Living Sanibel: Muscovy duck
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). In the wild this duck is a lustrous, iridescent green/black color. Most of Florida’s population is from domestic stock and appears 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, the Muscovy 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 and Wildlife Conservation Commission considers the Muscovy duck a nuisance animal. A permit is required to have it removed.
The Muscovy 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 (able to stand up and feed themselves within hours of being hatched), are taken by a wide array of predators, from owls to rats.
This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.