Muscovies at a glance
Origin: South America
Type: Meat bird
Size: Large fowl
Weight: 2.3 – 6.3kg
Colours: White, Black, Lavender, Chocolate, Blue.
The wild Muscovy (Cairina moschata) is a native of South and Central America, where it was being domesticated long before Columbus arrived in 1492. (White ones were found on Guadeloupe, by Diego Alvarez Chanca in 1494.) It is allocated to a sub-group of perching ducks known as ‘the greater wood ducks’, which it shares with the white-winged wood duck and Hartlaub’s duck, and is the only breed of domestic duck that is not descended from the wild Mallard. These are heavy-bodied birds with relatively short legs that give them a horizontal carriage. They have broad wings with bony knobs at the carpal joints and the males show a slight swelling of the forehead during breeding season.
The wild Muscovies are mainly black in plumage with white patches on the wing covert area. These vary, but usually develop with age. This is the basic wild pattern. Other patterns have been developed under domestication, including the magpie pattern and the white-headed magpie pattern. Three other characteristics are readily apparent: Muscovies have an erectile forecrown crest, wart-like ‘caruncles’ that develop with age, especially in the case of the males, and webbed feet (with strong claws) equally suited to perching as swimming. The size has increased under domestication. A powerful bird requiring careful handling.
“The Muscovy is the only breed of domestic duck that is not descended from the wild Mallard but belongs to a group known as the greater wood duck”
The ideal black magpie drake, ‘Big Dave’. Bred by Graham Hicks. Photo courtesy of Rupert Stephenson.
Although their size is somewhat imposing, Muscovies are not imposing by nature; they are a quiet bird, using hisses and body movement – such as head-bobbing and tail-wagging – to communicate. This differentiates them massively from the Mallard derivatives, where ducks quack rather loudly. In fact, the only time a Muscovy quacks is when they’re in distress – so a good sound to listen out for.
As Muscovies are such large birds, they can be an armful to handle. Therefore, a correct hold is essential to avoid getting scratched, hit in the face by a wing, or pooed on – an extremely unpleasant defense mechanism.
Whilst Muscovies don’t require vast amounts of water, they still need it to keep clean. In fact, the bigger the pond, the cleaner they stay – especially in Winter. They are very good are creating mud, whether it be from splashing around, washing, from dabbling for bugs or simply from their aqueous excrement, so it’s important to bear that in mind when planning a pen – they do far better when free-ranging.
As a meat bird, they grow very fast. This also means they consume a lot of feed. However, they are also excellent foragers and will regularly patrol their land, rummaging through the grass for bugs. Muscovies are excellent fliers, especially up to their 2nd birthday. They tend to stay around their home, circling around and perching on anything they can get to and are particularly keen on watching you work from above. Wonderful characters, they can become very tame, respond to their names and greet you with a wagging tail.
At Oriontree, we aim to breed the more unusual colours and, as such, have amassed quite the collection of genetics. We have ripple, capped, bibbed, spotty, solid and magpie as patterns, and the colours: black, blue, chocolate, white, lavender, silver, lilac, buff and cream in the patterns previously mentioned.
Carriage: Almost horizontal, low but jaunty.
Head: Large, particularly in the drake. Crowned with a small crest of feathers which are raised in excitement or alarm. Caruncles on the face and over the base of the bill (both crest and caruncles more pronounced in the drake than in the duck). Bill wide, strong, of medium length, and with a slightly curved bean.
Neck: Medium length, strong and almost erect.
Body: Broad, deep, very long and powerful. Breast broad, full, well rounded and carried low. Underbody long and well fleshed, clear of the ground, slightly rounded.
Tail: Long and carried low, giving the body a longer appearance and a slightly curved outline to the back.
Wings: Very strong, long and carried high. Capable of flight.
Legs and feet: Legs strong, wide apart and fairly short. Thighs short, strong and muscular. Feet straight, webbed, with pronounced toenails.
Underside. Lack of caruncling in mature birds.
Uneven markings in magpie pattern birds. Cap colour extending below the nape; speckled or incomplete cap.
Caruncles impeding eyes and nostrils.
Male: 4.5 – 6.3kg (10 – 14lb)Female: 2.3 – 3.2kg (5 – 7lb)
Scale of Points
|Head, bill and neck||20|
|Legs and feet||5|
Colour points to be allocated for clarity of the colour in all varieties, and to the symmetry of the markings in the magpie pattern and white-headed magpie pattern. In the black, blue, chocolate and lavender, a patch of white (which may develop with age) is permitted on the wing coverts.
In both sexes and all colours
Face and caruncles: Red preferred, a little black permitted.
Eyes: Yellow, brown or blue.
Bill: Pinkish flesh or horn, sometimes with darker shading, red, or black. Usually a lighter shade at the bean.
Legs and feet: Variable, from flesh-pink or yellow to black. Possible mottling.
Dense black, with metallic lustre.
Uniform shade of slate-blue, strongly laced with a darker shade.
Even shade of chocolate, with metallic lustre.
An even shade of pinkish blue-grey.
Pure white throughout.
The Black Magpie
Head and beak white, surmounted by a black cap covering the whole of the crown to the nape. Back of the body solid black from shoulders to the tip of the tail. Breast, underbody and stern white. Thigh coverts white, but the outer thinghs, tops of the flanks and the undertail are black. White primary and secondary feathers. When the wings are closed, there is a heart-shaped mantle of black scapular feathers formed over the back. The outline of the black feathers should be sharp, clearly defined and symmetrical.
The Blue Magpie
Magpie pattern replaced by a uniform shade of slate-blue, strongly laced with a darker shade.
Magpie pattern replaced by an even shade of chocolate, with metallic lustre.
Magpie pattern replaced by an even shade of pinkish blue-grey.
White-headed Magpie Pattern
Magpie pattern but without the cap.
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