Harteman Wildfowl | kvk 90846257 | ubn 6872294

Wild Muscovies: how wild are they really?

Wild Muscovy ducks in aviculture

A number wildfowl breeders intend to breed wild Muscovy ducks, Cairina moschata. But are these birds actually wild or are they “wild-type”, and what does a real wild Muscovy duck look like? Do we really have a good wild-type population in aviculture at all?


First, we need to be more clear on our terminology of wild (i.e. truly natural birds), wild-type that we have may in aviculture that are thought to be wild, and domesticated, which we know are of human creation. Wild and wild-type are not the same thing. As a (domesticated) population is left to breed naturally under no constraints, individuals will eventually tend back towards wild-type characteristics.

What I am trying to say here is that we have created a wild-type Muscovy that we THINK is what occurs in the wild. So this is artificial selection. We have selected for characteristics and bred them to produce a bird that is wild-type without any evidence for this phenotype.  



Above: a captive flock of wild-type Muscovy ducks?
Located at Criadouro De Aves Poços de Caldas, Minas Gerais, Brazil (J. Harteman, 2010)



Above: full-winged adult wild-type Muscovy ducks in a captive flock. Take note of the red caruncles.
Located at Criadouro De Aves Poços de Caldas, Minas Gerais, Brazil (J. Harteman, 2010)



Above: captive adult wild-type Muscovy duck male. Take note of the black caruncles.

This drake was hatched with only brown coloured down, it did not have the pattern as seen in the wild population.

Located at the former wildfowl collection of PTC+ Barneveld (J. Harteman, 2010)


Dark coloured ducklings: a misconception

We can differentiate the real domesticated birds from potential wild birds, as these often are pied or white, or not completely black ducks. Normally, domesticated birds have bright red caruncles whereas the wild Muscovy’s caruncle is....
Well, what is normal in a wild bird? Some people believe breeders have selected their birds too much towards a completely black (adult) standard, without any red on their faces. A possible side-effect is the occurrence of dark brown ducklings in a clutch, which may be the result of melanism caused by this artificial selection. Melanistic adult birds will show no or very little red on their facial skin. Is this right? What we may be seeing are artificial "wild type" Muscovies due to own imposed selective pressures This misconception seems to be the new standard idea of what a wild Muscovy is. However, dark-coloured ducklings are not found in wild flocks (?).


Carboneras C., Kirwan G., Del Hoyo J. (2013) The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Consulted at March 29th 2016: chick very similar to that of Anas platyrhynchos, with variable pattern, mainly dark brown and yellow, with pale dorsal spots and wing patches, and dark brown bare parts.

Note: a variable pattern may occur in domesticated birds, not likely in wild-type ducklings, where individuals are equal.



Above: a wild-type Muscovy duck female with ducklings.

Located at Point-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, Trinidad and Tobago (J. van Leeuwen, 2013)



Above: a captive wild-type Muscovy duck with her brood, two ducklings diverge from the other ducklings.

Located at Criadouro De Aves Poços de Caldas, Minas Gerais, Brazil (J. Harteman, 2010)


From earlier publications

We have found some information about downy Muscovy duckling patterns in earlier publications. 


Phillips, J.C. (1922). A Natural History of the Ducks: Volume I. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Young in down: Not particularly characteristic. Bill very heavy and somewhat hooked at the tip. General coloration somewhat similar to that of a young Mallard but the orbit streak does not extend forward of the eye, only back of it. The superciliary light streaks are very prominent, meeting in front so as to form a nearly white forehead thus differing somewhat from the pattern seen in the Mallard.


Delacour J., & Scott P. (1959). The Waterfowl of the World: Volume III. London: Country Life Ltd.

Downy chicks: bill heavy and nail hooked; brown above, with yellow spots on wings and sides of rump, yellow below, with dark line behind the eyes, face and forehead bright yellow. 

(a painting of a duckling, by Peter Scott, can be found in this volume of The Waterfowl of the World)


Johnsgard, P.A. (1965). Handbook of Waterfowl Behaviour. London: Cornell University Press Ltd.

The downy young are dark above, with reduced spotting, and yellow below, and they have a clear yellow cheek and a broad dark crown. The juveniles are more brownish than the adults and lack white wing-coverts; this distinctive juvenile plumage also occurs in spur-winged geese, comb duck, and white-winged wood ducks. 


Kolbe, A. (1981). Die Entenvögel der Welt. Radebeul: Neumann Verlag Leipzig

Dunenkleid: Gesamte Oberseite einschließlich Oberkopf, Augenstreif, Hals und Schenkel dunkelbraun; Gesicht, Bauchseite bis in Achselhöle sowie kleine Fleckchen an Flügel und Bürzelseiten kräftig gelb. Schnabel und Füße schwarz, letztere mit stark gekrümmten Krallen.

Duckling pattern: Entire top including the skull, eyes Streif, neck and legs dark brown; Face, ventral side up in Achselhöle and small patch on wings and Bürzelseiten full yellow. Bill and feet black, the latter with strongly curved claws.


Baldassarre G. (2014). Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America. Johns Hopkins University Press

Ducklings are boldly patterned with yellow and dark brown, and have prominent dorsal spots and wing patches (Nelson 1993). The forehead, the throat, and the sides of the head are yellow, with conspicuous supraorbital stripe. The feet are a dull yellow, patterned with greyish brown.

Powered by liveSite Get your free site!