The muscovy is the only type of domesticated duck that doesn't descend from the mallard. They're easy to
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Keeping Muscovy Ducks
A guide to keeping Muscovy ducks
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