aix sponsa

Aix (genus)

Aix is a genus that contains just two species of ducks: the Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), and the Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata).

The genus belongs to the family Anatidae in the waterfowl order Anseriformes. They were formerly placed in the "perching ducks", a paraphyletic group somewhat intermediate between shelducks and dabbling ducks, and it is not quite clear whether they should be placed in the Anatinae (dabbling duck) or Tadorninae (shelduck) subfamily.

The two species are generally considered to be very attractive, particularly the multi-coloured drakes. Wood Ducks are a North American species, occurring mainly in the eastern half of the United States, and from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Mandarin Ducks are an Asian species mainly in Japan and China, but there is an important feral population in the United Kingdom. Both species migrate from the northern parts of their respective ranges to winter in the south of the range. They inhabit quiet wooded streams and ponds.

The genus shows marked sexual dimorphism (differences between the sexes), with the females being smaller and less colorful.

The Wood Duck has a mass of 500-700 g (17.6 and 24.6 oz). It is 41-49 cm (18.5 to 21.2 inches) in length, and has a wingspan from 73-75 cm (27.5 to 28.7 inches). Males have red eyes and iridescent plumage. Both sexes have crested heads. The Mandarin Duck is 41-49 cm long with a 65-75 cm wingspan. It has an even more flamboyant plumage than the Wood Duck. The female Mandarins are less brightly colored than the males.

Wood Ducks will consume small crustaceans, insects, and plant matter. Mandarin Ducks are mainly vegetarian.

Wood Ducks are reproductively capable around the age of one year. They are monogamous for the season. Mating occurs between February and April, depending on latitude. The clutch size is between 6 and 15, and the incubation period is about 30 days. The young are precocial. They venture from the cavity nest at one day old and are cared for by the mother for about 60 days. The young have a very high mortality rate. Wood Ducks normally live 3 to 4 years.

Mandarin Ducks are also monogamous. The courtship ritual, like the plumage, is rather showy. The female lays between 9 and 12 eggs in a cavity nest, then incubates them for about 30 days. Parental care by the mother is a little shorter in this species, lasting about 40 days.

Both species are threatened by loss of habitat. As human development continues to expand, the woodland areas preferred by these ducks continues to shrink. The Mandarin Ducks may number less than 20,000.


  • Harris, M. (1999): Animal Diversity Web: Aix galericulata . Accessed April 27, 2006.
  • Pope, A. (2004): Animal Diversity Web: Aix sponsa. Accessed April 27, 2006.

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