The Muscovy duck is a species native to South America and in Europe, in its domestic form. It’s specialised in the production of excellent quality meat (even if it does not enjoy a great reputation for the smell of musk that emanates from the uropygium gland; however, this odor is perceptible only in subjects over a year old; the decapitation of animals immediately after death eliminates the characteristic odor) and liver which is suitable for producing foie gras.
Everything You Need To Know About The Muscovy Duck:
This bird is very noisy, especially the females and they are not ashamed of it at all! Its verse is one of the reasons it was promptly discovered and recognized by early bird watchers. Not only it is not silent, but it produces a very rich range of sounds both at low intensity and hissing, as if it were breathing heavily. The state of mind of this animal can also be guessed by looking at its tail which wags when it is frightened or agitated. If the female is noisy, even the male does not joke and emits guttural exhales that are not very pleasant and that one cannot avoid noticing.
The name ‘duck’ indicates a genus of birds belonging to subfamilies of Anatidae that have a common feature: a wide beak with gills, which serve to filter food particles that are present in the water. Also known in some languages as musky duck, Cairina moschata is the scientific name. It is a bird belonging to the Anatidae family and today it seems to be the only known species of the genus Cairina.
In this species, unlike others, the differences between male and female specimens are striking, this means that there is a rather strong sexual dimorphism and not only in the size of the two sexes. The size, however, affects their type of flight: higher and more slender that of females and lower that of males. From a behavioral point of view it’s extremely docile, especially with human beings taking care of it. In fact, it is no coincidence that the Muscovy duck is often chosen as a companion animal.
- Scientific name: Cairina moschata.
- Weight: 3 – 6 kg.
- Length: 66 – 84 cm.
- Wingspan: 137 – 152 cm.
- Age: Between 8 and 12 years. But in captivity they can live up to 20 years.
- Diet: Plants, small fish, amphibians and insects.
- Habitat: Wet environments like ponds, lakes, rivers and swamps.
- Threats: Terrestrial mammals, like wild dogs, fox but also birds of prey like herons and owls.
Muscovy duck males measure an average of 86 cm in length and weigh 5–6 kg, while the females are actually much smaller and measure an average of 64 cm in length and weigh around 3 kg. Both fly very well but by choice they fly low, gliding on the ground or on the surface of the water, the male being heavier flies lower and makes a little more effort than the females.
Compared to other ducks, this molt has less developed uropygial glands, this might mean little to you, but translated in practical terms results into having a plumage that is consequently less oily. It is therefore easier for the feathers to absorb moisture and become heavier, this happens for more exposed feathers such as the flight feathers and back feather but there are also consequences for the under-feather which is less thick and dense.
In the male of the Muscovy duck, there are very evident caruncles around the eye and on the cheeks with colors that can vary from time to time from black to red. The aesthetic result is a mask effect above the beak that can be either black, pink, or even dark red. Orange-yellow or even black are the webbed legs, characterized by rather sharp nails.
Quite difficult to spot this bird that is native to the South American continent in the pond of our neighborhood. It’s widespread today in various areas, from Paraguay to Guiana. There have been sightings of feral populations derived from wild domestic ducks in Florida and elsewhere. They arrived in Europe long ago but are still not as widespread as other ducks are.
Like many of its flight mates, the Muscovy duck stays where there is water and prefers places with a high level of humidity also because its body constantly needs water for drinking and bathing, even if it’s just a small pond, it’ll do.
It eats mostly vegetables of all kinds without being picky, it doesn’t despise even soggy tree leaves. It’s not a vegetarian, however, because its diet also includes small insects, mollusks and worms that it hunts in ponds, swamps or among the surrounding vegetation. It’s an aggressive duck and males often fight over food as well as territory or partners.
The Muscovy duck lays four times a year, for a total of about 100 eggs per year. The eggs have a greenish yellow shell and weight 70-90 grams on average. After laying the eggs, between 8 and 16 for each litter, it starts hatching them for a period that is longer than that of common ducks, and it’s around 5 weeks, or 35 days. At birth, Muscovy duck chicks are very lively and immediately follow their mother to pasture and in the water, quickly learning to feed on their own.
Muscovy ducks are classified as Least Concern (LC) in the IUCN’s Red List, however their numbers are decreasing, with an estimated population estimated somewhere between 100,000 and 1 million birds. Unfortunately, in their range, there’s almost no type of survey of their numbers, so we know very little about the status of their population.
The conservation of lowland tropical wetlands is very important in order to improve their chances of survival as well as establish a ban on their hunting, as this seems to be one of the major causes for their decline, especially in Mexico. While in Central America their eggs are extremely sought after.
Federico Fiorillo is an Italian nature guide and content writer based in the magnificent Val de Bagnes, Switzerland. He’s an avid hiker and snowboarder and he travels to the great wilderness areas of the world to see the wildlife and birds he’s passionate about.
In 2008 and 2011 he joined two Brazilian wildlife field trips in Bahia and decided that observing birds in their habitat was going to be one of his driving passions. He completed a birdwatching course with EBN Italia in 2013, and then in 2014 and 2015 he travelled to South East Asia, Australia and the United States where he joined a photographic workshop at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.
From 2016 to 2018 he lives in New Zealand, where he collaborates in environmental projects at the Otorohanga Kiwi House, which since 1971 protects kiwi and other New Zealand native birds, among the projects he worked hands on the most rewarding was the one aiming to release Brown Kiwis into the wild.
In 2017, he completes a backcountry survival course obtaining the skillsets needed to thrive in-stead of just survive in the face of adversity in the wilderness. In 2017 he also joins a NZ Bird Photography Tour in Ulva Island and at the Royal Albatross Center of the Otago Peninsula, home to the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony.
After his travels across the South Pacific, following his experiences in 2018 he moves in the Swiss Alps where he’s now a nature guide leading tours in the alpine region between Switzerland, Italy and France. Leading nature walks and overnight hiking trips, teaching tourists and locals the secrets of the plants and animals living in this alpine region.
Inspired by an alternative lifestyle he believes in the importance of being in connection with the natural environment and feels the responsibility of interpreting the natural wealth of a site, educating and informing other of the different aspects of that particular area.