What is a Muscovy Duck?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

The Muscovy duck is a large duck species native to the North American continent. Technically a tropical bird of Central and Latin America, the Muscovy can nevertheless withstand the colder temperatures of the United States and even southern Canada. Muscovy ducks exist in feral populations but are often domesticated and used for egg production and meat.

"Muscovy" is a term for a person from Moscow, although the Muscovy Duck originated in South America.
"Muscovy" is a term for a person from Moscow, although the Muscovy Duck originated in South America.

One of the only domesticated ducks not bred from the more common mallard, the Muscovy duck is instantly recognizable thanks to its rather unusual head. Unlike the smooth green or brown feathers of the mallard, the Muscovy has a pink, wrinkled, featherless head akin to a turkey, which may cause unknowing viewers to suspect that the bird is diseased. Muscovy ducks can be many different colors, including green, black, white, chocolate brown, and various combinations.

Muscovy ducks, unlike many other species, do not form bonded mating pairs. Mating occurs several times a year and can result in a clutch of up to 15 eggs but often fewer than ten. Incubation lasts a little over a month and is conducted by the female only. Chicks will stay close to the nest for several months, as they have difficulties regulating body temperature and require the warmth of the mother to stay comfortable. Muscovy ducklings are usually bright yellow when hatched, but slowly darken to brown and develop mature feathers after about a year.

Adult Muscovy ducks are large and heavy ducks, often noted as excellent game birds due to their weight. Males are about twice as large as females, usually weigh between 10-20 lbs (4.5 - 9.1 kg), with captive birds often weighing more than feral ones. In captivity, birds can for more than a decade, but shorter lifespans are more common. Hardy birds, the Muscovy ducks are often quite healthy and appear to be less vulnerable to some infections and diseases that harm other ducks.

There are many interesting facts that make the Muscovy duck unique. One of the oldest domesticated animals of the New World, Native Americans kept Muscovy ducks captive long before Colonial times. They are sometimes called “quackless” ducks, since the males generally only hiss while females can manage a weak honking sound. The birds are non-migratory, and tend to prefer swamps or freshwater lakes with relatively temperate climates.

The name of the duck has a bemusing history. Muscovy is a term for a person from Moscow, but the Muscovy duck clearly originated in South America. Some believe that the name was formalized by the famed Carl Linnaeus, who apparently named the Muscovy duck after its strong, musky odor.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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