I once thought these ducks (ahiru or kamo) were wonderful additions to my collection, because they are colorful and attractive and unique. And who doesn’t love ducks?
But now I know they are in fact sad additions, because they are lonely. Ducks, particularly Mandarin ducks, reportedly mate for life, and will supposedly pine and eventually die from loneliness if separated from their mate. Gomen nasai, my ducks, I didn’t know; I’m sorry that I left your mates behind in the shops where I bought you.
There is a Japanese folktale that tells a story about a beautiful mandarin duck that was captured and separated from her mate by a feudal lord. Seeing that the duck is dying from sadness, a kitchen maid and her boyfriend release the bird so she can return to her mate. The feudal lord is incensed when he learns about this, and he sentences the maid and her boyfriend to death. But in the end the duck finds a way to save them, and thus returns the favor.
Ducks are not the only animals that mate for life. Other birds and animals that also subscribe include swans, turtle doves, bald eagles, gibbons, wolves, and termites.
In any case, , Mandarin ducks should always be in pairs, like this metal example where the smaller and presumably female bird nestles beneath the wing of the larger bird. These ducks are physically attached, so they are unquestionably mated for life.
Mandarin ducks are sometimes sold together in Japan, like the china pair below. Sometimes they are identified not just as ducks, but as “lovebirds.” Note that the male duck is larger and has bright plumage, while the female is smaller and rendered in shades of brown, which mirrors the way the ducks actually appear in nature. Ducks like these are usually packaged in their own cardboard or wooden box, making them the perfect gift for a wedding or anniversary.
I of course love the symbolism of the duck pairs. I’m not so wild about the dull hues of the female duck; in human pairs the female is usually the more brightly attired member of the pair. Maybe Japanese female ducks are simply into minimalist fashion.