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Rare duck drawing crowds

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BURNABY, B.C.—A rare duck native to East Asia is making a splash in a lake east of Vancouver and experts believe he is an escaped pet.

The Mandarin duck, with his vibrant golden, green, and blue plumage, is attracting visitors to Burnaby Lake and first was seen in May, says Irene Lau, chair of the Burnaby Lake Park Association.

A similar fowl in New York has drawn crowds, too.

Lau saw the male duck in the park in late September.

This is not the first time a Mandarin duck has been seen in this park, she noted.

Records show that about 10 years ago, there was a sighting of a Mandarin duck in the area, Lau recalled, although she added there is only that one record.

“It just popped in and out.”

The Mandarin duck is a distant cousin of wood ducks, which have been calling the park home since they were first sighted in the 1960s, Lau said.

In the 1970s, the park association started putting up nesting boxes for them so the wood ducks began to spend winters at the lake.

These birds not only glide on water and walk through the grass, but they often sit in trees, Lau noted.

“They have little hooks on their webbed feet that allow them to perch in trees,” she explained.

Harold Eyster, a Ph.D student studying biodiversity and nature conservation at the University of British Columbia, said it seems likely this bird is an escapee since these birds are popular garden ornaments.

There's likely nothing on the books that says you can't keep Mandarin ducks as pets, the BC SPCA said in a statement.

Geoff LeBaron, director of the Christmas bird count at the National Audubon Society, said the ducks are a very popular bird with people who raise water fowl, so this bird could be an escaped pet.

There was a bit of a flurry of Mandarin ducks being seen in the area for a number of years in the 1980s and 1990s, he noted, which possibly came from breeders.

Mandarin ducks can breed with the wood duck and create hybrids, LeBaron added.

In the wild, they live up to five-seven years.

“It could be there quite a while,” LeBaron remarked.

Lau believes the duck escaped from a hobby farm, and says people at the park mostly have left him alone.

The park also has a bobcat family and a mink, so whether he dodges them depends on how smart he is, she added.

“But he could stay year-round because life at the lake is pretty good,” Lau chuckled.

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