Like a true celeb, the Mandarin duck has fans, social media presence and merchandise
The Central Park Mandarin duck's explosive popularity may be getting more people into birding as a hobby, experts say.
The Mandarin duck mania is increasing interest in birding, and with new merch featuring the internet’s favorite fowl, he’s helping benefit birds across the world.
Central Park’s Mandarin duck has been the most popular bird throughout the five boroughs since his first appearance on The Pond in October.
That mania, fueled mostly by the Manhattan Bird Alert Twitter account @BirdCentralPark (which first spotted the duck and posts frequent photos and videos of the fowl) has yet to wane.
Nature apparel website Kirtlandii, founded by Joe Baider in August, recently launched a line of Mandarin duck merchandise. Every Mandarin duck shirt sale donates $3 to the National Audubon Society.
“I always think of the National Audubon Society as the number one organization when it comes to [protecting] birds, and it was a lightbulb moment as shirts were selling — why not use the popularity of the duck to also make a positive impact for other birds?” Baider said.
“You do have some members of the birding community who seem a bit frustrated that of all the birds, it’s the Mandarin duck that gets all the attention, because it’s not considered a native species,” he said. But, Baider added, “I think it’s helpful to birding that it generated so much attention.”
Baider, 24, started his business because he wanted to express his passion for birding and nature — he would wear shirts featuring his favorite sports teams, so why not shirts of birds? — and help conservation efforts.
When he saw the internet’s response to the Mandarin duck, he figured people would want to advertise their love of the bird in what they wear, and he was right.
“I got sales right off the bat — record-breaking sales, actually — and the biggest surprise to me with the sales was that [they’re not all] coming from New York City,” he said. “A lot of them are, but I had sales from Montana, Washington state, Canada, South Carolina.”
Once he launched the shirts, he “was flooded with requests for different types of clothing and even products,” he added. “People wanted sweatshirts, which I was able to do; tote bags, which I just launched; and I got requests for wool sweaters, but I don’t know if able to do that.”
He’s even gotten inquiries from people around the world who want their own Mandarin duck merch, but sadly he doesn’t ship beyond the U.S. and Canada.
David Barrett, a birder who runs the Manhattan Bird Alert Twitter account, knows that the bird’s appeal is international. He’s done interviews with BBC and even China News about the Mandarin duck.
“It’s something that everyone can like. It’s not a partisan issue. The Mandarin duck is beautiful, and people see the Mandarin duck as just good,” he said. “He just shows up, looks great, entertains the crowds, and people love the challenge of going out to try to find him.”
Despite all the pictures online of the Mandarin duck, it’s not often easy to spot him, Barrett said. He moves around to different bodies of water within Central Park and even took a trip to New Jersey.
But that’s what birding is all about: the work involved to find the birds you want to see. As more people dip their toes into the hobby by trying to find the Mandarin duck, it’s spurring greater interest in birdwatching and conservation efforts in general. Birdwatchers are often thought of as older folks, but the duck's internet fame may be shifting the hobby to younger, more diverse people.
Big news on the MANDARIN DUCK'S past! Ashley Hernandez found him on Woodcliff Lake in 80th Street Park, North Bergen, NJ on October 19, a week after his initial Central Park appearance. Same zip-ties on right leg. Video by 📷@BrandukoM pic.twitter.com/7DBLZLOH84— Manhattan Bird Alert (@BirdCentralPark) November 26, 2018
“People have been attracted to our Twitter based on the Mandarin duck, [but] Central Park is full of much wildlife — beautiful birds most people have never seen,” Barrett said. “That’s one of the things we try to show off on our site, the great variety of bird life and nature in Central Park, and people are amazed at it. They didn’t know you can see owls and all these other beautiful water fowl like wood duck.”
Before the start of the Mandarin duck mania, the Manhattan Bird Alert Twitter had a little over 3,000 followers. Now, it’s more than 10,000.
“It’s been quite spectacular for us,” Barrett said. “We’re happy to be able to reach more people and show them the wonders of Central Park and all of Manhattan.”