Raising Muscovy Ducks (Everything You Need To Know)

Muscovy ducks are one of my favorite breeds and a popular choice on homesteads and small farms for their eggs, meat, and amazing pest control abilities. Muscovy are also a fast-growing commercial breed whose meat you can commonly find in grocery stores and butcher shops. In my few years of hatching and raising Muscovy and Muscovy crosses, I’ve come to see them as an excellent choice for anyone desiring a true dual-purpose duck breed that will provide both meat and eggs in abundance.

They are amazing foragers that will require little supplemental feed in the warmer seasons as they decimate pests like mosquitoes in surprising numbers. And if I didn’t have video footage of it, I wouldn’t believe it, but Muscovy will hunt and eat mice as easily as anything.

These large birds are also the quietest among all domestic duck breeds making them a good choice for suburban backyards with close neighbors. Muscovy ducks have sweet personalities full of character, and they can be very friendly and are a gentle, docile choice for families with children.

One of my Muscovy ducks, fully feathered and grown, still in her first season, and still very pretty. The distinctive facial wrinkles don’t develop until the following year.

Muscovy Duck Quick Facts

  • Primary use: Meat & eggs
  • Body Type: Heavy
  • Size (Drakes): 10 to 15 pounds
  • Size (Females): 6 to 11 pounds
  • Egg production (Annual): 60 to 150
  • Starts Laying: 4-6 months
  • Egg size: Very Large
  • Egg color: Cream or white, often tinted light green
  • Origin: Mexico, Central, and South America
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

As you can see from this somewhat confusing list above — there is a significant variation amongst Muscovies when it comes to size and egg-laying capabilities depending on the genetic strain and breeder/hatchery you acquire them from.

This is not a mistake.

I was quite surprised to find out that many people consider Muscovy poor layers — mine were egg-laying machines that started early and lay an incredible amount of massive, and frequently double-yoked eggs, daily for many months.

Talk to the breeder/hatchery you get them from and ask questions.

Top Reasons To Choose Muscovy Ducks For Your Flock

  • Muscovies are excellent foragers and are great for controlling mosquito and fly populations in your yard. 
  • They lay very large eggs that contain more albumen than other duck eggs. The extra egg white makes Muscovy eggs perfect for baking. 
  • Their dark meat tastes delicious, with many people comparing the flavor to that of steak!
  • They are relatively quiet ducks that won’t bother you or your neighbors. 
  • Muscovy hens are prone to broodiness, and they are wonderful mothers. This makes breeding Muscovy ducks very easy because there is no need for an incubator. 
  • Their droppings are a useful fertilizer for the garden.
  • Muscovy duck down is of very high quality. It is some of the most luxurious, fluffy down there is and has better insulating properties than ordinary duck down. 

I also raise dual-purpose Saxony ducks, Cayuga ducks, and next year — Silver Appleyard ducks as well as Welsh Harlequins for eggs.

Cons

Depending on the genetic lineage, they may lay eggs on the lower end of the spectrum.

They’re also not as cute or pretty as other ducks to some people.

After a year, their faces begin to develop heavy red wrinkling. I find it fascinating but not everyone agrees and many people may find them odd or ugly looking compared to other breeds.

They can fly — and they will.

They will range further from their home territory than other duck breeds in their hunt for food and although mine have always come back, some flock keepers might find this unnerving.

(I’m not one of them, I love seeing mine take flight.)

In the summer, I didn’t see a few members of my Muscovy flock for days. Assuming they had been taken by predators, I stopped looking, only to have them come back one morning. Turns out they had been coming back each night to roost in a particular pine tree and then leaving early — earlier than I woke up — to go forage for food somewhere good.

All ducks stay out later than chickens will, but Muscovy stay out longest of all in my experience. And some prefer to sleep outside entirely. It can be difficult to get them inside as they roost.

I had a pair of Muscovy that refused to come in at all, choosing to roost high in a tree where I could not reach them. As soon as the weather turned cold, this changed and they went back inside their duck house with the others.

