Shetland Duck

Shetland Duck

The Shetland duck is a small, critically endangered breed of duck, one of the rarest breeds in the world.

They are so rare that there is currently no breed club or standard. Misinformation and contradictions about them abound throughout the web, partly because some people assume ducks to be Shetlands when they merely share some physical characteristics. There are many non-Shetlands that are mistaken for Shetlands. Also, there is a lot of variation even within the breed. There are very few reliable, dedicated Shetland breeders.

The Shetland duck originated from the Shetland Islands off Scotland. Their resemblance to the Pomeranian and Swedish duck hints to a possible common ancestor.

shetland ducks
A Shetland duck and drake.

Shetland ducks are a small light breed of duck. Drakes weigh about 4.4 lb (2 kg) and ducks weigh about 4 lb (1.8 kg).

They lay about 150 eggs a year (although some strains lay far less and some lay far more) and tend to go broody easily. Their eggs are extremely large and are usually white or grey, sometimes even green.

They’re very active and are excellent foragers, easily able to find much of their food requirements through independent foraging.

They are considered calm and friendly. They are extremely cold-hardy and long-lived, easily capable of living into their twenties.

A cute newly hatched Shetland duck:

Shetlands do not usually fly, but some are capable of becoming airborne.

shetland ducks in snow
Three happy Shetland ducks in snow.

Shetland Duck Color

They’re black ducks (although their feathers often appear iridescent metallic green), usually with a white bib, although some individuals lack this bib. Some Shetlands gain more white feathers as they age.

Purebred Shetlands do not have white primaries; any that do likely have some Black Swedish in their lineage.

Their bill and foot color is sex-linked. However, there seems to be some variation among various bloodlines of Shetlands. Normally, ducks have black (or brownish black) bills and feet, while drakes have dark olive green bills, sometimes partially yellow, and black feet, sometimes blue/greenish, often with spots of orange.

Mary Isbister, who, in the 1980s, set out to rescue the indigenous Shetland duck from extinction, also researched the breed and proclaimed that drakes should have predominantly black feet, and too much orange is a fault.

The Shetland duck needs help. If it wasn’t for Mary Ann Isbister, they would be gone. But now they need someone else to breed them and help to proliferate them to a degree that a breed club and standard can be officially created.

Anyone interested in owning and breeding the Shetland duck may want to join the Shetland duck group on Facebook:

shetland duck breed infographic


shetland ducks at show
Two Shetlands, a duck and a drake, at the Perth Show in Scotland in 2015.
shetland ducks
Two drakes and a duck (center).
shetland duck breed
Three Shetland ducks.

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  1. Hi I was thinking of getting some ducks and as I’ve a link to Shetland thought about getting some Shetland ducks. Main purpose would be to help clear a large pond. Would shetlands help with this? Would just like a trio in the first instance and see how that goes. I’ve hens and sheep already so more livestock isn’t much of a concern for us.

    David McLaughlin
    1. Hi,

      I know I am replying to a year old post but just in case you see this I wanted to let you know that I found a breeder in Canada that comes down to Ohio for a poultry show. He is bringing 3 breeding pairs with him this weekend that I am buying. He is sold out for this season. It’s taken me over a year to finally get a Scottish breed of ducks.

      Willow Brook Waterfowl is the name of who I am buying from. You can find them on Facebook.

      Jill Ross
  2. I think that I may have a shetland duck! I’ve been trying to identify what breed he could be and I’m almost positive after reading this. But how could he be an endangered shetland duck when he came from the farm store? he has all of the characteristics, including an olive green bill!

    Jamie McIntyre
  3. I think I may have a shetland drake! I’ve been trying to identify his type for quite a while and he closely matches this description, including the olive green bill! No way he could he be a rare shetland drake if he came from the farm store ?

    Jamie McIntyre
    1. Very interesting! I suppose it is remotely possible he really is a Shetland, but I think it’s more likely that he’s some kind of Swedish cross that happened to look like a Shetland. I’ve seen a Mallard cross where I live that looked a lot like a Shetland duck, even though there’s no way it could really have any Shetland blood in it.

  4. the ducks are rather small and light. but they are very friendly and cute. they can imprint on a person very fast. I have owned shetland ducks for about two to three months now very time I open the door they run to me.