Janice Houghton-Wallace looks at this exceptional waterfowl.

The Muscovy duck is a waterfowl that is native to Mexico, Central and South America and Brazil. In its wild state the species live around swamps and lakes bordering forested areas, roosting in the trees at night. Over time the Muscovy has expanded into most states across the USA, with feral breeding groups taking up residents in parks and other suitably environmental areas. The breed has also been seen in Canada, Europe, Japan and even Australia but it is thought that these may have been domesticated birds that have escaped, going on to successfully fend for themselves and reproduce in the wild.

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Chocolate Magpie Muscovy Female with Runner and Muscovy ducklings. Photo: Jed Dwight

The Muscovy has been around for hundreds of year and apart from occasional descriptions in poultry books, provenance is illustrated in works by certain avian artists. The renowned 17th Century Dutch artist Melchoir D’Hondecoeter clearly has black and white Muscovies in some of his waterfowl paintings. Also known as the Musky Duck, Barbery Duck, Brazil Musk Duck or Brazil Wood Duck the name is somewhat of an enigma as it is generally considered neither a duck nor a goose but a distinct species. All domesticated ducks today are derived from the wild mallard but the Muscovy is not. Certainly it is a strong, large waterfowl and the incubation period for the eggs is more akin to the goose than a duck, being around 35 days as opposed to 28. The Muscovy is a relatively quiet bird as it does not ‘quack’ like other ducks. The male gives out a gruff hissing sound as he tweaks his tail but the female is slightly more vocal with various little quacky chirps.

They are great characters though and very inquisitive. Like other waterfowl they will soon learn routines and work out when someone has a treat or not. Although typically the birds have a calm temperament, they do tend to think for themselves and certainly either respect and bond with those looking after them – or not!

Smallholder: A Black Magpie Muscovy Female. Photo: Jed Dwight

Michaela Bray was looking after an adult male Muscovy for a few weeks and she came to the conclusion that he hated her! “He would look me straight in the eye and dare me to go near him,” she said. “However, when back with his owner he was a true gentleman. I think they are like ganders, fine with the person who normally looks after them.”

The body language of male Muscovies should be read according to the season, for during the breeding season the male can be quite aggressive with other males and very protective of his females. The females in turn will be exceptionally protective of a nest of eggs and ducklings. This should be expected with many animals and birds because it is a natural survival tendency to protect the next generation. Muscovy females make great mothers and will care for their young very well. It is possible for them to have two or even three hatches in a season but for this to happen the birds must be fed appropriately and need a good diet with plenty of protein.

In the wild they would live on leaves and seeds but also small amphibians, fishes and insects. Just as some chickens like to catch mice, the Muscovy will add protein to the diet by catching small rodents, so any small pets such as hamsters should be kept well out of reach!

Muscovies can lay up to 180 eggs in a season but will go broody if the eggs are left in the nest. A broody Muscovy can try to hatch around 16 eggs but 12 is a more comfortable number. The eggs are quite large for a duck, an off-white creamy colour with a relatively hard shell. Species that are used to living in the wild and roosting in trees often have a hard egg shell. This is probably nature’s way of a better survival success rate with predators less likely to waste time with something they cannot break into very easily.

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After the 2012 show season. Photo: Jed Dwigh

This large wild duck has become domesticated over the years for it has tasty meat. It is also an amazing exhibition bird if in good condition and well presented.

The Muscovy male has a large head with a small laid back crest which he raises if excited or alarmed. A significant feature of the male Muscovy is the face for he has caruncles – bobbled skin – on his face and over the base of the bill. The body is broad, long and very strong. It is advisable to get help when handling a male if you have not handled a Muscovy before. Short, powerful legs support the strong body but they are agile as well and can defend themselves with their claws.

Plumage of the original Muscovy was black and white but since domestication more colour variations have been developed. The black and white is possibly the most common, with even small flocks of black and white Muscovies being seen living on village ponds.

In the British Poultry Standards are the black, blue, chocolate, lavender, white, black magpie, chocolate magpie, lavender magpie, white-headed black magpie, white-headed blue magpie, white-headed chocolate magpie and white-headed lavender magpie.

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Guinness World Record holder Big Dave. Photo: Rupert Stephenson

One magpie Muscovy drake is currently a Guinness World Record holder having been bought at auction for £1,500. His owner Graham Hicks was selling his waterfowl collection and his favourite Big Dave was amongst them. A syndicate came together to successfully bid for the bird and he was then handed back to Graham. Big Dave has since appeared on television and been a celebrity guest at a poultry show. Not only was Graham happy to keep Big Dave but the drake is clearly content as there is a respectful bond between them.

Muscovies are good waterfowl to have on a smallholding if there is water and trees and greenery around. They do not like being handled but are a breed to be much admired.

With thanks to: Jed Dwight & Michaela Bray

Domestic Waterfowl Club: www.domestic-waterfowl.co.uk

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This article was first published in Smallholder magazine. Subscribe here or buy a copy from your local newsagent.