You may not love these characteristics as much as I do.

a fwhite emale muscovy duck stands on a rock

Not Actually A Duck

Technically speaking, Muscovies are not really ducks. While they belong to the same taxonomic family as ducks, swans, and geese, they are in a different subfamily. Muscovy ducks are somewhere between a duck and a goose.

Muscovies are so different from other duck breeds that they cannot produce fertile offspring when they mate with other ducks. Much like a cross between a horse and a donkey produces a mule, a cross between a Muscovy and, for example, a Pekin produces a sterile “Mullard.” 

(I have a few in my flock this year that I’ll show you pictures of further down in the article.)

The Muscovy breed is one of the few domesticated ducks that are not descended from Mallard ducks. Therefore, they have some very interesting and unique characteristics. 

For example, their faces look very different from other duck breeds. Muscovies have weird, red, wart-like markings around their eyes and the base of their bills. These are called caruncles

Muscovy eggs take longer to hatch than those of other duck breeds. They take 35 days to hatch, whereas most duck breeds’ eggs take 28 days to hatch. 

Rather than sleeping and nesting on the ground, like other ducks, Muscovies prefer to perch in trees and nest in the hollows of trees. They have unusual claws that help them grip onto tree branches while they roost. 

They also make a different sound from other ducks. Rather than quacking, drakes make a hissing noise, and females make a high-pitched, exotic-sounding “pip.” 

Muscovy Duck Mules & Crosses

I hatched out Muscovy ducklings that were crossed with a Welsh Harlequin drake this year.

They will grow up to be larger than the standard Welsh Harlequin duck and make a great meat bird.

They will grow up to lay eggs in abundance, possibly more than the average Muscovy.

However, they will grow up to be completely sterile. Their eggs will never hatch.

Muscovy are too different from ducks to produce fertile offspring.

two white muscovy ducklings slowly getting their white feathers
My Muscovy ducklings slowly getting their adult feathers in.

History & Origins

Muscovies originate from the Americas.

They are found in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, all the way down to Mexico, Uruguay, and Argentina. 

Muscovy ducks have a breed history that goes back countless years. It is one of the first duck species that humans domesticated.

The indigenous peoples living in Mexico and Central and South America domesticated Muscovy ducks long before the arrival of Colombus in 1492. 

Muscovy ducks were significant in ancient Aztec culture. They were the totem animal of the Aztec wind god, Ehecatl, and Aztec kings wore cloaks made from Muscovy feathers. 

Carl Linnaeus first cataloged and described Muscovy ducks in 1758. They were first given the binomial name Anas moschata. In Latin, it means “musk duck.”

Linnaeus gave it this name because he noticed that the duck meat had a different smell compared to other ducks. It smells more gamey or musky. 

Today, the Muscovy duck’s binomial name is Cairina moschata. The name was changed when scientists realized they belong to a different genus than other ducks, like Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos).

Colombus exported Muscovy ducks from South America to Spain. From there, they were sent to France and England.

The shipping company that transported the birds was called the Muscovite Company. This is where the species got its common name. 

Muscovy duck populations grew quickly in Europe. When people realized how delicious their meat was, many began keeping them for the table.

Muscovy duck meat is a culinary delicacy and is referred to as Barberry duck in some areas.

Today there are wild, feral, and domesticated Muscovy duck populations all over the world. Wild ones are mainly found in Central and South America and the southern parts of the USA.

There are also established feral populations of Muscovy ducks in Australia, New Zealand, and some regions of Europe.

Wild and feral populations have been established throughout North America. 

4 black muscovy duck standing in a dirt enclosure
A flock of black Muscovy — somewhat similar in appearance to the Cayuga duck breed.

Appearance

Muscovy ducks have a striking appearance thanks to the red caruncles or warts on their face. Both males and females have caruncles, but males develop them at a younger age and have more. 

Their black and pink bills are relatively long and slope smoothly up to their forehead. Their eyes range from brown to grey, depending on how dark their plumage is.

