Popular Domestic Duck Breeds
A Short Guide to Domestic Duck Breeds
I decided to create this guide to help people with choosing a duck breed best for them. I am still learning my breeds and don't propose to be an expert on all of them, so I may be adding to this article as I learn more. This is by no means a comprehensive guide to all domestic duck breeds as there are dozens and dozens to choose from. This is a guide to the most popular ducks one would see most commonly on farms and in backyards. I plan to add more detailed information on more duck breeds soon.
All photos in this article were taken by me. Those that weren't are credited.
Pekin ducks are just about the most popular farm duck in the world. Note, the spelling is Pekin, not Peking (which is a type of Chinese food dish), though the breed did originate in China. These ducks are bred mostly for their meat as they grow and fatten up quickly. Most of the ducks one sees for sale at the grocery store are Pekin ducks, usually under three months old. Believe it or not, this breed originally was more black and more like a mallard. It took a long time of breeding before the ducks turned white and grew their fat, bulky bodies.
Pros: Pekin ducks are very social and bond to people easily. Some say that some ducks of this breed prefer humans over other ducks. They are also unable to fly and easy to find. Their meat is considered very tasty.
Cons: They can be loud. Also, because they're bred to grow large very fast, they are prone to leg problems, especially if their diet is not carefully controlled and monitored. Pekin ducks can also have difficulty breathing and moving around due to their bulkier size and sudden death is not unusual with this breed during stress or hot weather. Pekin males can be very aggressive and injure smaller breeds.
Indian Runner ducks
Some people just shorten their name to "Runner Ducks." They didn't originate in India, but in the "East Indies" and Indonesia. They are distinctive in that they stand straight up and tend to run like penguins do. One indicator of breeding quality is that higher quality ducks tend to resemble a bowling pin in uprightness and slenderness. They can also come in a wide range of colors and varieties.
Pros: Runner ducks are excellent foragers and decent egg layers. Like Pekins, they also can't fly. They are also funny to watch and come in a lot of really cool varieties and colors.
Cons: They can be more nervous and less friendly. They don't make nests and will drop their eggs even while walking around. They are also more harder to obtain and one often has to order them through hatcheries or breeders. Females tend to be loud, but not as loud as Pekins.
Brood Your Ducklings the Safer Way
This is an American breed developed in New York State that is all black, usually with a green sheen. Its exact origin is unknown and there are various legends surrounding its appearance.
Pros: Though they are medium-sized, Cayuga ducks still can't fly. They also lay black eggs, which is pretty cool. Cayugas have a wonderful and friendly disposition, especially if hand raised. They are also said to be very hardy and can tolerate colder temperatures and less-than-ideal weather. They tend to be reasonably quiet compared to other mallard-derived breeds.
Cons: Cayugas are a little more difficult to obtain. Birds that are not hand-raised are usually not very friendly.
Note: Cayuga ducks tend to turn white as they age and are disqualified from shows if they show white feathers. Females tend to go white faster and, by the end of their lives, may become entirely white.
Buff ducks, or buff Orpington ducks, are large beige ducks that originated in England. This duck is slightly larger than a Cayuga duck. Males tend to get brown or greenish-brown colored heads; females tend to be evenly beige.
Pros: Buff ducks are a dual-purpose breed, good for meat and egg production. They have a very friendly personality, easy going, and tend to be fairly quiet, though females can be vocal. These ducks cannot fly.
Cons: They can be bulky and prone to leg and hip problems. Males can be aggressive breeders, sometimes.
Muscovy ducks are actually tree ducks native to South America, Central America, and Mexico. They were even semi-domesticated by native peoples in those areas and used for eggs, meat, and feathers. They are closely related to other tree ducks such as wood ducks and whistling ducks.
Pros: Muscovy ducks are easy to care for, forage easily, and will even catch mice and small lizards. Very quiet, males make a soft hiss and females make a quiet quack, making them a popular pet duck for urban areas. They are also prolific egg layers and great mothers. Meat is said to be excellent and taste more like beef than duck.
Cons: Many people don't like the caruncles on the male's face. Though they are a large bird, they are very capable of flying and often escape and become feral. New laws may prohibit the ownership of Muscovy ducks for pet purposes.
Swedish ducks generally come in two varieties, blue and black, and are often crested. They are medium-large in size and distinguished by their bright white chests. Some Swedish ducks have greenish heads.
Pros: This is a very calm, personable breed that is comfortable around people and forages easily. Swedish ducks are very hardy with good cold and heat tolerance and need little to no special care.
