• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer

Muscovy Duck

Cairina moschata ORDER: ANSERIFORMES FAMILY: ANATIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The strange, warty-faced Muscovy Duck causes confusion for some bird watchers, as it's very distinctive and quite commonly seen, yet does not appear in some field guides. Truly wild individuals are restricted to south Texas and points south, but domesticated versions occur in parks and farms across much of North America. Wild Muscovy Ducks are glossy black with bold white wing patches and are forest dwellers that nest in tree cavities. Their range expanded into Texas in the 1980s; feral populations also exist in Florida.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Male
Length
26–33.1 in
66–84 cm
Wingspan
53.9–59.8 in
137–152 cm
Weight
70.2–141.1 oz
1990–4000 g
Female
Weight
38.8–51.9 oz
1100–1470 g
Relative Size
Larger than a Mallard; smaller than a Canada Goose.

Cool Facts

  • One of the oldest domesticated fowl species in the world, the Muscovy Duck was already being kept by native people in Peru and Paraguay when the early Spanish explorers arrived. The word “Muscovy” may refer to the Muscovy Company (incorporated in London in 1555), which transported these ducks to England and France.
  • Aztec rulers wore cloaks made from the feathers of the Muscovy Duck, which was considered the totem animal of the Wind God, Ehecatl.
  • Wild Muscovy Ducks are dark-plumaged, wary birds of forested areas. Domestic varieties—heavier, less agile birds with variable plumage—live on farms and in parks in warm climates around the world, where they can be confusing to bird watchers. Complicating the issue, male Muscovy Ducks frequently mate with other species and often produce sterile hybrid offspring.
  • Equipped with strong claws, Muscovy Ducks spend a lot of time perching in tall trees. They make their nests in large cavities of mature trees, but will also use artificial nest boxes. The first recorded wild nest in the United States was found in 1984, in a nest box built for Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks near Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.
  • The male Muscovy Duck is the largest duck in North America, but the female is only half his size. After laying 8–15 eggs, she does all of the nest defense and raises the ducklings (which have sharp claws and hooked bills to climb out of the nest). She may also raise additional eggs laid in her nest by sneaky Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

Habitat


Forest

Wild Muscovy Ducks live in coastal and lowland habitats from northern Mexico to Argentina. In the 1980s they expanded their range to include the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. In this part of their range they live in heavily forested areas of the river away from urban areas. Muscovy Ducks usually breed in wooded habitats along lakes, lagoons, mangrove swamps, marshes, and slow-moving streams, but they may nest in open habitats if nest boxes are present. They will nest in brackish wetlands but prefer freshwater wetlands. Domestic varieties of the Muscovy Duck are common on ponds in urban parks throughout many states. Along the Gulf Coast and in Florida they have formed self-sustaining feral populations.

Food


Seeds

Muscovy Ducks eat a variety of plant and animal foods. In wetlands they forage on grasses, sedges, water lily seeds, mangrove seeds, tubers, insect larvae and adults, spiders, crustaceans, mollusks, worms, and small fish and reptiles. They feed by tipping forward in shallow water or dabbling at the surface, grasping larger items (such as small crabs) and straining organic matter. Sometimes they graze along grassy shorelines. In the tropics they also eat termites, which they obtain by breaking open termite mounds with their bills. Muscovy Ducks also forage in farm fields on corn and other grains; domesticated individuals take handouts from parkgoers.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
8–15 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
2.4–2.8 in
6.2–7.1 cm
Egg Width
1.7–1.9 in
4.4–4.7 cm
Incubation Period
30–31 days
Egg Description
Glossy white, sometimes with greenish or buff tint.
Condition at Hatching
Featherless, with a heavy, hooked bill.
Nest Description

Nest cavities are large. Nest boxes built for Muscovy Ducks are about 2 feet high and 1.5 feet in width and depth, with an entrance hole that measures 8 inches across. These boxes are usually provided with a layer of sawdust or dried grass in the bottom of the box.

Nest Placement

Cavity

Muscovy Ducks build their nests in cavities and hollows of mature trees, 10-65 feet above the ground. They occasionally nest on the ground in dense vegetation near water. The female may be faithful to a single nest site over her lifetime. They also use large nest boxes.

Behavior


Dabbler

Muscovy Ducks are often seen in pairs, even though individuals have multiple mates. Their courtship displays are minimal: males make hissing sounds while raising the crests on their heads, shaking their tails, pumping their heads, or lifting their wings. Males may fight ferociously with each other in ponds, making short flights while striking each other with their wings. Although male Muscovy Ducks behave aggressively toward each other throughout the year, they do not defend breeding territories. The female defends the nest and cares for the nestlings on her own. After fledging the ducklings maintain strong bonds with their siblings even when the female departs. During nonbreeding seasons, Muscovy Ducks fly through the forest to feeding areas in early morning and evening, perch in favorite trees during the day, and roost high in trees at night, often in groups. Domesticated Muscovy Ducks are much less wary of humans and are often seen in parks.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Muscovy Ducks are not surveyed anywhere in their range and little is known about their population status. Wetlands International estimates their total population between 100,000 and 1 million individuals, and suggests that they are declining. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists this duck as a species of Least Concern, albeit decreasing. Muscovy Duck is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watchlist. Conservation of this species requires protection from hunting and conservation of lowland tropical wetlands. Drastic declines in Mexico have been attributed to overhunting and clearcutting of bottomland forests. In Central America, hunting and egg-hunting appear to be a threat. Since this large duck needs a big nest cavity to accommodate its size, problems arise as old-growth forest diminishes and natural cavities are lost. Fortunately, Muscovy Ducks will use artificial nest boxes. After Ducks Unlimited built more than 4,000 nest boxes for Muscovy Ducks in northern Mexico in the early 1980s, the population grew and expanded into remote parts of the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Numbers of wild Muscovy Ducks in the U.S. have slowly increased since 1984.

Credits

  • Baldassarre, G. 2014. Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  • BirdLife International. 2012. Cairina moschata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22680061A40109661.
  • Del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal, Eds. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 1. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  • Delacour, J. 1959. The Waterfowl of the World, Vol. 3. Country Life Limited, London.
  • North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2014. State of the Birds 2014 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC.
  • Phillips, J.C. 1986. A Natural History of the Ducks. Dover Publications, Inc., New York.
  • Wetlands International. 2016. Waterbird population estimates.

Range Map Help

Muscovy Duck Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Nonmigratory. During droughts, Muscovy Ducks may move from inland wetlands to coastal lagoons and swamps.

Find This Bird

Across much of central or southern North America, a trip to a local farm or park has a reasonable chance of turning up a domesticated Muscovy Duck. Their plumage can be extremely variable, but look for the largest, longest-necked ducks and check their faces for red, warty facial skin. If you want to see a truly wild Muscovy Duck, visit the Rio Grande Valley of Texas or forested wetlands in Mexico and the tropical Americas. The highest numbers in the U.S. are found along the Rio Grande in Starr County, between Falcon Dam and Roma.

×

Search

Or Browse Bird Guide by Family, Name or Shape
×
bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell or give your email address to others.