White Muscovy ducks are most common but they come in many different types of colors and breeders will selectively breed for particular colors and color combinations.

Muscovy ducks’ plumage is a combination of black, brown, and white patches. Wild Muscovies are mainly black, and their black feathers have an iridescent green sheen. Mature ducks have white wing patches. 

Domesticated Muscovies have more white plumage, and their markings are more variable. Varieties of domestic Muscovy have been bred to have lilac, blue, and chocolate coloration. 

Drakes are much larger than females, making it easy to tell the difference between the sexes. Males also have a distinctive crest on top of their heads, which they can raise. 

Muscovies have a broad, long, stocky body shape, with a wide, flat tail and a long neck. Their legs are dark blackish-brown, and their webbed feet have long claws. 

They are classified as a heavy breed of duck. Muscovy drakes reach 10 to 15 pounds when they are fully grown, some even higher at 18 pounds, and females reach between 6 and 11 pounds in general. 

Males grow to around 30 inches long, while females get to about 15 inches in length. They have an impressive wingspan of up to five feet! 

Muscovy drake male in close up.
A Muscovy drake. It can be difficult to tell male and female ducks apart.

Telling The Males & Females Apart

It is impossible to determine the gender of a day-old duckling without vent sexing and that is also not advised for the amateur to attempt as you can seriously injure or kill a duckling.

Male ducks in most breeds will develop a distinctive drake curl of their tail feathers at sexual maturity — but not Muscovies, as they are not descended from Mallards.

Here are a few tell-tale signs to tell the males and females apart. The differences will be very apparent as they become adults as the males are significantly larger.

  • Males will be significantly larger than females from the time they are a few weeks old.
  • Males will have thicker and sturdier feet.
  • Males will have a longer chest-to-tail ratio.
  • Males will have subtly wider, flatter bills.
  • Females will start to get their adult feathers sooner.
  • The males will be the first ones to start growing caruncles.
two muscovy ducks standing next to a pond full of green young plants

Varieties

There are two varieties or subspecies of Muscovy ducks.

Domesticated Mucscovies are known as Cairina moschata domestica, and wild Muscovy ducks are named C. moschata sylvestris.

The two subspecies look different and behave a bit differently. 

Domestic Muscovies are generally lighter in color, usually all white or with more white patches than brown or black. Wild ones tend to be darker in color, with some individuals being almost completely black and looking similar to Cayuga ducks. 

Domesticated Muscovy ducks have been bred to be larger and heavier than their wild counterparts. The reason for this is twofold – greater meat production and a reduced ability to fly. 

Muscovy come in many colors but white is most common as white feathers make it easier to get a clean pluck for meat production.

They Can Fly!

Most domestic ducks do not fly, or they can only get a few feet off the ground.

That is not the case with Muscovy.

One day I noticed my newly-fully-feathered Muscovy flock — barely more than ducklings really — had wandered down the road to the neighbors nearly a kilometer away.

I caught up to them and slowly started herding them back to our property.

Suddenly the entire flock took flight and flew the rest of the way back!

I was pretty amazed at this. And at first, I was worried.

Would they fly away? Could they get lost? Should I clip their wings and keep them grounded?

I waited before making a hasty decision and watched.

Gradually I began to understand their instincts and patterns. They never truly left their home base behind. I began to love this aspect of them, especially since it meant they were able to find more food and live the entire summer almost entirely on foraged plants and animals.

My chickens certainly cannot do this. It is one of the reasons why I prefer ducks to chickens in many ways.

Most domestic duck breeds cannot fly, or at least not high or far — but this is not true for Muscovies!

Muscovy ducks are excellent flyers, especially wild ones. Their ability to fly is surprising, given their hefty size. 

To prevent your Muscovy ducks from flying away, you can keep them in a large, enclosed run.

Alternatively, you can clip their flight feathers when they are a week old. 

