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The Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) is a member of the waterfowl family, which also includes Canada geese, brant, and swan. The Muscovy’s closest relative is the domestic mallard which has been hunted to extinction in its native North America. The Muscovy duck is the only type of domestic duck breed that didn’t descend from the wild Mallard. They are part of a group called the greater wood duck.

These ducks are found throughout North America and can be found as far south as South America. They are popular for their meat (which is 98% or greater fat-free), their eggs, and their down feathers which are used for bedding. They also produce slightly valuable oil that can be used in cooking or to make soap from their fat.

Muscovy Duck Appearance

Muscovy ducks are large, primarily herbivorous birds that can reach up to 4.5 kg in weight and 1 m in length. The most distinguishing characteristic of the Muscovy is its erectile fore-crown crest and brightly coloured wattles that grow from either side of its head and hang over its bill.

Males of this species are more brightly coloured with red wattles, while female ducks are only subtly coloured. A female will be mostly grey with a white jaw line, whereas male Muscovy ducks have an iridescent purple-green head and neck.

They also have elongated bodies that taper at the end to a long, flat tail. The rest of the body is covered in feathers that are either black or brown with white or cream highlights. Along with their colouration, they are also identifiable by their relatively short legs and webbed feet, which is an adaptation for diving they rely on to find food in the water.

Muscovy Duck (Cairina Moschata)

Where Do Muscovy Ducks Live?

Muscovies can be found all over North America and in parts of central and Southern America. They prefer the areas where fresh water is abundant, and forests are close by. They also enjoy small ponds, lakes, and rivers that hold plenty of food for them to eat on a daily basis. In the wild, these birds will find shelter in the branches of trees or on floating vegetation that is available to them.

They are found predominantly in the wild, but they also thrive domestically alongside humans. You will find wild Muscovy duck breeds living near rice paddies, swamps, lakesides, and other equally wet habitats worldwide due to their natural tendencies for remaining near water sources.

Muscovy duck near a pond with golden autumn colors

What Do Muscovy Ducks Eat?

They are omnivorous by nature with a wide and varied diet, eating fresh and saltwater fish, berries, fruits, vegetable matter, insects and other small animals. They rely on their plant consumption to supplement their own body fat for energy. These birds are capable of consuming up to 30% of their body weight in vegetation each day. They prefer to dine on aquatic plants, aquatic weeds, fruit, and whatever else they can find around their area.

They will also dine on seeds that are dropped into the water by birds flying overhead. Due to the sheer amount of food available to them each day, Muscovies will spend hours dining on all types of plant life. Their second energy source comes from insects and other invertebrates that they find near water sources, which makes up to 30% of their diet.

How Do They Act?

Muscovies are among the quietest of all the ducks and are perfectly content spending their days peacefully near the water. They will swim or dive for short periods to find food, but they mainly prefer to graze on plants that grow near the surface of the water. They are able to seek shelter in trees, but they prefer to sleep in floating vegetation if available. If not, they use their bill and their feet to create a hole in the water that they can rest inside of while sleeping.

Muscovy ducks are extremely social animals and will often be seen swimming with other breeds and members of their species. Living close together makes it easy for them to nest alongside one another, which is one of their most distinguishing characteristics.

Are Muscovy Ducks Friendly?

They are a friendly duck species that will happily interact with people. Due to their large size, they can be a little aggressive at times and may be a nuisance to those who do not know how to deal with them. These ducks are usually not dangerous, but you may want to take caution of their behaviour as it may differ from the norm. They will often show pleasure when they see you or other humans but may also lash out unexpectedly if they feel that someone is approaching them too closely.

Muscovy Duck with red face and black and white feathers

How Fast Do They Grow?

They reach adult size in about 3 months but will typically take between 4-6 months to get to full adult size. This speed in maturity comes from their high level of genetic variability, which allows them to adjust their body mass based on what they are consuming at any given time.

How Long Do Muscovy Ducks Live?

The average lifespan of a wild Muscovy duck is 6-10 years in the wild. However, a domesticated Muscovy duck can live for up to 15 years. Although this may seem quite long, they aren’t considered to be among the longest-living birds. 

Can Muscovy Ducks Fly?

Yes, the Muscovy duck is capable of flight for short periods, but their webbed feet only allow them to swim or move over land that is close to water. They are not built for long-distance travel and cannot fly for more than a few hundred meters at once, or they will tire themselves out.

Muscovy duck in flight over lake Cocha Salvador in Peru

Reproduction

The mating cycle takes place in the early spring. The male Muscovy duck will begin showing interest in females roughly 10 days before they are ready to mate. These animals have a strong preference for their own kind, which means you will rarely find them mating with other species of ducks or water fowl.

Muscovy Duck Eggs

Muscovy eggs are among the largest of any bird’s egg (larger than even those of the ostrich). The average egg weighs two pounds and measures about six inches by four inches. A Muscovy duck egg has three times more cholesterol than a chicken egg and should not be eaten by anyone with high blood pressure or cholesterol problems.

Are Muscovy Ducks Illegal?

Not in all areas of the world. While they are illegal in some parts of the United States, they are not illegal in Mexico (not even in the same regions where your typical domestic ducks are not allowed). They are also permitted in most other areas around the world.

Sources and References

  1. Muscovy (Domestic) – waterfowl.org.uk
  2. Muscovy – omlet.co.uk

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