Muscovy Duck

Scientific Name
Cairina moschata
Also Known As
Barbary Duck, Muscovy
All of Florida
Plants, Grasses, Fish
Life Expectancy
5 Years

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American Crows in Central Florida

The muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) is a large waterfowl species that has become established in central Florida. Often seen perching in trees or nesting in urban areas, muscovy ducks stand out from mallards and other wild ducks.

This comprehensive guide provides detailed muscovy duck identification, biology, behavior, health risks, and management methods for central Florida.

Appearance and Identification

Muscovy ducks have distinctive features that aid in identification

Adult Muscovy Duck

Adult Muscovy Ducks

  • Size: Adults reach up to 33 inches (84 cm) long with a wingspan around 55 inches (140 cm). Males weigh 10 to 15 pounds (4.5 to 6.8 kg) while females reach 7 to 11 pounds (3.2 to 5 kg).
  • Plumage: Mostly blackish plumage with white wing patches. Green and purple iridescence on wings.
  • Face: Bright red caruncles on crown, cheeks, and bill. Black facial skin. Fleshy lobe under bill.
  • Legs: Robust black legs and feet webbed for swimming and perching. Long claws on feet.
Juvenile Muscovy Duck

Photo 197878110 © alexamestre, CC BY-NC

Juvenile Muscovy Ducks

  • Size: Newly hatched muscovy ducklings are around 3 inches (7.5 cm) long and weigh 1.5 to 2 ounces (40 to 55 grams). They reach full size by 10 to 12 weeks old.
  • Plumage: Juvenile plumage is yellowish with dark brown striping down the back. The wings show some green iridescence.
  • Face: Bare facial skin is pinkish in color. Caruncles or fleshy lobes develop on the crown and face.
  • Legs: Thick, black legs with fully webbed feet. Sharp claws on feet.

Muscovy drakes hiss and puff out caruncles when aggressive. The rounded tail and pink bill distinguish them from native ducks.

Muscovy Duck eggs

Photo 181874126 © Nicholas Canino, CC BY-NC

Muscovy Duck Eggs

  • Muscovy Duck eggs are large and elongated with a creamy white color. They lack spotting and have a unique texture.
  • Size: Muscovy eggs are 2.5-3.5 inches (63-89 mm) long and 1.9-2.4 inches (48-61 mm) wide. They are larger than most duck eggs.
  • Shape: The eggs have an elongate, oval shape with one end distinctly more pointed.
  • Color: The shell is creamy white without spots or markings.
  • Shell: It has a unique coarse, bumpy texture compared to smooth duck egg shells.
  • Clutch: Muscovies lay 8-15 eggs in a clutch, often in tree cavities or on the ground.
  • Nest: The eggs are incubated for 35 days by the female with the male guarding the nest

Maturation Rate

Muscovy ducklings grow rapidly, reaching full adult size by 12 weeks old. They are able to fly at 10 weeks and become independent after 12 weeks. Muscovies molt old feathers and grow adult plumage by 6 months of age.

Habits and Behavior

Muscovy ducks live near water bodies like lakes, ponds, and slow moving rivers. However, they often perch in trees and nest in tree cavities or building openings. Muscovy ducks are social and gather in small flocks.

Muscovies walk and swim awkwardly but can fly well. Males are aggressive during breeding season. Muscovy ducks are mostly active during the day while spending nights roosting. They tolerate heat well but require shelter in winter.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Muscovy ducks reach sexual maturity by 7 months old. The breeding season runs from December to June in Florida. Females incubate a clutch of 8 to 16 eggs for 35 days before they hatch.

Muscovy ducklings follow the female closely for 10 to 12 weeks until fledging. Muscovies can live up to 10 years in captivity but average 5 years in the wild.

Ideal Habitat and Range

Central Florida’s humid, subtropical climate offers ideal habitat for muscovy ducks. Warm weather year round allows them to nest, hatch, and rear ducklings without winter die-offs.

Annual rainfall averages 50+ inches (1270+ mm), filling wetlands, rivers, lakes, and retention ponds. Muscovy ducks find ample water sources plus dense vegetation on banks for nesting and cover.

Urban areas provide man-made waterways, roosting sites on buildings, and foraging opportunities. Lack of harsh winters allows the population to grow rapidly. Abundant food from gardens, trash, and handouts sustains large numbers of muscovy ducks.

Diet and Feeding

Muscovy ducks are omnivores, feeding on plants, seeds, insects, fish, and small vertebrates. Their diet includes:

  • Aquatic plants – duckweed, water lilies, hydrilla, algae.
  • Insects – flies, mosquitoes, dragonflies, beetles.
  • Fish – shad, sunfish, shiners, catfish.
  • Snails, crustaceans – crayfish, shrimp, crabs.
  • Reptiles – frogs, small snakes and turtles.
  • Corn, rice, seeds, nuts, berries, leafy greens.
  • Bread, popcorn, crackers from human handouts.

Muscovy ducks forage along shorelines and in shallow water. Males defend territories with reliable food sources. Muscovies feed throughout the day intermittently.

Muscovy Duck

Photo 97312235 © ksjanite, CC BY-NC

You may need an ambulance like this if you catch any of these diseases

Common Health Risks

Muscovy ducks can transmit certain infectious diseases to people, pets, and livestock:

  • Salmonellosis – bacterial infection causing diarrhea, fever, and cramps. Spread through feces.
  • Duck viral enteritis – contagious herpesvirus deadly to ducks, geese, and swans. Spreads by contact.
  • Avian influenza – certain strains are zoonotic. Causes flu-like symptoms.
  • Psittacosis – bacterial respiratory disease transmissible to humans.
  • Histoplasmosis – fungal infection spread by dried droppings contaminated with spores.
  • Cryptosporidiosis – protozoan parasite spread by feces. Causes diarrhea.

Muscovy droppings also create unsanitary conditions. Their feathers and dander can trigger allergic reactions in some people. Prompt removal and population control is advised where muscovy ducks congregate to reduce health hazards.

Preventing Muscovy Duck Infestations

Muscovy ducks seek access to structures for roosting and nesting. Block openings into attics, vents, porches, and balconies. Install mesh over drains and ponds to prevent access.

Discourage nesting near homes by removing dense vegetation and brush piles. Stop feeding ducks near residences to avoid attracting them.

Population control through egg addling, capturing adults, or lethal removal may be required to disperse entrenched flocks. Registered repellents, sprinklers, and noise deterrents can also be applied.

Muscovy Ducks in Central Florida – Conclusion

The warm climate and urban waterways of central Florida allow introduced muscovy ducks to thrive. However, they can create noise, droppings, damage, and health hazards when populations are not properly managed.

Early intervention to restrict access, modify habitat, and deter muscovies from settling is key. Ongoing population control, sanitation, and exclusion will be necessary to mitigate problems related to large concentrations of muscovies. Integrated muscovy duck management programs are advised to balance their aesthetic value against detrimental impacts.