Muscovy Duck a Bird in South Florida
Do you know the story of the Ugly Duckling? That’s the one where the duckling who looks different than the rest of the brood grows up to be a beautiful Swan instead of a Duck. Well the Muscovy is the opposite.
Muscovy ducklings are pretty cute and look like something you’d want to hold in your hands and gently pet. Their downy feathers are soft browns with black markings that blend well and look real pretty.
Then they grow up and turn into these mottled color ducks. The Muscovy adult is usually a black and white duck. Sometimes they end up with some mottled brown in the mix. The males also grow up to have rough bumpy red mask on their face around the eyes and above the beak. These fleshy outgrowths known as carbuncles are sexy for the ducks not so good to look at by us humans.
The Muscovy duck in South Florida is considered by many people to be a pest. They will chase after walkers and runners looking for a handout. In some complexes, large flocks will congregate any time they see people in their backyards. They spend most of their waking hours eating which of course means they have a lot of poop too. The poop is the main problem as they leave piles of it on the sidewalks, streets and lawns. This poop can also be washed back into the lakes causing major pollution.
Fortunately, at least in the complex where I live, predators take out most of the ducklings before they have a chance to grow up and become pests. Only one or two seem to make it to adulthood, replacing the adults that are lost.
Their main predators around here seem to be the feral cats and automobiles. The feral cats will snatch a duckling that stays behind and make a meal out of it. Cars, vans and SUVs seem to be the next group of eliminators turning the Muscovy ducks into road kill. You can see the squished bodies of the small ones, and the flattened bodies of the large ones in the parking lots and on the entrance roads.
Origins of the Pesky Moscovy
You would think, as I did, that with a name like Moscovy these ducks originated in Eastern Europe and were brought over here by European immigrants as a food source. You would be wrong!
These ducks which are now in Europe, across the Americas and the Caribbean, and which have colonies as far out as the Japanese Islands, did not originate on the European continent. Muscovy ducks are from Brazil. Wild populations also exist in Central America and parts of Mexico.
The feral populations of Muscovy ducks that are found today in South Florida are the descendants of domesticated Barbary ducks (another name is Musky Duck) brought here from South America as pets and food. In other countries they are considered good eating. They have been in the States for close to 100 years now co-existing with us humans mostly on friendly terms.
The feral Muscovies act quite different at times than the wild population still existent in Brazil, Central America and Mexico. Although the wild duck walks alone or in small groups, the feral duck tends to large flocks that forage together. The feral ducks are quite friendly, perhaps at times too friendly which creates both appreciation and dislike.
Can we blame the ducks? No, this is a human created opportunity for the ducks. Feeding them, although against the law, is very common. The ducks go to where there is an easy meal. They have also learned to rip open garbage bags and pull out leftovers that people have discarded.
While the wild duck normally builds nests in the crooks of trees, the semi-domesticated birds will nest on the ground. Unlike the wild duck which prefers to roost in trees, our Muscovy ducks simply curl up under a bush to pass the night.
All about Ducks
Muscovy duck Information
Cairina moschata is the official name for these feathered eating machines.
The male or drake of the species is about twice the size of the females. The average length of the male is 31 inches while the female’s average length is 23.6 inches. The male’s average weight of 7.7 pounds is almost double the average female weight of 3.8 pounds.
Muscovy ducks feed on a large variety of food sources. Besides human food tossed to them or which they forage from garbage bags these ducks will eat: roots, stems, leaves, seeds, nuts, crops, small fish, reptiles, insects, mosquito larvae, millipedes, termites, ants, crustaceans and amphibians. Pretty much it comes down to if they can get it down their throat they will eat it.
Their average life span is 7 to 8 years. The ducks that are lucky enough to have humans as caretakers, such as exhibition Muscovy ducks and pets have been known to live longer, some up to 20 years old! Around my residential complex the ones that make it to adulthood seem to live less than average – more like 2 to 3 years before they become road kill.
They breed year round and can have 2 or 3 clutches of eggs in a year’s time. You can see the females running around here followed by anywhere from 3 to 20 ducklings. Sometimes the males are with them, most times they are not. The ducks breed indiscriminately.
Muscovies have at least one redeeming feature – they are a quiet duck. The males make a hissing call and the females a soft cooing sound. This is much better than the quacks and honks of most ducks and geese which can wake the dead they are so loud.