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Keeping Muscovy Ducks

A guide to keeping Muscovy ducks
By Catie79, Jun 17, 2015 | Updated: Jun 18, 2015 | | |
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  1. Catie79
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    If you tell someone you have ducks, they immediately envision white, chubby cheeked Pekin ducks. Maybe they envision something with a bit more color or the cheeky call duck, but few think of the less known cousin, the muscovy. As a completely different species of duck, these guys do warrant their own introduction. If you want a bird that's independent, quiet, prolific, and beautiful, you may have just found your match.






    Description

    The muscovy is the only type of domesticated duck that doesn't descend from the mallard. They're easy to
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    identify by the caruncling on their faces, particularly the males and show birds. They come in shades of black, chocolate, blue, white, and pied. Most have white bars on their wings. Birds will frequently gain more white as they get older. They're big birds with hard feathers that they molt twice a year. Adult males can weigh in at 15 pounds. The females are significantly smaller, closer to six or seven pounds as adults. The meat is considered a delicacy and commands a high price in restaurants while the eggs are excellent for baking.

    The muscovy is a wood duck. They like to perch in trees and have sharp claws to assist with this. While they can be kept with minimal water and don't require a pond the way other ducks do, they really enjoy it when they're given the opportunity. I have water on my property and the flock indulges in multiple baths throughout the day. They also hunt mosquito larvae with enthusiasm. They like to dabble through the muddy shores for grubs and other treats.

    Despite their Central and South American origins, the muscovy does well in the cold. Webbed feet and claws let them walk over snow with relative ease, though they prefer plowed paths. They're not prone to frostbite. They will weather most storms outside, but appreciate shelter when weather is severe. They will happily swim year round if there is open water available.

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    The females are strong fliers, even as mature adults. My female that is currently herding her 11(!) ducklings about can fly across the property with ease. I find them on top of my multi-story house and on balcony railings frequently. The drakes can fly, but they get big enough that it's difficult. My adult drake has demonstrated that he can still get on top of our 8' trellis and can fly at over head height for at least 50 yards, but it's not his favorite way to travel. He typically travels on foot except when moving to a spot to roost. I have woken up to the flock waiting at my bathroom window, wondering why I hadn't fed them yet. There's nothing like waking up to a drake tapping at your window and peering in at you before you've even dressed for the day.

    One of the most distinctive qualities is how quiet they are. The females have a sweet, adorable call that sounds like a trill. You have to be quite close to them to even hear them. The males make a sound like they are laughing, a breathy ha-ha-ha, a soft hiss, and a breathy version of the female trill. These are almost always accompanied by some head bobbing and the crest raising and lowering. These ducks use a lot of body language and wag their tails when excited.

    Also, a word of warning. They defecate loudly and it's rather projectile. You get used to it, but expect the neighbors to stare the first time they see it.

    Behavior
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    Muscovies are social birds that love company of other muscovies. A single drake and three to four ducks makes for a happy little flock. Having multiple drakes can be a problem unless there are a lot of girls to go around. Adding new birds is far less stressful than adding new chickens to a flock. They have a bit of a dance party, with everyone head bobbing together, then go on about their business. They will bed down for the night shoulder to shoulder and will pine if separated from their flock. Disagreements usually involve feather pulling and grabbing each others wings, but rarely involve injury.

    These are not birds that want to cuddle with people. While they don't warrant their reputation as 'mean' birds, they're not good for people that want to pet their birds. A muscovy that's raised around people will be very interested in the people around them. Mine follow me around the yard, curiously getting into whatever I'm working on. They don't like to be touched and definitely don't like to be picked up, but they tolerate handling well. I've had to push my adult drake out of the way when he was roosting on top of a coop I was trying to open and he handled it with good grace. My very tame females have to be pushed aside with my foot when I'm carrying goodies and it doesn't bother them at all. They just really prefer not to be picked up and are powerful enough to make you regret the decision. The claws are sharp and the wings are strong. I do not recommend handling them without gloves and a heavy jacket. Even an accidental kick is painful.

    In my experience, they're curious, social birds that will happily run up to their keeper for a chat and a treat. Mine like to have their afternoon naps outside my office window. I think they like the music I play. They can be taught to hop into a pen at night to be kept safe from predators, but the pen needs to be quite inviting. They prefer to roost up high most nights and will need that option or you'll have a fight on your hands.