Cons: Some people complain about egg production problems, but complaints are minimal. There are very few complaints about this breed.
Welsh harlequins are a newer breed of large duck that doesn't get as large or as fat as a Pekin. I haven't heard any specific health problem with this breed. They are known to be great farm or backyard ducks and great egg layers. The gender of ducklings can be determined soon after hatching: Males have darker bills and females have lighter bills with a dark spot at the end. These differences disappear within a few days. They're beautiful ducks; females can come in silver or gold.
The duck in the photo was just turning into his breeding colors and actually got much brighter a month later. Females are usually more overall silver/gold and spotted.
Pros: Welsh harlequins are said to be fairly quiet and great egg layers. Females often go broody and will raise their own ducklings. Also, they are good for meat. They are calm and good foragers.
Cons: They are harder to obtain. There are some possible problems with breeding and laying eggs, but these are very rare and unspecific. Some people complain about this duck's size/leanness in regards to being a meat bird.
Appleyards are a beautiful birds known for being great egg layers as well as being visually appealing. There are also silver appleyards, which have more white around the chest and neck.
Usually, they are a large breed that can weigh up to eight pounds or more and also make great meat ducks. However, there are "bantam" appleyards that can be the size of a wild mallard or smaller. Coloration can vary with female appleyards and can range from light to dark, becoming more colorful as they get older. All female appleyards should have bright eyebrows and a white or light coloration on their chins and the undersides of their necks. Most females will have a white or bright breast, though this can vary between individuals as well. Male appleyards resemble snowy mallards and Welsh harlequins in color with "frosted" wings and bright undersides. This breed's males tend to have white on the head, usually on the underside or around the eyes, but it varies from male to male.
Pros: Appleyards are great egg layers and good meat ducks. They have a calm demeanor and fun personality, very social and curious with good intelligence. They are a beautiful breed with unique-looking ducklings, and their colors often get brighter with age.
Cons: Females are often very vocal and very loud. Bantam ducks are good fliers, but large ducks can have issues due to their heavy build.
More Domestic Duck Breeds
Here are some more common domestic duck breeds to choose from:
- Mallard—Popular for coloring, egg production, and meat
- Khaki Campbell—Good layer ducks
- Rouen—Good all-purpose duck (meat and eggs), with mallard coloring.
- Crested duck—Can be of any breed, most likely Indian runner, Pekin, or Swedish
- Magpie duck—The pinto of ducks, magpies are white with black splotches. They are very good foragers and pest controllers
- Australian spotted duck—Actually originated in the United States. Good foragers, but may be difficult to obtain
- Saxony duck—Large breed, great egg layers, calm temperament
Duck Breeds on Video!
Here are a few videos describing the different breeds of ducks and tips on how to care for them, too! Most videos are done by P. Allen Smith. I chose these so that people can see all of the different farm breeds out there.
Crested White Pekin, Mallard, and Black Cayuga
Aylesbury and Pekin
Rare Domestic Ducks
Here is a small list of rarer and more-difficult-to-keep domestic ducks. These ducks are not recommended for beginners and are often very hard to obtain and breed. Some breeds, especially ornamental and wild-type ducks, may require permits and special enclosures.
- Black East-Indies—Beautiful green-black color, very shy and fairly difficult to get
- Call duck—Small, shy, very loud ducks.
- Dutch hook bills—Newer breed in North America, mostly kept for exhibition
- Wild duck breeds and ornamental waterfowl—Usually a permit is required to keep these, which are often untamed and skiddish. Examples of these types include wood and Mandarin ducks, Egyptian geese, whistling tree ducks, and ruddy ducks
Example of a Rarer Breed
Many people like to keep shelducks, an ornamental/wild-type duck. Some ornamental and wild-type ducks require special accommodations and feed to keep them happy and healthy. They may also require completely closed enclosures and some breeds can't be kept with other breeds. Some ornamental breeds are not as naturally friendly as the ones raised for farms. It's good to research the breed of duck you wish to get before getting them to make sure they are compatible with your lifestyle and other animals.
Rarer Breed: Paradise Shelduck
A Word About Buying Crested Ducks
Crested ducks, like the one on the left in this photo or the one on the Pekin in the photo above, are a result of a gene that causes the skull to remain partially open for the life of the duck. The crest actually forms on a fatty piece of tissue over a hole or soft spot in the skull. Generally, if only one parent carries the gene and the other doesn't, it is not a problem, and most ducklings will hatch healthy. However, if two crested parents breed, the gene can be lethal, and most of the ducklings will either not hatch or die soon after. So, care is needed if one wishes to obtain and breed crested ducks. Also, one must also keep a watchful eye on female crested Pekins so that males don't injure them during mating due to their crests.
