With sudden, precipitous fame inevitably comes bitterness, spite, perhaps even jealously — dark energy from those who might find your newfound popularity suspect. Such is life now for New York’s hottest waterfowl, the Mandarin Duck, who, after weeks of praise and admiration, was the subject of a Gothamist op-ed by Paul Sweet, from the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Ornithology, who wrote that, sure, the Mandarin Duck is hot — obviously! — but ACTUALLY it’s not that special or interesting, as there are a ton of other hot ducks out there, people.
“Firstly, I get it, drake Mandarins are gorgeous, no dispute on that, and I’m not criticizing the people who want to see it,” writes Sweet, which is a nice concession to the duck, and to us, the humans who are hot for duck. Sweet goes on to note, however, that “the black cable tie on its right tarsus clearly marks it as an escapee” and “Call me a bird snob, but I really don’t understand why seeing this bird on a pond in Central Park is any different to seeing one in the nearby zoo?”
“It is not a rare bird or a first record or anything of that nature, so to me, of zero ornithological interest.”
First of all, I do think Sweet is a bird snob, but that’s not a bad thing. He’s been around enough and seen enough birds to be choosy about which ones he gets excited about. He’s like a wise, older sibling, warning us young, naive, birdwatchers not to get too excited about this flashy new bird with its colorful plumage, devil-may-care attitude, and potentially devastating ecological impact, and encouraging us instead to get to know some of the other ducks out there.
“There are so many stunning native birds in Central Park right now that also deserve attention,” Sweet writes. “Take a look at a drake Wood Duck or Hooded Merganser.”
Hmm. The Wood Duck is handsome, and the Harlequin Duck looks like it would write you poetry and stay up with you all night drinking wine and talking about your hopes and dreams. And maybe someday, when we’re more ornithologically mature, we’ll fully appreciate these beautiful birds. In the meantime, though, we’re gonna hop on the back of the sexy Mandarin Duck’s motorcycle and smoke cigarettes and make some bad choices together.