||New to Muscovies? Then you'll want to read...
||The information contained on this page is not meant to be all inclusive. What I've written is based on my
experiences and contains information I feel is important for people to know prior to deciding on whether the
Muscovy is a good fit for them and their environment. My belief is that there is a breed of duck to fit just about
every situation. While I firmly believe the Muscovy is the best all-around practical duck, not everyone may be up to
the particular challenges raising Muscovy presents. This article, therefore, is written with the intent to help you
decide if the Muscovy is the bird for you!
Muscovy (Cairina Moschata) are one of two types of domestic duck, the other being what are referred to as 'mallard
derivatives'. Mallard derivatives descend from the wild mallard, (Anas Platyrhynchos) each breed being developed
through selective breeding. Common Mallard derivative breeds include the Pekin, Rouen, Indian Runner, Khaki
Campbell, Welsh Harlequin, etc. If you're familiar with these breeds you will know that there is great variation
between the breeds with regard to color, shape, size, egg-laying ability, & carcass quality. For a photo gallery
showing the various duck breeds, you can't beat FeatherSite.
Muscovy, by comparison, have changed little from their wild counterparts over the years. The most noticeable
difference is in the increased size, greater number of varieties, & increased caruncling that domestic Muscovy possess.
True wild Muscovy are typically black or dark brown with white wing patches, wing bows, & throat patches and are
still found in Mexico & South America. In recent years they have even been found nesting along the Rio Grande in
Texas. Feral Muscovy, that is, domestic Muscovy that have become wild, can be found in many southern states here
in the US and are often considered nuisances.
Domestic Muscovy can be found in over 10 solid-color varieties with three feather patterns, laced, ripple and barred,
as well as pied birds which can be found with any color/pattern and white & white-head birds which can be found in
any color. Whereas ripple & barred birds are a variety in and of themselves, lacing is actually found in the better
specimens of several color varieties, such as blue. The ability to find certain varieties really depends on location,
although with the US Postal Service shipping birds it is easier now than ever before. Weights can reach in excess of
15 lbs for better quality drakes and 9 lbs for better quality ducks although the most common utility Muscovy will
weigh quite a bit less. Utility is a descriptor used to denote your typical farm-yard Muscovy. These birds have more
moderate caruncling and are, as a general rule, great broodies, hardy, & incredibly self-sufficient. Standard-bred
birds, or exhibition quality, are those birds who have been bred towards the standard set forth by the American
Poultry Association (APA) Standard of Perfection (SOP). These birds are often much larger & have much more
caruncling. If you're wanting a good all around farmyard bird the utility Muscovy can't be beat.
Typically Muscovy are considered a meat breed, their meat often being compared to veal. It is lean, unlike other
duck meat which tends to be greasy. When crossed with a mallard derivative breed they produce what are called
Mules, which are sterile. Commercially a lot of ducks raised for consumption are mules, as is the case of the
Moulard - a Muscovy drake Pekin duck cross. An interesting note - breeding a MD drake to a Muscovy duck results
in eggs requiring approximately 35 days to hatch, breeding a Muscovy drake to a MD duck results in eggs that
require approximately 28 days to hatch.
Another characteristic of the Muscovy is their ability to set and hatch a nest. Muscovy can hatch anywhere from a
single duckling up to 20+ ducklings at a time, two to three times a year. Incubation takes on average 35 days, and is
much more difficult to do artificially than other domestic ducks are. Muscovy ducks (hens) do not lay a lot of eggs,
instead they lay only until their nest is full then they begin to set. Muscovy are incredibly broody and will spend the
entire summer dedicated to either their nest or a clutch of ducklings. If you steal a Muscovy duck's eggs, she will
abandon that nest and seek out another, more suitable (meaning better hidden!) nest and begin to lay there. They
are notorious for being able to hide nests anywhere regardless of how convenient that location is for you! If a duck
can squeeze through it, she can put a nest in it.
People often say that Muscovy do not need to swim because they do not have sufficient oil glands & will get
waterlogged and die. While it is true that the oil gland on a Muscovy is not as developed as that on a mallard
derivative, they do indeed possess them and bathing and subsequent preening is how Muscovy maintain good feather
condition. A large amount of water is not necessary, a plastic child's pool or contractor's pan is sufficient for a small
flock of birds. For the most part Muscovy do not drill in mud as mallard derivatives do, so the area where their pool
is located won't become near as messy! If you do find the pool-side area becoming soggy & muddy, moving the
pool to new ground will take care of this problem.
