Muscovy Duck Life History

Habitat

Habitat ForestsWild 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.Back to top

Food

Food OmnivoreMuscovy 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.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest TreeMuscovy 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.

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.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:8-15 eggs
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.
Back to top

Behavior

Behavior DabblerMuscovy 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.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation DecliningMuscovy 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.Back to top

Credits

Baldassarre, G. 2014. Ducks, geese, and swans of North America. 4 ed. Washington: Wildlife Management Institute.

Delacour, J. 1959. The waterfowl of the world. Vol. 3. London, U.K: Hamlyn Publ. Group., Ltd., Country Life.

International, Wetlands. Waterbird population estimates 2013. Available from wpe.wetlands.org.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Philips, J. C. 1926. A natural history of the ducks. 4 vols. Mineola, NY: Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. Reprint 1986 (4 vols. in 2), Dover Publ.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal (1992). Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Back to top