King the Muscovy Drake

Muscovy Duck

The Muscovy is a very unique breed of duck. In fact, it’s not even a true duck – it’s simply called a duck, but it is a completely different species of waterfowl, the cairina moschata. All true ducks originate from the Mallard. The Muscovy does not. They originated in South America, and are now feral in many parts of the world, where they are often considered a nuisance, like pigeons. They’re also called the Barbary duck.

Muscovies come in a tremendous variety of colors. The original, wild Muscovy was black with a white patch on the wing. Today, there are all-white strains, magpie strains (bi-colored, usually solid black and white), and blue, chocolate, silver, lavender (self-blue), buff, blue fawn, lilac, and pastel. The feather patterns can be laced, barred, rippled, or self, and many have a gene for a white head, which shows up during the second year.

True wild Muscovy. Image by "SandyCole" on Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
True wild Muscovy. Image by “SandyCole” on Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Some people think Muscovies are ugly because of their caruncles, a red (sometimes partially black), warty “mask” around the face. Their claws are long and sharp, like talons, so take care when handling them. These ducks have a wide, flat tail that they wag like a dog. Some people say they wag their tail after a nervous experience or after some problem has been resolved (such as after they have been picked up and held), but they seem to also do it when they’re happy or while conversing with other ducks. Also, while they enjoy swimming water, they aren’t as water repellent as other ducks because their oil glands are not so well developed, and swimming water isn’t as necessary for them as some other breeds. Some of mine only take a bath about once a month.




Drake
An older Muscovy drake with his crest raised (click to enlarge).

As adults, males and females are extremely easy to identify. Males are far larger than females. They’re about 9-15 pounds (4-7 kg), and females are only 5.5 to 7 pounds (2.5-3 kg). The caruncles of the males are also much more pronounced. Some females have only a trace of red caruncling around their eye and bill. Some drakes, on the other hand, have so much caruncling that they can barely see. Please do not breed Muscovies with excessive caruncling. It’s the result of man’s bad breeding and should not be encouraged. The voice or drakes is extremely different as well, but unlike most other ducks, males do not develop curled “sex feathers.” Also, they have an erectile crest of feathers on their head, which they raise when they are excited or nervous.

est of a female Muscovy duck
The crest of a female Muscovy duck. Males generally have taller crests than females, but this female has an exceptionally tall crest.

Females have one too, but much smaller. As juveniles, the males grow faster and develop caruncles before the females, while the females develop wing feathers earlier than the males. Females will look feminine and slender whereas males will be chunkier and more masculine. By eight weeks old, many experienced Muscovy owners can already identify the sex of their ducklings.

Drakes vs duck
Notice how much larger the two drakes are compared to the duck (click to view full image).
Drake vs ducks
Another example of the size difference between the sexes.

“If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck,” is proof Muscovies aren’t ducks. In contrast to the noisy quacking of other ducks, Muscovies are extremely quiet. However, although they are often called “mute ducks,” they aren’t completely silent. Males have a hoarse hiss, and females are often described as having a soft musical whimper, which isn’t too loud, sounds nice, and isn’t likely to disturb your neighbors. Muscovies can make a loud sound, almost like a honk, when they are startled, and they squeak when they’re broody. From time to time the flock will also gather together and have a loud “conversation,” with all the ducks “talking” at once, but this is the loudest they get and even this isn’t likely to annoy anyone. They’re the quietest of all the poultry. Chickens are noisy, geese are noisy, guineas are noisy, and female ducks are noisy, but the Muscovy is, overall, quiet.

Unlike other ducks, Muscovies perch. They don’t truly roost like chickens, but they enjoy perching on something. In the wild, they slept in trees. Some of mine sleep on their nest box. They also enjoy sitting on concrete blocks, old piles of wood, tractors, wheelbarrows, or any raised object. Even if their wings are clipped, they can jump well.

Perching
Oreo, a four-month-old Muscovy duck, perches on the side of her water tub. She tucks one of her legs up to rest it. Sometimes they tuck it into a pocket beneath their wing so their foot is completely invisible.

Females fly extraordinarily well and may have to be clipped, although in many modern strains, the males are too heavy to be airborne.

Excellent flier
Muscovies are excellent fliers! This picture was of Skylar’s last flight before we clipped her wings.

Muscovies are also excellent foragers and can find a good portion of their own food.

Foraging duck
When it’s not too hot, Muscovies spend a lot of their time foraging for food.

I’ve found that in some duck books, Muscovies are said to lay only 60 eggs a year. Others say they lay up to 120. My own ducks lay on the higher end of the scale. The difference comes from your climate. Muscovies are tropical ducks and even prone to frostbite in cold climates, and they lay less where it’s cold. Muscovy eggs are large and white.

Muscovies are excellent mothers. They frequently go broody and set on their eggs for 35 days, which is longer than for most ducks. If you let them hatch their eggs, they will usually take excellent care of the ducklings.

Muscovy with ducklings
Muscovies are excellent mothers and very protective of their young.
Broody Muscovy duck
A broody Muscovy duck. Many Muscovies go broody at every opportunity.

Muscovies cannot be crossed with other breeds to produce a fertile duck. Instead, the offspring will be a “mule.” However, some people cross Muscovies with Pekins to produce a Moulard, which is used for meat.

Muscovy meat is prized. It’s dark and delicious. It’s not fatty like the meat from many other ducks, and some people compare it to veal or even sirloin steak.

Some people say Muscovies are the most sweet-tempered breed of duck.

Friendly duck
A friendly Muscovy duck named Sugar eats from a human’s hand.

Others declare they are ferocious and aggressive. Now, broody ducks are as ferocious as crocodiles, and there are occasionally drakes that attack humans, but in general, they’re very docile and friendly. Some say they have more personality than other breeds of ducks. That’s probably just personal opinion, but although I have not yet had the privilege of raising other breeds of ducks and can’t give you any comparisons, I can tell you that Muscovies certainly have distinct personalities. Learning about my ducks’ personalities, in fact, is kind of a hobby of mine.

Muscovies were the first animals I ever raised. They are quiet, sweet, lay enough eggs for a family, have excellent meat, are good mothers, and make good pets. I wholeheartedly recommend them.

GALLERY (click an image to enlarge)

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