Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck
Male (left) and female (right) in Texas, USA.
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Subclass: Neornithes
Infraclass: Neognathae
Superorder: Galloanserae
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Cairina
Species: C. moschata
Binomial name
Cairina moschata
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Anas moschata (Linnaeus, 1758)

The Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) is a large duck which is native to Mexico and Central and South America. A small wild population reaches into the United States in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. There also are feral breeding populations in North America in and around public parks in nearly every state of the USA and in the Canadian provinces; feral populations also exist in Europe. Although the Muscovy Duck is a tropical bird, it adapts to icy and snowy conditions down to –12°C (10°F) and below without ill effects.[2][3] In general, "Barbary Duck" is the usual term for C. moschata in a culinary context.



All Muscovy Ducks have long claws on their feet and a wide flat tail. In the domestic drake (male), length is about 86 cm (34 in) and weight is 4.6–6.8 kg (10–15 lb), while the domestic hen (female) is much smaller, at 64 cm (25 in) in length and 2.7–3.6 kg (6.0–7.9 lb) in weight. Large domesticated males often weigh up to 8 kg (18 lb), and large domesticated females up to 5 kg (11 lb). One male of an Australian breed weighed about 10 kg (22 lb).[4]

The true wild Muscovy Duck, from which all domesticated Muscovys originated, is blackish, with large white wing patches. Length can range from 66 to 84 cm (26 to 33 in), wingspan from 137 to 152 cm (54 to 60 in) and weight from 1.1–4.1 kg (2.4–9.0 lb) in wild Muscovys. On the head, the wild male has short crest on the nape. The bill is black with a speckling of pale pink. A blackish or dark red knob can be seen at the bill base, and the bare skin of the face is similar to that in color. The eyes are yellowish-brown. The legs and webbed feet are blackish. The wild female is similar in plumage, but is also much smaller, and she has feathered face and lacks the prominent knob. The juvenile is duller overall, with little or no white on the upperwing.[5] Domesticated birds may look similar; most are dark brown or black mixed with white, particularly on the head.[6] Other colors such as lavender or all-white are also seen. Both sexes have a nude black-and-red or all-red face; the drake also has pronounced caruncles at the base of the bill and a low erectile crest of feathers.[3]

C. moschata ducklings are mostly yellow with buff-brown markings on the tail and wings. Some domesticated ducklings have a dark head and blue eyes, others a light brown crown and dark markings on their nape. They are agile and speedy precocial birds.

The drake has a low breathy call, and the hen a quiet trilling coo.

The karyotype of the Muscovy Duck is 2n=80, consisting of three pairs of macrochromosomes, 36 pairs of microchromosomes, and a pair of sex chromosomes. The two largest macrochromosome pairs are submetacentric, while all other chromosomes are acrocentric or (for the smallest microchromosomes) probably telocentric. The submetacentric chromosomes and the Z (female) chromosome show rather little constitutive heterochromatin (C bands), while the W chromosomes are at least two-thirds heterochromatin.[7]

Male Muscovy Ducks have spiralled penises which can become erect to 20 cm in one third of a second. Females have cloacas that spiral in the opposite direction to try to limit forced copulation by males.[8]

Domestic varieties

  • Black
  • Blue
  • Chocolate
  • Pied (white with any color)
  • White
  • Lavender
  • Bronze
  • Barred
  • Ripple
  • and many more pastel colors but these are very rare.

Etymology, taxonomy and systematics

The term "Muscovy" means "from the Moscow region", but these ducks are neither native there nor were they introduced there before they became known in Western Europe. It is not quite clear how the term came about; it very likely originated between 1550 and 1600, but did not become widespread until somewhat later.

The Muscovy Company traded Russian produce to England.

In one suggestion, it has been claimed that the Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands traded these ducks to Europe occasionally after 1550;[9] this chartered company became eventually known as the Muscovy Company or "Muscovite Company" so the ducks might thus have come to be called "Muscovite Ducks" or "Muscovy Ducks" in keeping with the common practice of attaching the importer's name to the products they sold.[9] But while the Muscovite Company initiated vigorous trade with Russia, they hardly, if at all, traded produce from the Americas; thus they are unlikely to have traded C. moschata to a significant extent.

