Muscovy Duck

Cairina moschata

Muscovy Duck

Bernard DUPONT/Flickr/CC by-SA 2.0

A tropical dabbling duck, the muscovy duck is one of only two species (the other is the mallard) from which all domestic and agricultural duck breeds have descended. Because many domestic and feral muscovy ducks can be found in widespread locations, birders are often familiar with this member of the Anatidae bird family even if they have not yet officially added it to their life list. Discover more muscovy duck facts and just what makes these birds so recognizable in this detailed profile.

Fast Facts

  • Scientific Name: Cairina moschata
  • Common Name: Muscovy Duck, Creole Duck (domestic), Barbary Duck (domestic, culinary), Backyard Duck (domestic), Mute Duck (domestic)
  • Lifespan: 10-12 years
  • Size: 25-35 inches
  • Weight: 6-15 pounds
  • Wingspan: 55-60 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

Muscovy Duck Identification

With their long necks, heavy bodies, webbed feet, and spatulate-shaped bills, these birds are instantly recognizable as ducks, but there are many clues that help muscovy ducks stand out from the flock. Their relatively long bill is dark at the base with variable color bands along its length, including white, pale blue-white, and pink, and the nail at the bill's tip is gray.

Male and female muscovy ducks look somewhat different. Males are overall glossy black or blackish-brown with an iridescent green or purple sheen on their upperparts in bright sunlight. The head shows a pompadour-like crest and may have minor white flecks on the nape. The pale yellow-brown eyes are surrounded by black skin and fleshy red wattles, and a small, indistinct basal knob shows on top of the bill. A broad white wing patch is easily visible in flight but may not be seen when the wings are folded, or may only appear as a very small patch or sliver near the flanks. Females are significantly smaller and duller with fewer wattles on the face, lacking the knob on the bill. For both genders, legs and feet are blackish-gray.

Domestic muscovy ducks come in a wide range of colors, from all white to mottled black and white, tan, or other variations with unclear markings. The red wattles are much more extensive, and domestic birds are larger and heavier than their wild cousins. Leg and foot color is more variable on domestic birds as well.

Juveniles are similar to adults but have less white in the wings, a darker grayish bill and far fewer facial wattles.

These are generally silent birds but do have a variety of calls and sounds in their repertoire, including low hisses, grunts, croaks, weak quacks, whistling, peeps and coos.

Muscovy Duck Habitat and Distribution

These ducks prefer wet forests and woodland stream areas, as well as brackish ponds, oxbow lakes, and agricultural fields. Feral or domestic escapees are frequently found near urban or suburban parks with appropriate ponds and often interbreed with other ducks, creating confusing hybrids.

Their native range extends from the extreme southern tip of Texas and both the eastern and western coasts of Mexico south through Central America and into South America as far south as northern Argentina, though they are missing from the steepest mountain regions. Feral and domestic populations may be found nearly anywhere, but are particularly notable in Florida and elsewhere in the United States and Canada, as well as in Europe and New Zealand.

Migration Pattern

Muscovy ducks do not migrate. In northern regions where domestic and hybrid ducks are present, they tend to stay in areas where open water is available even throughout the winter months.

Behavior

Wild muscovy ducks are shy and wary, and are usually found alone or in pairs. They perch and roost in trees. In flight, their wing beats are relatively slow. Males can be aggressive and will chase away other males from their territory, including feeding areas.

Domestic muscovy ducks can be much more gregarious and likely to join mixed flocks with other waterfowl in urban areas. They may also become accustomed to receiving handouts and will approach humans more readily.

Diet and Feeding

These are omnivorous ducks and will eat a wide range of both plant and animal materials, including seeds, grain, leaves, buds, nuts, insects, invertebrates, and mollusks. Muscovy ducks will use both grazing and dabbling foraging techniques while feeding depending on whether they are on land or in the water.

Nesting

Muscovy ducks are polygamous birds. They are a cavity-nesting species and place their nest in a large hollow tree or suitable nest box 10-60 feet above the ground, lining the nest sparsely with soft down feathers. Males have little to do with hatchling care or nesting duties, and females incubate the eggs for 34-36 days.

Eggs and Young

The eggs are plain white but may show a greenish sheen or gloss, and 8-10 eggs are typical for each brood. Wild muscovy ducks lay only one brood per year, but domestic breeds may lay 2-3 broods per year and are specifically bred and raised to have larger, more frequent broods to increase their agricultural productivity.

After hatching, the precocial chicks are ready to leave the nest quickly, and the female parent continues to care for and guide the hatchlings for 70-85 days.

Muscovy Duck Conservation

Muscovy ducks are not at risk for severe population declines, though hunting activities in their native range can affect overall numbers. It can also be critical to preserve the genetic purity of wild muscovy ducks so the increasing spread of feral colonies and hybridization does not intrude on the wild ducks' stability.

Tips for Backyard Birders

Wild muscovy ducks are not a backyard species, but preserving local habitat and suitable nesting sites can help attract them to an area. Domestic muscovy ducks are often purchased as Easter ducklings and can be great pets or farm animals if they receive proper care. In urban areas where the ducks are abandoned or escape, feral colonies can quickly become a nuisance and may be culled by the authorities.

How to Find This Bird

Muscovy ducks can be challenging to find within their native range, but visiting suitable waterways with healthy ecosystems can lead to superb sightings. Hybrid or domestic muscovy ducks are much easier to find and may appear at nearly any urban or suburban park, and are easy to recognize by their dark, plain coloration, splotches of white on the face and neck, and their facial wattles.

Explore More Species in This Family

The Anatidae bird family is a large and diverse grouping of ducks, geese, and swans. Favorite birds that are close relatives of muscovy ducks include:

Don't miss our other detailed wild bird profiles to learn more facts and information about all your favorite bird species!