In a suburban backyard environment, this may be a better choice.

two muscovy ducklings laying in green grass

Personality & Temperament

Muscovy ducks have very docile, friendly personalities, and they make a good choice for families with children as they are easy to handle. 

Wild Muscovies are wary of humans, but domesticated ones are sociable. Muscovy owners often report their ducks coming up to them and wagging their tails like dogs — they’re looking for food and treats. 

Mating season is the only time that Muscovies get a bit temperamental. Drakes are aggressive toward other males when trying to pair up with a mate and can be aggressive toward humans too. 

Muscovy hens are caring mothers that protect their ducklings fiercely. Therefore, females can also be aggressive towards humans if they perceive you as a threat to their young. 

Muscovy ducks are much quieter than other duck breeds. Males make a low, muted hissing sound, while females make a trilling “pip” sound. 

basket of chicken and duck eggs
A basket of eggs from my ducks and chickens — the single large egg is from my Muscovy, and the rest are jumbo-sized chicken eggs from my Orpingtons.

Eggs

Unlike Khaki Campbells and other egg-laying duck breeds, Muscovies are not the most prolific egg layers. Some hens lay as few as 60 eggs a year, while others manage to produce 120 or even 150 eggs annually. 

Mine are on the higher end.

And it is important to remember that duck eggs are so much larger than chicken eggs, that even on the lower end — you’re getting a lot of egg!

Muscovy ducks lay massive eggs, larger than my Saxony, Cayuga, and Welsh Harlequin ducks.

(Wild Muscovies lay even fewer eggs. Hens lay between 8 and 16 eggs in the hollow cavities of trees. They lay a clutch two or three times a year.)

What the eggs lack in numbers, they make up for in size and quality. Muscovy duck eggs are a delicacy.

The creamy white green-tinted eggs are HUGE, weighing, on average, 2.7 ounces. They contain more albumen, or egg white, than other duck eggs. 

This makes Muscovy eggs fantastic for baking. Cakes made with their eggs are extra light and fluffy. 

The yolks are also massive and double-yolkers are common, especially in the first year and at the start of the laying season after winter has passed.

Some Muscovy will lay throughout the winter, but mine always take a break until February when they begin again with gusto.

My Muscovy ducks began to lay at about 4 months of age but some will not begin to lay until they are 6 months of age.

A brown and white Muscovy duck with a huge pile of Muscovy ducklings outside in the grass.
Muscovy ducks will go broody and hatch out ducklings if allowed.

Meat

Due to their large size, you can get quite a lot of meat from a Muscovy, especially if you wait for them to grow nice and big. 

Muscovies are fast-growing ducks and it takes 3 to 4 months for them to reach table size. Not quite as fast as Pekin who only need about 8 weeks, but faster than my heritage breeds.

Muscovy meat is renowned for having a uniquely rich and delicious taste. In a culinary context, it is sometimes called Barberry duck. 

Barberry duck has been described as having a flavor like a steak, roast beef, veal, or ham. The meat is a much darker red color compared to other duck meat, and it contains less fat. 

If you’re raising them as meat birds, check out my thorough guide on raising and butchering ducks for meat.

I also have a great recipe for oven-roasted crispy whole duck you can try.

Down

Muscovy down is said to be some of the finest quality down you can get from a duck. It is very insulating, fluffy, and soft. 

Goose down is, of course, always of a higher quality than any duck down but that does not mean you should not harvest the down and feathers from your Muscovy if you are keeping them as a meat bird.

Because Muscovies are more closely related to geese, their down is better than other ducks. 

You can use it to stuff pillows, duvets, vests, etc. 

a black and white muscovy duck standing on some rocks outside

Cold Hardy

Muscovy ducks are very hardy, adaptable birds. They handle the cold amazingly well.

The only issue that Muscovy ducks might have in extremely cold conditions is that their caruncles are prone to frostbite.

Muscovies have a shelter and windbreaks to escape the biting winter frosts. 

We use the deep litter method and all of our duck and chicken houses are draft-free with ventilation up high to allow humidity to escape. Humidity is the real problem in coops.