Alternatively – just as in the "turkey" bird (which is also from America), or the "guineafowl" (which are not limited to Guinea) – "Muscovy" might be simply a generic term for a hard-to-reach and exotic place, in reference to the singular appearance of these birds. This is evidenced by other names suggesting the species came from lands where it is not actually native, but from where much "outlandish" produce was imported at that time (see below). A more recent parallel is the "Persian" cat, which resembles cats from Greater Khorasan and Ankara, but was actually bred in England.[10]

Yet another view – not incompatible with either of those discussed above – connects the species with the Muisca, a Native American nation in today's Colombia. The duck is native to these lands too, and it is likely that it was kept by the Muisca as a domestic animal to some extent. It is conceivable that a term like "Muisca duck", hard to comprehend for the average European of those times, would be corrupted into something more familiar.

The Miskito Indians of the Miskito Coast in Nicaragua and Honduras relied heavily on this domestic species. The ducks may have been named after this region.

Muscovy drake

The species was first scientifically described by Carl Linnaeus in his 1758 edition of Systema Naturae as Anas moschata,[11] literally meaning "musk duck". His description only consists of a curt but entirely unequivocal [Anas] facie nuda papillosa ("A duck with a naked and carunculated face"), and his primary reference is his earlier work Fauna Svecica.[12] But Linnaeus refers also to older sources, and therein much information on the origin of the common name is found.

Conrad Gessner is given by Linnaeus as a source, but the Historiae animalium mentions the Muscovy Duck only in passing.[13] Ulisse Aldrovandi[14] discusses the species in detail, referring to the wild birds and its domestic breeds variously as anas cairina, anas indica or anas libyca – "Duck from Cairo", "Indian Duck" (in reference to the West Indies) or "Libyan Duck". But his anas indica (based, like Gessner's brief discussion, ultimately on the reports of Christopher Columbus's travels) also seems to have included another species,[15] perhaps a whistling-duck (Dendrocygna). Already however the species is tied to some more or less nondescript "exotic" locality – "Libya" could still refer to any place in Northern Africa at that time – where it did not natively occur. Francis Willughby[16] discusses "The Muscovy Duck" as anas moschata and expresses his belief that Aldrovandi's and Gessner's anas cairina, anas indica and anas libyca (which he calls "The Guiny Duck", adding another mistaken place of origin to the list) refer to the very same species. Finally, John Ray clears up much of the misunderstanding by providing a contemporary explanation for the bird's etymology:

"In English, it is called The Muscovy-Duck, though this is not transferred from Muscovia [the New Latin name of Muscovy], but from the rather strong musk odour it exudes."[17]

Linnaeus came to witness the birds' "gamey" aroma first-hand, as he attests in the Fauna Svecica and again in the travelogue of this 1746 Västergötland excursion.[18] Similarly, the Russian name of this species, muskusnaya utka (Мускусная утка), means "musk duck" – without any reference to Moscow – as do the Bokmål moskusand, Dutch muskuseend, Finnish myskisorsa, French canard musqué, German Moschusente, Italian anatra muschiata, Spanish pato almizclado and Swedish myskand. In English however, Musk Duck refers to the Australian species Biziura lobata.

A domestic Muscovy Duck with wings outstretched

In some regions the name Barbary Duck is used for domesticated and "Muscovy Duck" for wild birds; in other places "Barbary Duck" refers specifically to the dressed carcass, while "Muscovy Duck" applies to living C. moschata, regardless of whether they are wild or domesticated. In general, "Barbary Duck" is the usual term for C. moschata in a culinary context.

