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Avian anomaly appears in Rio

November 24, 2018

RIO — Randy and Debbie Martin, owners of Loon Lake Farm on the outskirts of Rio, hosted an unexpected visitor this month — a male Mandarin duck.

The colorful creature native to East Asia mysteriously appeared in their backyard pond a couple weeks ago.

“Our pond was originally a sink hole that we dug out a bunch of times; it’s about 20 feet deep now,” Debbie Martin said. “We have perch, walleye and bass in it, and it’s aerated, so it never freezes. That’s why it works out good for ducks. There are a whole bunch of them here.”

She discovered the rare bird after hearing a strange sound when the ducks came to the barn for food one day.

“It wasn’t a regular quack, but a real loud peep, peep, peep — that’s when I first noticed him,” she said. “He was small compared to our other ducks, maybe about a third of their size, and he looked like a variation of a wood duck.”

Martin pointed out the bird to her husband and asked if he recognized the beautiful but unusual duck.

“I’m a duck hunter and I went through everything I could think of and told her ‘No, it isn’t this and isn’t that,’” Randy Martin said.

The wandering waterfowl with a red beak, orange upturned wings, purple breast and multicolored crown made fast friends at the farm.

“He was hanging out with my white-crested ducks and mallards most of the day in the pond. Those ducks come in the barn at night and sleep in the hay. He followed them and just decided to move in,” Debbie joked.

When a couple of Randy’s friends came to the farm last week, he asked them to take a look at the duck and possibly identify it.

“Kelly (Westphal) saw it I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He said, ‘Wow, you don’t even know what you have here!’” Randy recalled.

Westphal pinpointed the duck as a Mandarin. He remembered seeing a news report of a similar duck that was discovered in New York’s Central Park last month.

“He said there were thousands of people and reporters with big cameras and long lenses taking pictures of this duck and it’s crazy but you’ve got one right here in your backyard,” Randy said.

It is unclear how a Mandarin duck ended up in New York or Wisconsin since it is originally from the other side of the world. The Martins called the Milwaukee County Zoo looking for answers.

“I spoke with bird curator Alex Waier and was told there are fewer than 200 Mandarins in the United States,” Debbie said. “He spent a couple days calling all over and told us no ducks were reported missing.”

Because the duck in Rio wasn’t banded, zoo officials speculate it may have gotten away from a breeder or formerly been a pet.

Debbie said she was concerned that the duck may die as the weather turns colder, but was assured by the zoo it could survive in the current habitat as long as he has open water, food and shelter.

However, the air of mystery surrounding the duck deepened Monday when he suddenly disappeared.

“He had been coming in and out of the barn for about two weeks. The last time we saw him was Sunday night,” Debbie said. “I don’t know if he flew somewhere else, but there are coyotes, foxes and hawks around. I’ve searched for signs of feathers but haven’t found anything.”

She said she didn’t want to tell people about the spectacularly colorful duck at first because she was afraid someone would shoot it and want to mount it.

The Martins consider themselves lucky to have had the surprise guest fly in out of nowhere.

“He was so cool and I hope he survives,” Debbie said. “The grandkids called him Mr. Mandarin and we would welcome him back anytime.”

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