Great Backyard Duck Breeds

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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!

Like most people, before I kept ducks, when I pictured a duck the first thing that came to my mind was a large white duck with an orange bill – maybe 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), and the Mallard is thought to be the breed that nearly every domestic breed of duck is derived from.  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.  They 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, but in fact it is 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 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 mixed with 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 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 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.  1/4 of fertile eggs will never hatch, and only half of the remaining 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 creamy facial strips, 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 would attract wild ducks to the hunting area.  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, 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, but have a larger body as a meat bird.  Campbells are a warm khaki color with the drakes having a darker bronze colored tail.

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.


52 comments

    • Liz says:

      Yes they will cross breed, so if you are interested in raising purebred ducks you should only keep one breed together. Cross bred ducks are perfectly healthy though, like different dog breeds mixing, it just makes it so the resulting offspring are not purebred.

      • Lisa says:

        But what about Muscovy? You can’t cross breed those right? How do you know if they’re cross breeding? Will the eggs look different? Do you just always have to separate them? Sorry, newbie here!!

        • Liz says:

          Moscovy can and will mate with other duck breeds. They can produce offspring, but they are mules (sterile – so the offspring wouldn’t be able to reproduce). If you see them mating, it’s a good bet the resulting eggs will be fertilized. There is no way to tell from the outside if an egg has been fertilized, but they are perfectly fine to eat. Once they are fertilized it takes at least a day (but usually more like 2-4 days) with a hen sitting on the egg at all times for it to begin to develop. So if you are collecting eggs everyday, even if they are fertilized they are totally fine to eat. Putting them in the refrigerator will completely stop any development. If you have both males and females and really don’t want fertilized eggs, the only way to stop that is to keep them separated all the time.

    • Liz says:

      That is great if you bought a critically endangered domestic duck breed, you are helping to keep the breed going! As long as you are talking about a domesticated duck breed that your purchased from a breeder – it is generally illegal to take endangered wild animals from their habitat to keep as a pet.

  1. Craig sharman says:

    I keep getting pure white ducklings from my magpie ducks. . Do these have a separate name?. As they are no longer a magpie?. Cheers Craig x

    • Liz says:

      Hi Craig, pure white Magpie ducks can be pretty common when breeding. Color genetics are a pretty tricky thing and especially if you are breeding the blue/white Magpies you will end up with lots of whites. If you are really serious about breeding, keep track of hens that throw white ducklings more often and take them out of your breeding stock. If you are just hatching them casually it’s not a big deal. They would still be considered Magpies, but are also called Stanbridge Whites

  2. Emily says:

    Hi! Today I aquired some new additions to my back yard! I received 3 ducks with my lot of chickens and I’m sure I have two pekins but I was curious as to if you could help me identify my third.
    She is mostly black including the bill and feet. You can see hints of green, however she doesn’t seem to be what i would describe as iridescent like the cayuga and she has a white patch on her chest

  3. Martha says:

    I bought 7 ducks from Tractor Supply last year. They all looked the same except for one that was brown. She ended up being a Mallard, one hen was a Pekin and the other 5 are light tan/cream colored. The males and female look the same, the hen is a lot smaller. One male does have a white ring around his neck. The males heads look a little gray as well. Could someone please tell me what they are? The Mallard has hatched eggs today that will be a cross between her and whatever the males are. Also, would the other hens lay in the same nest and let the mallard hatch them?

  4. Lisa says:

    I bought my first ducks from tractor supply. Two are yellow, one a medium brown and one a dark brown with stripes near his face. Can you identify breeds when ducklings are young by color? We plan to raise as pets with a house and pen plus access to our pond or a baby swimming pool. I am worried we may have snapping turtles to eliminate from our pond

    • Liz says:

      Do you have a list from Tractor Supply of possible breeds they could be? A lot of ducklings look pretty similar until they get their adult feathers around 2-3 months. The yellow ones will likely turn white so are probably Pekins. Rouen ducklings are brownish with stripes near their eyes, but there are other breeds that look similar too. Khaki Campbell ducklings are a solid brown so could possibly be the medium brown one. I would definitely not let the babies out to the pond until they are full grown just in case of turtles or other predators. Without a momma duck to help them by spreading her oil on their feathers, ducklings on their own are not particularly buoyant and could drown. So hold off on their pond until they are full grown. I’m not sure if snapping turtle would go after full grown ducks or not

  5. Graciela says:

    I need to know what to do with some ducks which I’ve never seen around this area but suddenly appeared in my backyard and they don’t seem to want to leave.

