They say that ducks are the “new chickens” – it seems backyard farmers all over the country are beginning to enjoy the pleasure of keeping ducks. Our ducks are all different breeds because I enjoy variety and I like being able to tell them apart….and because there are so many great breeds I couldn’t choose just one!
Before I kept ducks, like most people, when I pictured a duck the first thing that came to my mind was a large white duck with an orange bill – maybe one who tries to sell me insurance in case I get hurt. The next duck I thought of was the classic green headed Mallard that graces nearly every pond in the Northern Hemisphere.
That was pretty much the extent of my duck breed knowledge. The large, white Pekin duck is the most popular domestic duck breed around (commonly now recognized as the “Aflac” duck). The Mallard is thought to be the breed that nearly every domestic breed of duck is derived from so you will recognize their traits in many domestic breeds. While Pekins and Mallards are awesome, there are tons of other amazing duck breed available, many of whom are on the endangered list, and would love to find a home in your yard.
If you are thinking about adding some ducks to your life, check out some of these popular duck breeds!
Let’s start at the beginning….
Mallard – native to most countries in the Northern Hemisphere, Mallards are thought to be the “father” of all domesticated ducks except for Muscovy. Mallards are small, making them capable of flight. They don’t tolerate confinement very well, so if you keep Mallards you risk them flying away and not returning unless you can provide a nice large covered enclosure. Mallards lay a beautiful greenish egg, are highly energetic and talkative. They have one of the lowest egg laying rates of the domesticated breeds, laying just a couple eggs per week.
Wild Mallards are widely hunted and removing birds from the wild to raise in captivity is a big no no with US Fish & Wildlife. Keeping Mallards, you need to mark them to show you have not “duck-napped” them. Metzer Farm, one of the biggest duck breeders in the country, removes the back toe as soon as they hatch to permanently mark that duck as domestically bred. Male ducks have a glossy green head with a white ring around their neck and grey on their wings and belly, while the females are mainly brown-speckled with a blue band on their wing called speculum feathers. Most people that keep Mallards do so for purely decorative reasons, or for training hunting dogs.
Pekin – Beautiful all white feathers on a heavy, large size bird. Pekins are popular because they are dual purpose. Hens lay a large number of white eggs so they are great to keep as layers. Their fast growth rate & light colored skin also make them excellent to raise as meat birds. Around 90% of the duck meat produced in America comes from Pekins. A heavy weight bird with a calm, friendly, curious disposition, lots of eggs and meat if you want it – Pekins are a great all around choice.
Muscovy – A really interesting bird native to the southern hemisphere. Commonly referred to as a duck, Muscovies in fact are a different species than the Mallard duck relatives. Their meat is leaner than duck meat with a plump breast like a turkey. They nest like ducks do, but also like to roost at night like chickens. They are shaped like a duck, and are able to mate with a duck, but the offspring will be sterile and are often referred to as a mule duck. They do not quack; the male has a low breathy call, and the hen a quiet coo which makes them perfect for backyard farmers with close neighbors. The male has large red fleshy growths around his eyes called caruncles. Most domesticated Muscovys are dark brown or black & white.
Cayuga – The only duck breed developed in the United States, Cayugas originated near Cayuga Lake in New York. They are a medium heavy breed that is slow growing. Cayugas have gorgeous black iridescent feathers that can look green in certain light, black bills and black feet (laying females and older birds sometimes have a bit of orange in their feet). They are usually raised for exhibition or eggs and their calm disposition make them a great choice for backyard flocks. Hens generally lay 3-4 eggs per week and have a charcoal or gray/black colored shell early in the laying season. Mid-late season eggs & eggs from older birds are usually very light gray. Cayugas are listed as threatened status by the Livestock Conservatory.
Buff Orpington – Buffs originated in the Orpington area of Kent, England in the early 1900s (by William Cook, the same man that gave us the popular Buff Orpington chicken). A medium size duck, originally bred as an egg laying breed, you can expect an average of 3-5 white to light brown eggs per week. They have lovely fawn buff feathers with a brownish orange bill and a sweet personality. Buff Orpingtons are listed as threatened.
Rouen – A wonderful multi purpose duck. A large bird who will lay 3-5 bluish tinted eggs per week. Rouens are a popular alternative to Mallards because they are nearly identical, but much larger so most are too heavy to fly away. The males have a glossy green head with white neck ring and a grey body. The females brown speckled with blue speculum feathers. Their calm disposition also makes them wonderful pets or additions to your backyard farm.