This species was formerly placed into the paraphyletic "perching duck" assemblage, but subsequently moved to the dabbling duck subfamily (Anatinae). Analysis of the mtDNA sequences of the cytochrome b and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 genes,[19] however, indicates that it might be closer to the genus Aix and better placed in the shelduck subfamily Tadorninae. In addition, the other species of Cairina, the rare White-winged Duck (C. scutulata), seems to belong into a distinct genus. The generic name Cairina, meanwhile, traces its origin to Aldrovandi, and ultimately to the mistaken belief that the birds came from Egypt: translated, the current scientific name of the Muscovy Duck means "the musky one from Cairo".


This non-migratory species normally inhabits forested swamps, lakes, streams and nearby grassland and farm crops,[20] and often roosts in trees at night. The Muscovy Duck's diet consists of plant material obtained by grazing or dabbling in shallow water, and small fish, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, and millipedes. [21] This is a somewhat aggressive duck; males often fight over food, territory or mates. The females fight with each other less often. Some adults will peck at the ducklings if they are eating at the same food source.

The Muscovy Duck has benefited from nest boxes in Mexico, but is somewhat uncommon in much of the east of its range due to excessive hunting. It is not considered a globally threatened species by the IUCN however, as it is widely distributed.[22]


This species, like the Mallard, does not form stable pairs. They will mate on land or in water (note the submerged female in the image below). Domesticated Muscovy Ducks can breed up to three times each year.

The hen lays a clutch of 8-16 white eggs, usually in a tree hole or hollow, which are incubated for 35 days. The sitting hen will leave the nest once a day from 20 minutes to one and a half hours, and will then defecate, drink water, eat and sometimes bathe. Once the eggs begin to hatch it may take 24 hours for all the chicks to break through their shells. When feral chicks are born they usually stay with their mother for about 10–12 weeks. Their bodies cannot produce all the heat they need, especially in temperate regions, so they will stay close to the mother especially at night.

Often, the drake will stay in close contact with the brood for several weeks. The male will walk with the young during their normal travels in search for food, providing protection. Anecdotal evidence from East Anglia, UK suggests that, in response to different environmental conditions, other adults assist in protecting chicks and providing warmth at night. It has been suggested that this is in response to local efforts to cull the eggs, which has led to an atypical distribution of males and females as well as young and mature birds.

For the first few weeks of their lives, Muscovy duckling feed on grains, corn, grass, insects, and almost anything that moves. Their mother instructs them at an early age how to feed.

Feral bird

Feral Chocolate/White Muscovy Duck hen at Lake Union, Seattle (USA)

Feral Muscovy Ducks can breed near urban and suburban lakes and on farms, nesting in tree cavities or on the ground, under shrubs in yards, on condominium balconies, or under roof overhangs. Some feral populations, such as that in Florida, have a reputation of becoming nuisance pests on occasion.[23] At night they often sleep at water, if there is a water source available, to flee quickly from predators if awoken. A small population of Muscovy Ducks can also be found in Ely, Cambridgeshire, UK, where they are considered a pest and culled by the local council.

In the US, Muscovy Ducks are considered an invasive species. An owner may raise them for food production only (not for hunting). Similarly, if the ducks have no owner, 50CFR Part 21 allows the removal or destruction of the Muscovy ducks, their eggs and nests anywhere in the United States outside of Hidalgo, Starr, and Zapata counties in Texas where they are considered indigenous. The population in southern Florida is considered, with a population in the several thousands, to established there enough be is considered "countable" for bird watchers.[24]

Legal methods to restrict breeding include not feeding these ducks, deterring them with noise or by chasing, and finding nests and vigorously shaking the eggs to render them non-viable. Returning the eggs to the nest will avoid re-laying as the female would if the clutch were removed.

Recent legislation in the USA prohibits trading of Muscovy Ducks and plans for eradication are in order to solve nuisance problems.[21]


Muscovy Ducks had been domesticated by various Native American cultures in the Americas when Columbus arrived. The first few were brought to Europe by the European explorers at least by the 16th century.

