The Muscovy Duck, Cairina moschata, is a large duck which is native to Mexico, Central and South America. A small wild population reaches into the US in the lower Rio Grande River basin in Texas. There also are feral breeding populations in North America in and around public parks in nearly every state of the USA and in the Canadian provinces; feral populations also exist in Europe. Although the Muscovy Duck is a tropical bird, it adapts to icy and snowy conditions down to "?12°C (10°F) and below without ill effects.
Taxonomy and naming
The Muscovy Duck's distinctive facial characteristics are unlike any other species
Muscovies had been domesticated by various Native American cultures in the New World when Columbus arrived. A few Muscovy ducks were first brought to Europe by the European explorers at least by the 1500s. The Muscovy Company, also called the Muscovite Company, began shipping the ducks to Europe sometime after 1550. It is believed that the ducks came to be interchangeably called Muscovite ducks, or Muscovy ducks in keeping with the common practice of attaching the importer's name to the products they sold. Over the years, Muscovy became more colloquial than Muscovite. In certain sections of England the name "Barbary" duck is most common. In certain circles the name Barbary duck refers to the dressed carcass while Muscovy duck refers to the live animal. In Southeastern areas of the United States the Muscovy duck is also known as a "Turducken" due to the fowl's unique chicken and duck-like features. Also when found in Florida they are known as "Durkey."
It was formerly placed into the paraphyletic "perching duck" assemblage, but subsequently moved to the Anatinae subfamily of dabbling ducks. Analysis of the mtDNA sequences of the cytochrome b and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 genes (Johnson & Sorenson, 1999), however, indicates that it might be closer to the genus Aix and better placed in the shelduck subfamily Tadorninae; in addition, the other species of Cairina, the rare White-winged Wood Duck, seems to belong into a distinct genus.
The wild Muscovy duck can display a wide variety of feather patterns and colors. Most have dark brown or black feathers mixed with white in a mottled pattern on the head or wings. Other colors such as lavender or all white are possible. All Muscovy's have long talons on their feet and a wide flat tail. The male is 86 cm long and weighs from 4.6 to 6.8kg, (10 to 15 Lbs.,) much larger than the 64 cm long, 2720 g to 3.6 kg (6 to 8 Lb.) female. His most distinctive features are a bare red face with a pronounced caruncle at the base of the bill and a low erectile crest of feathers. The drake has a low breathy call, and the hen a quiet trilling coo.
Muscovy or Barbary ducklings are mostly yellow with buff-brown markings on the tail and wings. Some domesticated ducklings have a dark head and blue eyes, others a light brown crown and dark markings on their nape. They are agile and speedy precocial hunters.
A male Muscovy Duck cleaning his feathers
This non-migratory species normally inhabits forested swamps, lakes and streams, and often roosts in trees at night.
The Muscovy Duck's diet consists of plant material obtained by grazing or dabbling in shallow water, with some small vertebrates and insects. For the first few weeks of their lives, Muscovy duckling feed on grains, corn, grass, insects, and most anything that moves. Their mother instructs them at an early age how to feed.
This species, like the Mallard, does not form stable pairs, and will mate with related birds. When Muscovies mate with other species of ducks the offspring are called mules and are unable to reproduce. Muscovy x Domestic duck breeds are common and are used as meat birds: they grow fast like Mallard derived breeds and get to be a large size like Muscovies. Muscovies will mate in the water or on land.
The hen lays a clutch of 8-16 white eggs, usually in a tree hole or hollow, which are incubated for 35 days. The sitting hen will leave the nest once a day from 20 minutes to one and one half hours, and will then defecate, drink water, eat and sometimes bathe. Once the eggs begin to hatch it may take 24 hours for all the chicks to break through their shells. When feral chicks are born they usually stay with their mother for about 10-12 weeks. Their bodies cannot produce all the heat they need, especially in temperate regions, so they will stay close to the mother especially at night.
Often, the male Muscovy or Barbary duck will stay in close contact with the brood for several weeks. The male will walk with the young during their normal travels in search for food, providing protection. Anecdotal evidence from East Anglia, UK suggests that, in response to different environmental conditions, other adults assist in protecting chicks and providing warmth at night. It has been suggested that this is in response to local efforts to cull the eggs, which has led to an atypical distribution of males and females, young and mature birds.
