I digress. 

First off, I want to thank you. We don't know where you came from (someone's private collection maybe?) or why you suddenly appeared (you were crushingly lonely with no duck friends?), but you have captured the fascination of birders and non-birders alike, in New York City and around the world. That's no small thing. You've been featured by the New York Times, deemed the city's most eligible bachelor, and even got dubbed a "rock star" across the pond. You have a T-shirt now. 

There's no denying it: You are one hot duck

But you also aren't that special, so don't go getting a big crest, okay? Yeah, you are exotic and unbelievably gorgeous with your dazzling plumage and majestic wing sails, but you're not quite the mysterious rarity that the Times and others first made you out to be. Vagrant Mandarin Ducks routinely pop up around the country. There's an established population in California. You aren't even a first for this city! So, sure, you're exciting and novel, but c'mon, it's us, we can be real here. Not to mention, your non-native garb is also showing up our most beautiful native duck. Don't think that Wood Duck doesn't mind. He does. 

Now that we got that out of the way, I also wanted to offer some advice: Don't eat the bread. I know it's tempting and that the people providing those tasty morsels are just trying to get better looks, but they're empty calories. Stick to dabbling. I'll get off my soapbox now. 

Considering how popular you are, you probably have no idea that your appearance sparked some mixed reactions in the birding world, especially on Twitter (it's a communication platform where you can share these short messages called tweets with your followers and . . . nevermind). Reaction 1: A stunning duck that most people have never seen before and never will again—cool! Reaction 2: An exotic species that's clearly an escapee, doesn't count for your life list, and represents potential competition for endemics—not that cool

Both sides have their points, and this is why for many New York City birders a rare stray bird native to North America appearing here is a much bigger deal: the kaleidoscopic Painted Bunting that stopped by Prospect Park a few years back, the off-course Kirtland's Warbler that shocked us this spring, or even the surprise Harris's Sparrow that was in Central Park at the same time as you last week. Doubt anyone has ever called that bird hot. 

Don't let all this ruffle your iridescent feathers, though. You're just a bird someone bred or bought trying to live your best duck life. And so I'm glad you decided to drop by NYC for a spell and cause such a stir. You've not only gotten people outside and given pause to the New Yorkers who have never truly considered the waterfowl in Central Park before, but you've also been a welcome distraction during a trying time in this country, a dash of joy to a jaded lot. Birds are always good for that. 

So thanks again, and best of luck wherever you head next—which will hopefully be soon, because I'm really tired of having people send me messages as if I don't know about you yet. 

Warmest regards,  

Andrew Del-Colle 
Site Director and Editor, Audubon.org 

P.S. I'm sorry I haven't visited. I was lucky enough to see one of your cousins in Berlin once, and I'm not ready to stand in a long line to see you, no matter how striking you are. Maybe when things settle down. 

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