Crested – Usually raised for exhibition purposes or as pets, crested ducks are large white ducks with a ball of feathers, or crest, on their head. They are slow growing so they are not a popular meat choice, but do lay fairly well (2-4 eggs per week). Bantam crested ducks & crested ducks in colors other than white have also been gaining popularity in recent years. The crest is actually a genetic mutation causing a deformity of the skull, so breeding them sometimes causes some controversy among animal rights groups. Breeding can be tricky – breeding a crested duck to another crested duck can be fatal for the offspring. To breed them you need to breed a crested to a non crested duck, 1/4 of fertile eggs will never hatch, 1/4 will be crest-less, and only half of the ducklings will develop a crest.
Saxony – A great dual purpose breed, the Saxony is a heavy, fast growing duck who also lays a large amount of white or light blue eggs. Originally bred in the 1930s in Germany, nearly all the breeding stock were lost in World War II. Saxony are listed as critically endangered by the Livestock Conservancy. Males display the typical Mallard pattern, but their colors are unique from any other breed. The male’s head & wing markings are blue-gray, with a chestnut breast and cream belly. The females are a golden buff with cream/white facial stripes, neck ring & belly. They are calm, curious & excellent natural foragers.
White Call – Their petite size, calm temperament & playful attitude make Call ducks very popular as pets or for exhibition. Adorably small, full grown adults tip the scale at under 1.5 pounds. Call ducks were originally bred by duck hunters, the Call duck’s call & quack attracts wild ducks to the hunting area. For hunting, Call ducks have been nearly entirely replaced by artificial duck calls & decoys, so now these ducks are mainly raised as pets. As expected, they have a very loud call and are very talkative so they might not be the best choice if you have close neighbors. In recent years, multiple colors of Call ducks are becoming available. The two most popular are white (an all white duck) and grey (looks like a mini Mallard)
Swedish – A medium to large size dual purpose bird, they are slow growing and excellent natural foragers. You can expect 3-4 eggs per week with varying shades of white, blue and green. They have calm temperaments and will make a great addition to your backyard farm! Black Swedish are mostly black with a white patch on their neck & chest. Blue Swedish are a slate blueish gray with a white patch on their neck & chest. The color blue will not breed true however. If you breed a blue male to a blue female, half will be true Blue Swedish, a quarter will be Black Swedish and the other quarter will be Splash or Silver (either speckled white & grey or a silvery gray)
Runner – These ducks do not have the typical “duck” body shape – they are lightweight and stand upright like penguins, they always remind me of bowling pins! Their upright stance allows them to run fast rather than slowly waddle like other domesticated ducks. They were originally bred in China to help rice farmers control insects in the rice paddies. They are excellent egg layers & natural foragers, laying 4-5 eggs per week that usually have a blueish tint to them. Runner ducks tend to be nervous and can stampede when startled.
Khaki Campbell – Campbells are usually raised for their superior egg production, they can lay 5-6 cream colored eggs per week! Their excellent egg laying abilities make Campbells one of the most popular choices for backyard keepers. They are a medium weight bird, their smaller size means that some birds are able to fly for limited distances. Developed in the late 1800s by Adele Campbell, she crossed a Runner with a Rouen to create a duck that would lay well like a Runner but will be bigger to use as a meat bird. Campbells are a warm khaki color with the drakes having a darker bronze colored tail and dark head.
Magpie – A lightweight bird, they are excellent egg layers – laying 4-5 colorful eggs per week. Magpie’s eggs can vary from white, cream, blue, and green. Their feathers are usually black & white, but also can be found in blue & white with an orange bill. Generally a quiet & calm breed, they make excellent additions to suburban farms.
Welsh Harlequin – A colorful all purpose duck, they are raised for exhibition, eggs & meat. Welsh Harlequins are a medium weight duck and are also prolific layers, laying 4-6 eggs per week that vary in color from white to light blue tint. They are calm and great natural foragers. The females have a black bill with white & brown feathers and a blue speculum feather ban. The males have an orange bill and closely resemble a male Mallard with a green head, white neck ring and brown body. Welsh Harlequins are one of the few duck breed that have a natural sex-linked characteristic. At just a few days old, 90% of them can be sexed by bill color. Welsh Harlequins are listed as critically endangered.