Muscovy are a perching duck, both sexes are capable of flying although fully mature adult drakes generally don't get
far off the ground. Ducks, on the other hand, can fly very well and will often fly to rooftops to survey their territory.
Because they are a perching duck, Muscovy possess very sharp, strong, talon-like claws. They can climb very well
and will use their claws and bills to climb fences, I have personally witnessed drakes climb over fences in excess of
six foot tall. In addition they are also referred to as the prize-fighter of the duck world because they are very
powerful birds. Combine these two attributes and you have one difficult duck to catch & handle. There are steps
you can take to make Muscovy-handling less traumatic (for you and the bird!). First, I like to run my birds into a
pen that I have set up to sort birds without actually handling them. By opening or closing a series of gates, I can
sort birds using little more than a swing of a gate and a 'duck-sorting-stick'. This is a walking stick I use which is
approximately 4' - 5' long. Using my duck-sorting-stick increases my reach and I'm able to direct ducks using the
stick without having to get within arms length and stressing them further. After I've sorted out the 'innocent' birds,
or those birds that I do not plan to catch, I release them back into their pen & re-sort if necessary. When all of the
innocents are sorted off and released, I then work on catching those birds that need to be caught. In order to catch
birds with the least amount of stress possible, I try to reduce the amount they're chased by creating a funnel using
hog panels. The birds run in the wide end and as they move towards the front, the pen decreases in size until it's
flush with the fence. I'm able to catch these birds with relative ease and carry them where I want them. When
holding birds, I have found that if you support the bird well it will struggle less.
||I like to fold the feet together so that the toes are all
side-by-side, I then hold the feet in my left hand and
wrap the claws around the edge of my forefinger as
shown in the photo at left. I tuck the bird under my
arm making sure to have both wings compressed
against the duck's body. Held in this manner, ducks are
much less likely to struggle and the handler is far less
likely to receive cuts and scratches.
There are several ways to ground Muscovy if you wish
to prevent them from flying. The easiest is clipping the
flight feathers from one wing which throws the bird off
balance and removes part of that 'lift' these feathers
provide. Clipped wings last through molting. Once the
bird has molted and new feathers have grown in, wings
||will have to be clipped again. A second method for preventing flight is to actually pull the flight feathers from one
wing. While this is a bit more harsh, the over-all result will look much better. Wings that have been clipped tend to
become very worn & frayed, making the bird look ragged. Birds where the flight feathers have been pulled have
very little noticeable difference in overall appearance. The downside to this method is that within a short period of
time these pulled feathers begin to grow back in. The third method I'm familiar with is pinioning. Pinioning is the
removal of the tip of a bird's wing where the flight feathers grow. This is best done with day-old birds although it
can be done on adults by Veterinarians or experienced breeders. The final method requires cutting a tendon, this is
again one procedure I would not recommend unless it is being done by a Veterinarian or experienced breeder.
A person will sometimes hear horror stories about aggressive Muscovy but I can honestly say after having raised
hundreds & hatching thousands I have yet to have a person-aggressive duck. The problem begins when people
choose to raise ducklings as pets. Imprinting ducklings on humans creates friendly ducklings, but it can also create
monster adults. Where people go wrong is not considering animal nature & future behavior when deciding to
imprint ducklings. While young, ducklings enjoy the company of their human-companions however upon sexual
maturation drakes begin to undergo a hormonal change which releases 'duck-zilla'. In their natural environment,
drakes must fight other drakes to obtain social status. The goal of every drake is to be at the top of the social ladder
which provides him the benefit of mating with the hens in his flock. This guarantees his offspring have the best
chance of perpetuating the breed & his genes. When drakes consider people their flock-mates, they will naturally
challenge them for top-dog status. This means they will bite, pinch, & flog in an effort to bully the person into
submission. Usually shocked by this behavior, most people will run away from and avoid the drake which in reality
shows the drake he has won the battle and that person is accepting defeat. These drakes will continue to attack as
long as they feel they have a right to challenge people.
The best way to avoid creating aggressive ducks is to treat them as ducks and raise them as naturally as possible.
Maintain a distance, and do not allow the ducks to become so familiar that they no longer have any fear of humans.
If you find yourself stuck with an aggressive drake do not allow him to win a fight - ever! Keep children away, and
tell all adults to handle aggressive behavior each time it occurs. Personally, I handle aggressive animals using 'kick
therapy'. I'm not willing to put my face close enough to an aggressive animal to grab it. If you are uncomfortable
with kicking aggressive ducks, you can also grab the duck and pin him to the ground and ruffle his feathers until he
submits. Do this every time he displays aggressive behavior and in most cases he will learn that you are not to be