Muscovy Duck

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Common Name: Muscovy Duck
Scientific Name: Cairina moschata

Size: 26-33 inches (66-84 cm); Wingspan: 54-60 inches (137-152 cm)

Habitat: The Americas; native to Mexico, Central, and South America. Small wild and feral breeding populations have established themselves in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, as well as in many other parts of North America, including southern Canada. Feral Muscovy Ducks are found in New Zealand and have also been reported in parts of Europe.

This is a non-migratory species, that normally inhabits forested swamps, lakes, streams and nearby grassland and farm crops. It often roosts in trees at night.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: Unknown amount of adult individuals.

Diet: Plant material obtained by grazing or dabbling in shallow water, and small fish, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, and millipedes.

Nesting: All Muscovy Ducks have long claws on their feet and a wide flat tail. Females are considerably smaller, roughly half the males' size. On the head of the wild male there is a short crest on the nape. The bill is black with a speckling of pale pink. A blackish or dark red knob can be seen at the bill base, and the bare skin of the face is similar to that in color. The eyes are yellowish-brown. The legs and webbed feet are blackish.

The wild female is similar in plumage, but she has a feathered face and lacks the prominent knob. The juvenile is duller overall, with little or no white on the upper wing. Both sexes have pink or red wattles around the bill, those of the male being larger and more brightly colored.

Domesticated birds may look similar; most are dark brown or black mixed with white, particularly on the head.

This species does not form stable pairs. They will mate on land or in water. Domesticated Muscovy Ducks can breed up to three times each year.

The hen lays a clutch of 8–16 white eggs, usually in a tree hole or hollow, which are incubated for 35 days. The sitting hen will leave the nest once a day from 20 minutes to one and a half hours, and will then defecate, drink water, eat and sometimes bathe. Once the eggs begin to hatch it may take 24 hours for all the chicks to break through their shells. When feral chicks are born they usually stay with their mother for about 10–12 weeks. Their bodies cannot produce all the heat they need, especially in temperate regions, so they will stay close to the mother especially at night.

Often, the drake will stay in close contact with the brood for several weeks. The male will walk with the young during their normal travels in search for food, providing protection.

Cool Facts: The species is divided into two subspecies. The wild subspecies, Cairina moschata sylvestris, is commonly known in Spanish as the pato real ("royal duck") in most of its natural range.

The domestic subspecies, Cairina moschata domestica, is commonly known in Spanish as the pato criollo ("creole duck"). They have been bred since pre-Columbian times by Native Americans and are heavier and less able to fly long distances than the wild subspecies. Their plumage color is also more variable.

The term "Muscovy" means "from the Moscow region", but these ducks are neither native there nor were they introduced there before they became known in Western Europe. It is not quite clear how the term came about; it very likely originated in the late 16th century.

Domesticated Muscovy Ducks often have plumage features differing from other wild Muscovy Ducks. White breeds are preferred for meat production. The darker ones can have much melanin in the skin, which some people find unappealing.

The Muscovy Duck can be crossed with mallards in captivity to produce hybrids, known as mulard duck ("mule duck") because they are sterile. Muscovy drakes are commercially crossed with mallard-derived hens either naturally or by artificial insemination. The 40–60% of eggs that are fertile result in birds raised only for their meat or for production of foie gras: they grow fast like mallard-derived breeds but to a large size like Muscovy Ducks. Conversely, though crossing Mallard drakes with Muscovy hens is possible, the offspring are neither desirable for meat nor for egg production.

Found in Songbird Remix Waterfowl Volume I: Dabbling Ducks

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