The Muscovy Duck has benefited from nest boxes in Mexico, but is somewhat uncommon in much of the east of its range due to excessive hunting. The Muscovy Duck is a somewhat aggressive breed. The males often fight over food, territory or mates. The females fight with each other less often. Some adult Muscovies will peck at the chicks if they are eating at the same food source.
The Muscovy Duck has been domesticated for centuries, and is commercially known as Barbary duck. This breed is popular because it has stronger-tasting meat than with most other domestic ducks (which are domesticated descendants of the Mallard), like roast beef, and is less noisy. The meat is lean, unlike the fatty meat of Mallard derivative ducks, the leanness and tenderness being often compared to that of veal. The carcass of a Muscovy Duck is also much heavier than that of most other domestic ducks, which make it ideal for the dinner table.
Adult female swimming
Domesticated Muscovy Ducks, like those pictured, often have plumage features differing from that of wild birds. White color is preferred for meat production. Muscovy hens range in weight from 2 to 5 kg (5 to 10 pounds); drakes are commonly 5 to 8 kg (10 to 17 pounds). One Australian strain male weighed about 10 kg (20 pounds).
Domesticated Muscovy Ducks can breed up to three times each year. Some have escaped into the wild and now breed outside their native domain, including in western Europe and the United States.
The Muscovy Duck can be crossed with mallards in captivity to produce hybrids which are known as Mulard ducks ("mule ducks") because they are sterile hybrids. Muscovy drakes are commercially crossed with Mallard derivative ducks either by natural or artificial insemination. The 40-60% of eggs that are fertile result in birds raised only for their meat. Conversely, crossing Mallard drakes with Muscovy females is possible, yet their offspring are desirable for neither meat nor egg production. Mules are often used in the production of foie gras.
Muscovy Ducks are reportedly cross-bred in Israel with Mallards to produce kosher duck products. The kosher status of the Muscovy duck has been a matter of rabbinic discussion for over 150 years.
Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic medication manufactured by the French company Boiron. The medication is an extract of the duck's liver and heart that is supposed to help with flu symptoms. There is no evidence that it is effective.
Problems with feral populations
A Muscovy juvenile
Some feral populations, such as that in Florida are said to present problems. Muscovy Ducks can breed near urban and suburban lakes and on farms, nesting in tree cavities or on the ground, under shrubs in yards, on condominium balconies, or under roof overhangs.
In the US, Muscovy Ducks, like other domestic animals, are considered private property. An owner may do with the birds as he or she pleases, so long as laws regarding animal cruelty are not violated. Similarly, if the Muscovies have no owner, no US state or federal law prohibits their capture. This can be a last resort to resolve a nuisance problem.
Legal methods to restrict breeding include not feeding these ducks, deterring them with noise or by chasing, and finding nests and vigorously shaking the eggs to render them non-viable. Returning the eggs to the nest will avoid re-laying as the female would if the clutch were removed.
References and notes
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- ^ Holderread, David. 2001, 'Guide to Raising Ducks', pg 17
- ^ Holderread, David. 2001, 'Guide to Raising Ducks', pp 73-74
- ^ Holderread, David. 2001, 'Guide to Raising Ducks', pg 97
- ^ The Halachic Tale of Three American Birds: Turkey, Prairie Chic
- BirdLife International (2004). Cairina moschata. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
- Donkin, R. A. (1989): Muscovy duck, Cairina moschata domestica: Origins, Dispersal, and Associated Aspects of the Geography of Domestication. A.A. Balkema Publishers, B.R. Rotterdam.
- Hilty, Steven L. (2003): Birds of Venezuela. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 0-7136-6418-5
- Holderread, David (2001): Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks, pp. 73-74, 97. Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA. ISBN 1-58017-258-X
- Johnson, Kevin P. & Sorenson, Michael D. (1999): Phylogeny and biogeography of dabbling ducks (genus Anas): a comparison of molecular and morphological evidence. Auk 116(3): 792"?805. PDF fulltext
- Stiles, F. Gary & Skutch, Alexander Frank (1989): A guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Comistock, Ithaca. ISBN 0-8014-9600-4
- Zivotofsky, Rabbi Ari Z. Ph.D. & Amar, Zohar Ph.D. (2003): The Halachic Tale of Three American Birds: Turkey, Prairie Chicken, and Muscovy Duck. The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society. Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press, Staten Island, NY.