Wild Muscovy ducks are native to Mexico, Central, and South America. They were domesticated by the natives long before the Europeans arrived in the new world. Muscovy ducks are the only ducks not genetically derived from the Mallard duck. They have a gamey aroma and are also called a “musk” duck.
Muscovy ducks are large, heavy ducks with short legs and broad tails and wings. Wild Muscovy ducks are all black with white patches on the upper and under wing. Some of the ducks have a green and purple gloss.
Muscovy ducks are selectively bred for their meat. They are bred to get lighter colors, and therefore to ultimately produce a lighter-colored meat for eating. Domesticated birds look both heavier and coarser than those found in the wild population. They can weigh up to 15 pounds or more! There are 10 distinctive and individual and variations of colors including: chocolate, lavender, pied-colored, and blue. Domestic Muscovies also come in three feather patterns: laced, rippled, and lacy. They have a domed feathered crest on the top of their heads; the male also has a more pronounced knob on the top of his bill than the female. Females are smaller and duller in color. Both sexes have naked and warty looking skin on their faces. The color of the skin can be black and red, to all red. It is usually a brighter shade of red in domestic birds. Muscovy ducks also have various shades of eye color. If a duck has a light feather color, it will probably have a light eye color. You will even find pale blue eyes! Muscovy ducks are powerful birds. They have sharp talon-like claws on their feet for fighting, perching and climbing.
Young ducklings are mostly yellow with buff and brown markings on their tails and wings. Some domestic ducklings have dark heads and blue eyes. The juvenile Muscovy is even duller than the female and slowly acquires its white wing patches in the first winter.
Range and Habitat
The Muscovy duck is a tropical bird; it is native to Mexico, Central and South America. Wild birds are also found in the lower Rio Grande River Valley, and in parts of southern Florida and Texas. They prefer habitats with water and sheltered trees such as rivers, ponds, wooded swamps, and brackish coastal wetlands. Escaped birds can be found in many parks across America.
Muscovy ducks are highly intelligent; they are also very aggressive. Wild ducks are shy and usually are silent. Domestic ducks are also rarely heard. They don’t actually quack unless they are in distress. The female gives a soft noise and thrilling coo, while the male gives a low breathy call; he also puffs and hisses in display. They are perching ducks, and will roost in small groups in trees. They can fly, but the males don’t usually get very far off the ground. In flight, they have a goose-like fight, with a straight neck. They can be seen flying at dawn and at dusk.
Muscovy ducks will eat insects, roots, stems, leaves, seeds, fishes, reptiles, and small mammals. They do not swim as much as other ducks because their oil glands are not as well developed. This results their feathers fraying more. They are very intelligent and will wag their tails and raise their crests when talked to.
Breeding and Nesting
Muscovy ducks are sexually mature at one year. Males will fight other males for social status and for the right to breed with a female. They can become very aggressive; they will head bob, raise their crests, bite, and pinch, flog, and literally jump on each other’s backs to attack. Pairs do not form stable relationships and forced sexual intercourse can occur. They will mate on land or water, and can breed up to three times a year. The female will only lay until her nest is full, about 8-16 eggs. Her nest is in a hole or in a hollow of a tree. She incubates her eggs for about 35 days, only leaving her nest for about an hour once a day to take care of her own needs. She chirps as she hatches her eggs to imprint her ducklings to her. The ducklings have trouble staying warm, so they stay close to their mother for several weeks. She is a super mom and will protect her brood from predators, even if it means her own death. The male will also stay close to the ducklings for several weeks; he will walk the ducklings while they hunt for food and provide his protection.