Find out More About Raising Ducks
Here are a few suggestions on how to start your new duck family or farm. I picked these out either because I've been recommended them by my duck-owning friends or because of how helpful I've found them.
Places to Order Ducks or Find Duck Breed Information
Here is a short list of hatcheries and duck brokers who can help you find your perfect duck or find out information about a particular breed.
- Metzer Farms
Metzer Farms is a goose, duck, and game bird hatchery in Gonzales, California. They also sell fresh eggs, balut, hatching eggs, waterfowl and gamebird feeds, books, and equipment. Most people I know are fairly satisfied with their orders.
- Holderread Waterfowl Farm and Preservation Center
Conserving rare domestic ducks and geese in over 60 varieties, Holderread Farm offers top-quality ducklings, goslings, adult birds, and books. People I know who order from this farm are very pleased with the quality of their ducks.
- Meyer Hatchery
This hatchery sells a variety of fowl, including chickens, peafowl, geese, and turkeys.
How About Adopting a Rescue Duck?
As with other shelter animals, when you adopt a rescue duck, you may be saving a life. Some humane societies have ducks and geese up for adoption. Many waterfowl rescue centers are overflowing with pet waterfowl needing adoption. Adopting an duck or goose is for pet only purposes. Of course, eggs are often a side benefit if you adopt a female. Adopters will be screened to make sure they are ready for their new pet.
The advantage of this is that you don't have to go through that duckling phase when you will need brooders and special food and bedding (not to mention all the mess and other hazards) You will also often get an extremely grateful, loving pet. The disadvantage of this is that you might not get the breed you like (unless you like Pekins) or you might have to adopt all males. Also, some ducks are "special needs" ducks that need medicine and vet attention from time to time. But, if you are looking for a duck as a pet, this may be the way to go.
Contact your local ASPCA or domestic waterfowl rescue groups to see if any ducks are available for adoption. Most require the payment of a small fee.
Questions People Ask
I've noticed that people have certain recurring questions on keeping ducks, and I hope to answer them below. Personally, I deal mostly with feral and wild ducks and rely on my friends for much of my duck-keeping information, as well as some of the books and sites mentioned. I would suggest asking a duck expert such as Metzer Farms or Holderread's for specific questions on breeds.
- Will my Pekin get along with a Cayuga? (You can substitute your breeds for the two I mentioned.)
From what I know, it all depends on the ducks. Most mallard-derived breeds tend to co-habitat very well, though each duck will have its own personality and likes and dislikes. I would suggest keeping ducks that are the same size together rather than keeping very large breeds with smaller breeds. Also, the ratio of males to females should be one male for three females of about the same size.
- Can Muscovy ducks get along with other types of ducks?
Yes, they can, especially with larger breed ducks. They can also interbreed and have offspring, but that offspring will be sterile. These offspring are known as "mulards" or "mule ducks" and are said to be good meat ducks. Some female mulards can lay eggs, though they won't be fertile.
- Do I need a permit to keep ornamental breeds (or wild ducks)?
You do sometimes need a permit, especially for native species like wood ducks, ruddy ducks, scaup, etc. Some areas may not allow the keeping of certain species. Permits may also be required of certain non-native species. Generally, to keep these types of ducks, it's required to have a completely enclosed pen or enclosure where there's no chance of escape.
- Can I keep ducks and chickens together?
Sometimes. It depends on the duck. It is generally not recommended to keep male ducks and female chickens together as male ducks can kill the chickens through attempted mating. Female ducks and chickens are usually OK. Be aware, ducks are way messier than chickens and sometimes make a mess of the chicken coop.
- When can ducklings go outside on their own?
Generally, it depends on your climate and your time of year. Ducklings usually need a heat source for their first two weeks of life, 24 hours a day. Most ducklings can go outside in warmer weather during the day by the time they're a month old, though they will need to be protected from predators. It is generally recommended that they don't go outside full time until they're fully feathered at about seven to eight weeks.
- When can ducklings start swimming?
Ducklings do not produce their own preen oil, which keeps them waterproofed, until they're about two weeks old. In the wild, they get this oil from their mother. Though they can swim from about day one or two, they must be supervised and the sessions should be short and in at least luke-warm water. Ducklings need to be thoroughly dried after they swim and placed back under or near a heat source.