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    The muscovy carries the reputation of being mean. Some of this appears to be misinterpretation, particularly of the males. The males communicate with head bobs, posture, raising and lowering the crest on their head, and vocalizations. These can be ha-ha-ha sounds or hisses. All of this behavior is non-aggressive. A male trotting up to you, holding his beak open, bobbing his head, and sounding like he's laughing and hissing is excited to see you. The wagging tail is usually a dead giveaway to the mood. An angry muscovy is typically not wagging his tail. The body language of threat is spread wings, lowered head, and stalking forward. This is usually directed at my dog when she's trying to sneak into the food pan or anyone getting too close to ducklings. Neither of my drakes has ever directed this behavior at me. I have had to duck to avoid them coming in for a landing, since their steering sucks once they're adults, but that's the most danger I've had from my drakes. The ladies are universally sweet and unassuming. A mother with ducklings can be territorial, but they're generally accepting of a trusted keeper checking on them and refilling the feed pan. Just don't try to touch the babies.

    Speaking with other keepers, drakes get a bad rep. They're generally laid back so long as you're not a threat. It does help to get your birds from someone that has socialized them. If they associate humans with food, you're golden. Talk to them, toss them cracked corn, and give them some time to get used to you. Before you know it, you'll be dodging as your flock comes flying in to meet you in the morning, too.

    Housing and Care

    Muscovies do not handle confinement well. They are powerful, active birds that need room to swim, fly, and forage for dinner. Do not plan on having a flock of muscovies in a coop or small pen. They take a good bit of space to exercise. Also, do not get muscovies if you have nearby neighbors that will be offended by occasional visits. My birds usually stick to my mowed lawn and the creek that runs along the edge of the lawn. The food is there. They roam into the flooded areas to hunt for bugs in spring, but half an acre is all the further they seem interested in ranging. This does land them in my neighbor's garden from time to time, but she doesn't mind. They cause less harm to plants than chickens and provide excellent bug control. If roaming is a big issue or you want to keep them off your roof, you can clip their wings. You'll have to do it twice a year. I let mine fly since I believe it keeps them safer from predators and roaming is not an issue for me.

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    Shelter can be more primitive than what you give a chicken. Our muscovies have a duck hut for bad weather. It's a 4' x 8' structure that's about 3' tall. It has an opening for the door and is attached to an 8' x 8' x 8' pen with roosting branches. Since they have webbed feet and can be a bit clumsy, the ramp is wider and lower than we'd use for chickens. We lock anyone that's too young to fly, injured, or just in the mood to sleep in the hut into the pen at night. Most of the adults will sleep on my rose trellis in decent weather. Severe storms and blizzards will send the whole flock into the hut. The hut has straw on the bottom, deep in the winter for warmth. The walls are plain plywood and there are gaps under the roof for ventilation. It's primarily a windblock and protection from snow or hail. It's also been used in spring as a nesting site which is fantastic because it's easy to lock mom and ducklings up at night as protection against predators. We cover the top and three sides of the pen in winter to keep the snow out and give the ducks more space to spread out in bad weather instead of being stuck in the hut endlessly. They use the pen as a place to sun and get off of the snow for awhile in the dead of winter.

    Our ducks are on free feed crumbles, either a mixed flock feed or the higher protein meat bird formulas are appropriate. They forage for a lot of their diet, nibbling greens and hunting bugs for large parts of the day. Cracked corn is a very effective treat for training and meal worms are also a big hit. They will steal ripe squash from the garden on occasion, so don't leave that out. I also offer a bowl of grit, but since I live in the Granite State, they usually manage just fine without it. I do recommend offering at least a kiddy pool for them to splash around in, since the adults need a fair amount of space in order to bathe. Bathing is a boisterous, noisy affair with water flying everywhere and if they have nothing but their water supply, you'll be refilling it frequently.




    Breeding

    Drakes can get randy in the spring, so make sure there are enough ducks to avoid him being overly amorous with any one female. A quad works well (1 male, 3 females) but if you see signs of females being roughed up, you may need to expand. The females like to hide their nests away, so provide them shelters or accept that some will disappear to brood and you'll never find their nests. A large tuperware with a cut out for a door works well. Our females seem to take turns in their hut, though we're adding more sheltered locations with the hope to cut out the traffic jam for the prime spot.

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    Like just about everything with these ducks, they handle everything for themselves. A broody female is actually pretty hilarious. Ours will dive out of the hut in a hurry when she hears crumbles, making a unique, high pitched peep that you don't hear at any other time. She carries her wings lower and keeps her feathers fluffed. She chased all of the other females across the entire yard for no reason at one point. She'll eat, have a quick swim and preen, then back on the eggs. They brood for longer than chickens, so don't give up hope if it seems to take forever (35 days).

    Clutches of up to a dozen are common and they'll lay twice in a year if conditions are favorable. The eggs are difficult to hatch in an incubator so are best left with the mother. The ducklings are storming around within a day of hatching, swimming and hunting bugs with mom. Make sure there is access to water they can reach (they're good jumpers, bricks as steps works just fine) and a pan of crumbles, mom will handle the rest. We keep them locked up over night to prevent predators from taking them, but let them free range during the day. Mom handles hunting and swimming lessons.


