Rare Asian duck draws bird watchers to Calif.

January 7, 2012 - 5:45 PM
Rare Duck Sighting

This image provided by the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge showing a male falcated duck was identified at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, Calif., Dec. 8, 2011. This bird, common in China, is an extreme rarity for California. Since it was spotted, thousands of visitors from the U.S. and Canada have flocked to the refuge to see it. (AP Photo/Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, Michael Peters)

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A rare duck normally only seen in Asia has somehow turned up in California, drawing excited bird watchers from all over the U.S. and Canada to a wildlife refuge in the state's Central Valley.

Wildlife officials say a male falcated duck, a bird common in China, was first spotted at the refuge on Dec. 8.

Since then, thousands of birders have observed it paddling among mallards, pintails and geese, said Lora Haller, who works at the Colusa Wildlife Refuge's visitor center. More than 2,000 cars packed with visitors have streamed into the refuge over the last month — double the usual visitor numbers.

"It's very exciting," she said. "It's extremely rare to see this kind of duck in California."

Most falcated ducks breed and live in China, and smaller populations live in Japan, North Korea and South Korea. The ducks can also sometimes be found in Alaska's Aleutian Islands, Haller said.

The celebrity bird has a silvery plumage with iridescent green and bronze on its head. "Falcated" or "curved and tapering to a point" refers to the male duck's long wing feathers near the body that overhang onto the tail.

There have only been a few previous sightings in California: One was spotted in Orange County in 1969 and one in Lassen County in the far northern part of the state in 2002 and 2003.

It's not known whether the rare duck somehow made it to California from Asia or has escaped from a private collection or zoo, Haller said. But the bird appears to be wild and isn't used to people, she said.

Wildlife officials say the bird has been spotted nearly every day. It likes to swim in a pond near the refuge's viewing platform.

The bird's presence, Haller said, is a rare occasion for birders, who keep "life lists" of the birds they hope to see or have seen in their lifetime. Bird watchers swarm the platform all day, awaiting the bird's arrival, she said.

The refuge, one of several that make up the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, is about 120 miles northeast of San Francisco.