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Living Sanibel: Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)

By Staff | Feb 23, 2011

Other names: royal duck, Barbary duck / Status: FL = expanding, IUCN = LC / Length: 28-34 in. (71-86 cm) / Wingspan: 3-4 ft (91-122 cm) / Weight: 5-15 lb (2.26-6.8 kg) / Life span: to 12 years / Nests: throughout SW Florida, mostly in urban settings / Found: All Counties, coastal, near coast, mainland / Months found: JFMAMJJASOND.

The Muscovy duck, a wild native of Central America and northern South America, is one of only two domesticated birds that have come out of the New World (the other being the Mexican wild turkey) and have been exported throughout the entire world. In the wild, this duck is a lustrous, iridescent green/black color. Most of Florida’s population of Muscovies are from domestic stock and appear in a wide assortment of colors and patterns.

The Muscovy duck has patches of red bumpy flesh surrounding its beak, eyes, and face. Especially pronounced in the male, this warty, ungainly face looks as if the duck has just come out of a radioactive enclosure and is suffering from a bizarre mutation. This disfigurement is not abnormal, however, and is believed to pertain to attracting a mate. In Australia, where the Muscovy duck is domesticated for human consumption, this bird has been selectively bred to weigh as much as 20 pounds at harvest, nearly as large as a turkey.

In Florida, this duck is considered a pest. It is rarely found in the wild but makes its home in urban or suburban lakes and ponds where it feeds mostly on vegetation, small fish, crustaceans, insects, and millipedes. Populations of this duck, which lays from 8 to 16 eggs and breeds throughout the year, can quickly overwhelm golf course ponds to the point where eradication companies are brought in to remove the over-abundant animals. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission considers the Muscovy a nuisance animal. A permit is required to have them removed.

This duck is not considered table fare in the United States, but it is a popular food source throughout much of the world. Its meat is less fatty than that of the domesticated mallard and has a flavor similar to beef or veal. This duck is extremely hardy, with feral populations able to withstand cold spells as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit, despite its tropical roots. Considering the fact that the Muscovy duck is both flourishing and delicious, Florida should seriously consider a method of harvesting this large, strange-looking duck as a food source.

The Muscovy duck is taken by dogs, feral cats, alligators, bobcats, and raccoons. Its eggs are eaten by water snakes and invasive lizards such as Nile monitor lizards and black iguanas. The chicks, which are born precocial (a birding term meaning they are able to stand up and feed themselves within hours of being hatched), are taken by a wide array of predators, from owls to rats.

Sanibel author Charles Sobczak will be doing a power point presentation on his newest title, “The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida,” on Wednesday, March 9, at 4:30 p.m. at the Captiva Public Library located at 11560 Chapin Lane, Captiva. Admission to the event is free and the public is invited to attend. Books will be available for purchase after the presentation. For additional information, please contact the library at 533-4890.