Like its relative, the adult male is a striking and unmistakable bird. It has a red bill, large white crescent above the eye and reddish face and "whiskers". The breast is purple with two vertical white bars, and the flanks ruddy, with two orange "sails" at the back. The female is similar to female Wood Duck, with a white eye-ring and stripe running back from the eye, but is paler below, has a small white flank stripe, and a pale tip to its bill.
This bird is, unsurprising, frequently featured in oriental art.
This species was once widespread in eastern Asia, but destruction of their forest habitat and large-scale export of this spectacular duck means that it is now endangered. The populations in eastern Russia and in China are both probably well below 1000 pairs, although Japan has up to 5,000 pairs.
This bird frequently escapes from collections, and in the 20th century established a feral population in Great Britain which numbers about 1000 pairs. Although this is of significant conservation importance, this bird is not protected in the UK since it is not a native species.
Their breeding habitat is densely wooded areas near shallow lakes, marshes or ponds. They nest in cavities in trees close to water. The Asian populations are migratory, overwintering in lowland eastern China and southern Japan.
These birds feed by dabbling or walking on land. They mainly eat plants and seeds, especially beechmast. They feed mainly near dawn or dusk, perching in trees or on the ground during the day. Mandarins may form small flocks in winter, but rarely associate with other ducks.