The Muscovy Duck has been domesticated for centuries, and is widely traded as "Barbary duck". Muscovy breeds are popular because they have stronger-tasting meat – sometimes compared to roasted beef – than the usual domestic ducks which are descendants of the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). The meat is lean when compared to the fatty meat of mallard-derived ducks, its leanness and tenderness being often compared to veal. Muscovy ducks are also less noisy, and sometimes marketed as a "quackless" duck; even though they are not completely silent, they don't actually quack (except in cases of extreme stress). The carcass of a Muscovy Duck is also much heavier than most other domestic ducks, which makes it ideal for the dinner table.

Piebald drake

Domesticated Muscovy Ducks, like those pictured, often have plumage features differing from other wild birds. White breeds are preferred for meat production, as darker ones can have much melanin in the skin, which some people find unappealing.

The Muscovy Duck can be crossed with mallards in captivity to produce hybrids, known as mulard duck ("mule duck") because they are sterile. Muscovy drakes are commercially crossed with mallard-derived hens either naturally or by artificial insemination. The 40-60% of eggs that are fertile result in birds raised only for their meat or for production of foie gras: they grow fast like mallard-derived breeds but to a large size like Muscovy Ducks. Conversely, though crossing Mallard drakes with Muscovy hens is possible, the offspring are neither desirable for meat nor for egg production.[25]

In addition, Muscovy Ducks are reportedly cross-bred in Israel with Mallards to produce kosher duck products. The kashrut status of the Muscovy Duck has been a matter of rabbinic discussion for over 150 years.[26]

Lavender hen

Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic preparation made from Muscovy Duck liver and heart manufactured by the French company Boiron; similar products are also available from other manufacturers. Typically diluted with lactose and sucrose to 1:10400 (far more than one in one googol), they are advertised to relieve influenza-like symptoms, but no evidence has been found of its efficacy.[27]

A study examining birds in northwestern Colombia for blood parasites found the Muscovy Duck to be more frequently infected with Haemoproteus and malaria (Plasmodium) parasites than chickens, domestic pigeons and domestic turkeys,[28] and in fact almost all wild bird species studied also. It was noted that in other parts of the world, chickens were more susceptible to such infections than in the study area, but it may well be that Muscovy Ducks are generally more often infected with such parasites (which might not cause pronounced disease though, and are harmless to humans).[29]

Kosher status

As noted above, the Kosher status of the Muscovy duck has been a matter of dispute among deciders of Jewish Law (poskim) in previous generations. Although some consider the Muscovy duck to be non-kosher,[30][31] others continue to disagree.

In 2008, a "Mesora Dinner" was held to reaffirm the kosher status of various species, and Muscovy duck was on the menu. In discussing the halachic issues surrounding the species' kosher status, it was noted that the Muscovy duck was "highly controversial, due to its ban in America by the acerbic Rabbi Bernard Illowy in the mid 1800’s. As such, it is still not recognized as kosher in the [United] States today, but in Israel, no such ban ever existed."[3]