As our ducks and chickens live together, there is little difference in getting them ready for the cold. You can read my article on winterizing chicken coops for tips and my article on keeping water from freezing.

Free Range

Muscovy ducks need space to roam and explore. Foraging for insects comes naturally to them, so it is very healthy and stimulating for them to free range. 

See my article on free-ranging chickens for tips.

Pest Control

That first spring after we moved onto the homestead, there were a ton of mosquitoes that would force us inside each dusk.

Then suddenly they stopped being a problem.

The only thing that changed? The Muscovy ducklings I had bought were old enough to move outside permanently where they spent each day foraging.

We have never had a mosquito problem since.

Later I would find out that Muscovy are particularly known for being effective in the battle against mosquitoes.

But.

Do they also eat mice?!

Don’t believe me, here is a video of my Muscovy ducks (not full-grown adult ducks yet either) eating a mouse they caught.

I’ve seen them doing this more than one time too.

You cannot get better pest control than a flock of Muscovy ducks. They have a voracious appetite for flies, mosquitos (and their larvae in the water), ticks, cockroaches, slugs, snails, ants, and spiders. 

Care

It is very straightforward to care for Muscovy ducks. They need a safe and appropriate diet and housing.

How and what you feed them will depend on whether your ducks are allowed to free range over a large area (like we do) or if you’re keeping them in a smaller suburban backyard setup. 

a black and white muscovy duck drinking water from trough.

Water

All ducks love water and it is absolutely necessary that they are provided fresh water in a container that is big enough for them to dunk their entire heads into.

They need to clean out their bills/nostrils and eyes frequently.

A kiddie pool or similar for swimming will make them very happy too although it is technically not a requirement — I think it is.

If you provide a pool for swimming, make sure your ducklings have an easy way to get out or they will actually drown.

And as for ducklings, they can also catch a chill if allowed to swim. Ensure they have dry bedding or a warm brooder plate to retreat under depending on the season.

Housing

Muscovies need slightly different housing than other ducks because they prefer to roost at night as chickens do. They need a house or shed/coop with roosting bars.

You can house your ducks with your chickens too, and I explain that over in my article on keeping chickens and ducks together.

I prefer to use the deep litter method for all of my birds.

Feeding

My ducks get the same fermented feed that my chickens and geese get. It makes everything easier.

Everyone gets weekly scrambled eggs with flaxmeal, seaweed, and black oil sunflower seeds. Ducklings get the wholegrain feed ground up until they’re ready to eat the bigger pieces on their own.

Ducklings should have their feed given wet to prevent discomfort and choking. If you’re fermenting your feed, it will be wet.

I do not feed layer feed and prefer to provide calcium on the side via crushed egg shells.

I also have an article that goes into detail about the best and healthiest practices for feeding ducklings and adult ducks.

Muscovy ducks are omnivorous. In addition to eating loads of insect pests, they also feed on foraged greens, algae, and seeds.

They must also still be fed supplemental commercial poultry feed to ensure they meet all their nutritional needs. 

In the spring, summer, and most of the autumn, they might be able to forage for most of their food.

Mine do — but if you’re in a suburban backyard that will not be possible.

close up of a yellow muscovy duckling.

Ducklings

Feed Muscovy ducklings a gamebird starter feed with 28% protein. This will help them develop quickly. Ducklings also feed on foraged greens, grains, and insects.

Do not feed them medicated chick starter feed.

You can feed unmedicated chick starter feed and add extra protein in the way of scrambled eggs which are also high in niacin.

Adult Ducks

Adult Muscovy ducks can be fed chicken grower feed or specialty all-flock feeds.

I provide calcium on the side in the way of crushed egg shells.

a black Muscovy duck with white markings perches on a fence.

Final Thoughts

If you own a farm or homestead and want to keep ducks for eggs, meat, or for pest control, the Muscovy duck is a great breed for you! These large waterfowl are easy to care for, and because they are such avid foragers, you can keep your feed bill low. 

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