    • Liz says:

      Hi Graciela – I don’t think you can attach pictures in the comments but you can send them to me on Facebook if you want. I am assuming these are wild ducks? With the summer coming to an end, they could be getting ready to fly south for the winter and are possibly just resting up. If they are being a nuisance though, I would suggest calling animal control. They will have some good suggestions for your area and/or can get them removed

  6. Autumn Gorman says:

    Hi I have a question. We recently rescued a deck and I cannot figure out the breed. It doesn’t match ANY pics I’ve found so far. I think it’s a female but not 100% sure. Its brown with white around its eyes in the sun you can see a greenish tint on some of the wing feathers, orange and white bill and prominently yellowish/orangish feet with a little bit of black. If anyone knows this breed or can tell me how to figure it out along with how to tell the sex of it I would greatly appreciate it!

    • Liz says:

      It is possible that your baby is mixed breed (sometimes called barnyard mix). Like a mixed breed dog they would exhibit colors and patterns of multiple breeds. The easiest way to tell the sex is to look for a drake curl. After about 5-6 months of age, male ducks have little curly feathers that develop at the base of the tail. The other way is to listen to their quack. Males have a quietier, raspy, low quack and females have a loud, clear quack

  7. Autumn Gorman says:

    Hi I have a question. We recently rescued a deck and I cannot figure out the breed. It doesn’t match ANY pics I’ve found so far. I think it’s a female but not 100% sure. Its brown with white around its eyes in the sun you can see a greenish tint on some of the wing feathers, orange and white bill and prominently yellowish/orangish feet with a little bit of black. If anyone knows this breed or can tell me how to figure it out along with how to tell the sex of it I would greatly appreciate it! I do have pictures

  8. Alaa says:

    Is it OK to raise heavyweight and lightweight ducks together? i don’t want to risk injury to the smaller ducks..thanks

    • Liz says:

      If you have all females, or if your drake is lightweight, that is fine. If you have a large male duck he could seriously injury the little girls trying to mate with them.

  9. Anne Akstin says:

    Hello Liz, I thought I would ask if you are able to tell from a photo what type of ducks I inherited with my new farm in Tennessee. These don’t appear to be wild as they greet me several times a day asking for handouts. I will happily take a close up and post. Any help would be welcomed

  10. Ellen says:

    Hi Liz! I am thinking about getting two ducks to go with my three hens. I’ve had mallards and runner ducks before but it’s been a while.

    I’m looking at a plastic doghouse for their refuge in their own secure run but wonder if this dog house with these dimensions would suffice for two adult runner ducks should they want to hang out in there during the night.

    Overall size: (W) 28″ (L) 34.2″ (H) 29.9″
    Interior dimensions: (W) 22.89 (L) 27.7′ (H) 25.6′

    entrance size: (w) 13″ (H) 18.5′

    Runner duck heights can be 30″ but not sure if that measurement is taken from the tail to beak or from the ground up to top of head.

    Can you tell me, from your experience, would this doghouse be large enough for two runners when they choose to be inside it?

    Thank you very much!

    • Liz says:

      Hi Ellen! The duck height is likely measured from the ground to the top of head. That house would be a little snug for them. If you have mild weather all year it should be enough, but if you have cold, snowy winters you will want to give them a bigger space to get out of the elements if they want (although my ducks don’t seem to mind the snow). You might be interested in checking out my article on building a duck house: https://thecapecoop.com/make-duck-house/

  11. Cheryl Zinkan says:

    Hi, my son has against my wishes brought 2 ducks home. He couldn’t resist as the 2 were inseparable in the store and if you took the brown one away from the yellow, it’d cry out until they were back together. Here a month and a half later…same story. They both have boy names Winston and Bernard but we’d like to know what they actually are. Also we know Winston is a Pekin, the beak is a very pale yellow\orange while the feet are bright orange. Bernard is either a mallard or a rouen….dark brown feathers with the white and depending on the lighting emerald green or blue plumage. In the bright sunlight the tail feathers have an iridescent green glow and it’s considerably smaller now than the pekin, also neither of them outright quack yet but Bernard does get that raspy sound when he’s excited.

