Colour mutations in Mandarin and Carolina, some adore others abhor.

The North American Wood Duck or Carolina and the Mandarin from South East Asia occupy similar

ecological niches favouring broad leaved woodland with standing or slow moving water. The woodland

provides some of the seeds that make up a large part of their diet but perhaps more importantly provide

the required hollows for nesting sites.  Both species have been available to aviculture for a very long time  and escapees and introductions from some of the early collections undoubtedly contributed to the establishment of feral populations of both but more especially the Mandarin in the UK.

Over countless generations of breeding in captivity from relatively small gene pools it is not entirely surprising that from time to time different colour variations have occurred. In my view this is no different to the occurrence of an occasional white Blackbird in the garden. However the infrequent occurrence of a white Blackbird in the wild does not become established partly because of the diverse gene pool available, it is unlikely that it will mate with another Blackbird carrying the gene for white, and perhaps more importantly it is very conspicuous in the environment and stands a very significant chance of being predated before it has been able to breed and increase the gene pool of Blackbirds carrying white. This is a fundamental of evolution, despite the amount of snow we have seen this winter the UK is not yet ready for white Blackbirds.

In the controlled conditions of Captivity if a colour variation occurs we can establish the gene pool  with selective or planned mating programmes to fix the colour. This can be an emotive subject with some purists being of the opinion that this in some way damages or risks losing the original colour form. If more aviculturists wanted white Mandarin than normal Mandarin it follows that the number of normal colour Mandarins would decline. Would the normal colour ever disappear, no, the natural colour is stunning and there is little risk and in any event if the normal colour became rare its value would increase and very quickly there would be interest in selecting for and breeding the normal colour. A more serious argument for not perpetuating the colour variations is linked to possible reintroductions and this is valid. However if an occasional colour variation occurred in a reintroduction programme would this really be the tragedy that some suggest, if the colour variation thrived then this might be the reason why the wild form perished but I suggest it is far more likely that we would see increased predation of the colour variation and within a very short period of time natural selection would have destroyed the colour variation in favour of the normal.

In recent years a number of colour variations in both the Mandarin and the Carolina have occurred. This is partly as a result of many generations of breeding from a relatively restricted gene pool but probably also has a great deal to do with the current considerable interest in the different colour variations. With the increase in colour variations and the global interest that is made easy with the world wide web it has become obvious that there is not a consistent naming convention and this is leading to significant confusion. In the UK our generally recognised  Silver Mandarin ducks and Carolina are referred to as white in America and much of Europe, our blondes are referred to as apricot, a new mutation from America that we would almost certainly have referred to as blue is called silver. It is a shame that there is not an international naming convention that would alleviate the confusion but the chances of this happening with so many disparate groups of enthusiasts and no global governing body make this a pipe dream.

Listed below are the UK definitions and the European/American names where they differ that will not resolve the problem but will at least make the reader aware of the potential areas for confusion and confusion could be costly. As an example a pair of UK Silver Carolinas might cost around £100 and a pair of American Silvers would be nearer £400. They are startlingly different colour forms with the same description so to differentiate I suggest the prefix of UK or American.  

UK Name                    American/European Name

Wild Form / normal                 Wild Form / normal    

UK Silver                                   White

Dark Silver                                Blonde

American Silver                       Silver

Blonde                                       Apricot

Black / Chocolate                    Black

American Platinum                 Platinum

Blue-pastel                               Blue-pastel

Ginger (Red)                            Ginger

The genetics of the various colour mutations in Mandarins and Carolinas still requires much analysis and this is difficult to achieve unless very careful control can be maintained over each pair of birds with the various mutation combinations. It also follows that the eggs and ducklings need to be very carefully identified to each pair so that it is possible to determine which colour variations are either sex linked or recessive.  For a real analysis to determine if each colour mutation is either sex linked or recessive many different enclosures to maintain the different pairings and meticulous record keeping is required and for most aviculturists this is not possible so the whole breeding process is not as scientific as it should be and a degree of luck is required to initially fix the colour. Once you have produced males and females showing the colour mutation then the mutation will be established because all the young produced from a pair showing the same colour mutation will be identical to the parents.

Interestingly some of the mutations appear to be easier to breed than normals and others are more difficult. UK Silver and Dark Silver Carolinas are more difficult to hatch and rear than normals but American Silvers are significantly easier. Silver Mandarins tend to be easier to breed than normals and Black Mandarins appear more difficult. There has not been enough work on some of the other colours to make meaningful comments on this aspect.

Attempting to produce and establish colour mutations in Carolinas and Mandarins can be challenging, requires a degree of record keeping and some luck and certainly provides added excitement when the first eggs of a new pairing are due to hatch.  


Adult male normal Carolina

Adult female normal Carolina

Adult male UK Silver Carolina

Adult male UK Silver with adult Dark Silver male on left for comparison

Adult male Dark Silver Carolina

Adult female Dark Silver Carolina

Adult male American Silver Carolina

Adult female American Silver Carolina

American Silver ducklings 12 Hours old normals in back-ground

Adult male Blue Pastel Carolina

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Colour Mutations

Norfolk Wildfowl

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