See also


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2009). "Cairina moschata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  2. ^ Holderread (2001): p.17
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ [1] (2011).
  6. ^ Cisneros-Heredia (2006)
  7. ^ Wójcik & Smalec (2008)
  8. ^ Sample, Ian (23 December 2009). "Video reveals twists and turns of genital warfare in ducks". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 December 2009. 
  9. ^ a b Holderread (2001): pp.73-74
  10. ^ Lipinski et al. (2008)
  11. ^ Linnaeus (1758)
  12. ^ Linnaeus (1746)
  13. ^ Gessner (1555): p.118; not p.122 as per Linnaeus (1741, 1758): see Aldrovandi (1637): p.192 and Willughby (1676): p.295.
  14. ^ Aldrovandi (1637): pp.192-201
  15. ^ Aldrovandi (1637): Anas indica alia, pp.192 & 194
  16. ^ Willughby (1676): pp.294-295
  17. ^ Ray (1713): p.150. Latin: Anglicē, the Muscovy-Duck dicitur, non quōd ē Muscovia huc translata esset, sed quōd satis validum moschi odorem spiret.
  18. ^ Linnaeus (1746, 1747)
  19. ^ Johnson & Sorenson (1999)
  20. ^ Accordi & Barcellos (2006)
  21. ^ a b
  22. ^ BLI (2008)
  23. ^ read ″Florida's Introduced Birds: Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)"
  24. ^ [2] (2011).
  25. ^ Holderread (2001): p.97, Zivotofsky & Amar (2003)
  26. ^ Zivotofsky & Amar (2003)
  27. ^ van der Wouden et al. (2005), Vickers & Smith (2006)
  28. ^ In the single domestic guineafowl studied, no blood parasites were found either; the sample size precludes a direct comparison however.
  29. ^ Londono et al. (2007)
  30. ^ "Many authorities argue that not all species of duck should be accepted as kosher because certain species have no accepted tradition (M'sorah). Many decline to approve the use of a species known as the Muscovy duck and its hybrid, known as mulard duck."Blech, Zushe Yosef (2009). Kosher Food Production. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 138fn. ISBN 9780813820934. 
  31. ^ "In a two-page Kol Koreh proclamation, published in "Der Yid" of January 22, 2010, the Muscovy is carefully and detailedly analyzed and found to be not kosher, calling it a tumah, contaminated, bird. The Kol Koreh carries the signatures of Rabbi Shlomo Zvi Stern, DebricenerRav; Rabbi Yitzchok Stein, Foltechaner Dayan; Rabbi Yitzchak Eliezer Yakub, Rav of Beis Medrash Tevuos Shor and author of Siach Yitzchok; Rabbi Yaakov Zeida, Dayan of Vishnitz; and Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, Karlsburger Rav and author of Emek HaTeshuvah." Tannenbaum, Rabbi Gershon (2010-01-27). "My Machberes: Muscovy Duck 2010". The Jewish Press. Retrieved 17 May 2010. 


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External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Muscovy duck — n. [altered (by assoc. with MUSCOVY) < MUSK DUCK] a large, domesticated, Neotropical duck (Cairina moschata) with dark plumage, blue eyes, and white wing patches …   English World dictionary

  • Muscovy duck — Mus co*vy duck [A corruption of musk duck.] (Zo[ o]l.) A duck ({Cairina moschata}), larger than the common duck, often raised in poultry yards. Called also {musk duck}. It is native of tropical America, from Mexico to Southern Brazil. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • muscovy duck — paprastoji muskusinė antis statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Cairina moschata angl. muscovy duck vok. Moschusente, f rus. мускусная утка, f pranc. canard musqué, m ryšiai: platesnis terminas – muskusinės antys …   Paukščių pavadinimų žodynas

  • Muscovy duck — noun Etymology: Muscovy, principality of Moscow, Russia Date: 1657 a large dark crested duck (Cairina moschata) of Central and South America that is widely kept in domestication …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • muscovy duck — noun large crested wild duck of Central America and South America; widely domesticated • Syn: ↑musk duck, ↑Cairina moschata • Hypernyms: ↑duck • Member Holonyms: ↑Cairina, ↑genus Cairina …   Useful english dictionary

  • Muscovy duck — a large, crested, wild duck, Cairina moschata, of tropical America, that has been widely domesticated. Also called musk duck. [1650 60] * * * …   Universalium

  • Muscovy duck — Mus′covy duck′ n. orn a large, crested, wild duck, Cairina moschata, of tropical America, that has been widely domesticated • Etymology: 1650–60 …   From formal English to slang

  • Muscovy duck — /mʌskəvi ˈdʌk/ (say muskuhvee duk) noun a large, crested, neotropical duck, Cairina moschata, which has been widely domesticated. When wild it is glossy black with a large white patch on each wing and fleshy, red caruncles on the face. {erroneous …   Australian English dictionary

  • Muscovy duck — noun An anatide genus Cairina moschata, a large duck which is native to Mexico, Central and South America …   Wiktionary

  • Muscovy duck — noun a large tropical American duck with glossy greenish black plumage. [Cairina moschata.] …   English new terms dictionary

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