    Muscovies and Chickens

    We do keep free range flocks of both chickens and muscovies.
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    They keep separate coops since they honestly have very different requirements. We also keep them separated to encourage the two flocks to go about their business and mind their own business. There has been no confusion as to who belongs to what species and we don't allow the chickens to mix with the ducks until they're at least 6 weeks old. There have been reports of drakes attacking, killing, and even eating small chicks. Muscovies are just as carnivorous as chickens, who will attack ducklings if they're unattended.

    The drakes have plenty of female companionship of their own and do not attempt to mount our hens. The roosters have not attempted to court the ducks and we don't keep rude roosters. The occasional scuffle does break out between the two flocks, but as everyone is free ranging, they typically just separate. The hens are faster, the ducks are bigger. The only thing that makes them cross paths is food, so make sure there are several feeding stations so neither group can control the resource. You'll have West Side Stories being reenacted in your yard if you have just one feed pan. I know from first hand experience. Ducks will grab onto a hen's wing and haul her around, so scuffles are to be avoided. Incidents are few, minor, and pass quickly so long as a mother duck doesn't get cornered and there's more than one feeding station.

    Conclusion

    Quiet bug control that produces eggs, raises it's own young, and can even be served as a delicacy? Hard to go wrong with muscovies so long as you have the space to let them go about their business. Looking out the window and seeing these beautiful birds hunting bugs across your lawn or playing in the water is a wonderful experience. Just duck if you're opening a bag of food and they spot you from the roof.

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  1. ducks_and_chickens
    Great article!
    I don't agree that they don't make good pets though. Ducklings raised without a mother (from an incubator) are extremely sociable towards people. They bond easily when they're young, and will run towards me and nibble curiously on everything within reach. They're not overly happy to be held and lifted, but if put one in my lap, it sits there forever. They like being petted on the chest. The ones I have that hasn't had that kind of handling from birth, are more skittish though. But they're friendly and manageable as well.
    I'm in love with this species! <3
  2. Miss Lydia
    Wonderful information and pics.
  3. Gray Farms
    Excellent information! I myself have raised Muscovys for a long time. My current trio consists of two 9 year old hens and a 2 year old drake. These are the best two hens I've ever had. The consistently hatch large batches and set 3 times a year. Last year the two of them hatched 66 duckling total. And will hatch 95%-100% of their eggs every time. Their first two batches this year were 15 and 13, and one hen has started a new nest as well. I just love my Muscovys!!
  4. Old Philosopher
    Great article!
    But I need some quick advice.
    My lone hen just hatched 10 little ones. She barricaded herself and the ducklings under the duck house (on short stilts). We have 1 drake, and as soon as I separated the small yard, she bought the babies out to water, feed and romp.
    I need to know how much danger there is from the drake regarding the babies? At what age can I safely let them co-mingle, or do I need to worry at all? Will Mommy spank Daddy if he shows aggression toward the ducklings?
    The sooner I get some advice, the better. Thanks in advance...anyone.
    1. Nyla
      Some drakes may even help with caring for the ducklings. And some drakes are just mean towards them. You could try letting the drake in with them and watch. The mother bird will defend the ducklings if needed. Only way to know for sure is to try it out yourself with your drake.
  5. Abriana
    Wonderful article. I want some ducks, but already have a lot of chickens, so I'm trying to cut down feed cost for the chickens and then move in the the "duck direction". Are there any friendly ducks that enjoy sitting on your lap? Or do they all just want to follow you and not be touched?
  6. islafarm
    Great article! Thank you. I'm just about to get some ducklings and had some questions, I've had muscovies before but youe article covers more than I remember, thanks again!
  7. anniemg89
    I am also in the Granite State! We have 3 muscovies. Although I am only sure of the sex on one of them so far. Theyre about 5 months old now. :)
  8. Steph n Kel
    Thank you for your delightful and informative article! We have just brought home 2 hens and while we did research before hand, you touch on a few things that other tresources did not and I really like your detailed account of how they interact with you.
  9. myfivegirls
    Great summary - my experience has been the same with the Muscovy ducks. Though this year they were very late in starting to lay eggs and sit on them due to the late spring. Mine are kept in with one of the chicken flocks, and they do well, as long as there isn't any food sharing issues. They love to steal the chicken's food, and I've found that even if you try to "outsmart them" by putting the food in a place "only the chickens can get to" - they'll find it and gorge themselves!
    But, they are great foragers, and love the lamb's quarter plant, which readily grows in the garden, which we pull for them to feast on.

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