    • Liz says:

      How fun! You should be able to tell for sure soon. Pekins are a little harder at first because the males & females are both all white, but both Mallard & Roeuens look very different between the male & female when grown. The fact that he has iridescent green feathers on his tail is an early sign he is probably a boy. His head is another place to look for the iridescent green feathers. The females of both breeds won’t have iridescent feather, more a mottled brown. When they are full grown, if it’s a Roeuen it will be almost as big as the Pekin, if it’s a Mallard it will be quite a bit smaller. Sometime around 8-12 weeks male ducks will develop a drake curl feather – a little curly feather at the base of their tail. That is a dead giveaway for a boy. Right around the same time they should start settling into their male or female voices with the boys having a raspy “wap wap wap” noise and the girls having a clearer & louder “quack quack quack”. Shouldn’t be long now!

  12. Devlin says:

    You forgot ancona ducks! You should feature them too please as they are a rare, beautitful and unique breed of duck. Like dalmations, no two are alike with their black and white markings. Dual purpose birds- excellent egg layers and good meat birds.

  13. Max G says:

    Hi Liz.

    Thank you for all the great articles on raising backyard ducks. My wife and I in Spring, TX have had chickens (lots of chickens) on our 4 acre farms for years. Yesterday, and worker (painter) at the house next door asked if we would take some ducklings he found at another job a couple days prior. He felt we would be better suited to care for the ducklings. We agreed and he dropped of 12 (!) ducklings. They are bumble bee ducklings, they are small, the same size as hatchling chicks, so I am guessing less than a week old. They are amazingly cute and will grow up to be Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks. However, I have concerns, we want to do right by these little guys. I don’t know where he found them, he said there was no sign of the parents and they were wandering a parking lot. Here are some of my questions (any help is appreciated): Do this breed make good backyard ducks? Should the goal be to raise them to 8-12 weeks old and return them to the wild? We have some baby chicks right now (from TS) – should we raise them together? It may be easier apart so we can cater to the different needs. Any advice is appreciated.

    • Liz says:

      Wow that is a lot of ducklings! It is not a breed I am familiar with as they don’t come this far north, so I can’t speak to the specific breed. But in general, wild duck breeds can be tricky to keep on a farm, mostly because they have the ability to fly off and the instincts to migrate. Domesticated duck breeds are too heavy to fly much more than an average chicken can so are easier to raise in a farm setting. You can raise them up with the intention of keeping them as backyard ducks (barring any local bylaws about keeping wild ducks, some towns don’t let you do this. You can check with your local wildlife rescue), just be aware that it is likely they will fly off when they are full grown. Ducks are creatures of habit though and will often return to the same spot, particularly when it’s time for them to raise their own young. It could be a very rewarding experience to raise these guys up to have them visit occasionally as adults! You can brood chicks & ducklings together, but it can be a little messy. Ducklings make a horrible mess splashing their water about and tossing feed everywhere. The chicks don’t like to have wet shavings, so you’ll just have to clean out the brooder often. Ducklings can eat chick starter feed, but it has to be unmedicated and they need to have a niacin supplement added (I use powdered Brewer’s Yeast added to the feed). The ducklings will grow MUCH faster than the chicks, within just a couple weeks they will be easily triple in size. You might find my article on raising ducklings helpful: https://thecapecoop.com/ducklings-101/# Good luck!!

  14. Diane says:

    Hi Liz,
    I have a 6 wk old duckling who has almost no feathers & she shakes constantly. She is about 1/4 the size of her friend who hatched one day before. She is very active & sociable runs to me when I feed her & has a huge appetite. She doesn’t like duck crumbles, so I’m giving her oatmeal with hardboiled eggs, peas & mealworms. I mix Brewers yeast in.
    She also has a dish of garden soil & fresh water with chopped greens. I’ve added the Brewers yeast for a week now with no improvement. Does Niacin deficiency cause loss of feathers? She doesn’t have swollen joints or problems walking. Should I start giving her Niacin?

    • Liz says:

      That is very unusual. Niacin shouldn’t cause feather loss, but keep giving the brewers yeast (which is a niacin supplement) to keep her joints healthy. Feathers need a lot of protein, but if she is getting eggs and mealworms those are good for protein. I would try to encourage her to eat more of the duck crumbles by maybe cutting back some of the oatmeal. Does the other duck eat their crumbles? That should be a good example for her. They do look pretty awkward for a few weeks around her age as they transition from baby fluff to feathers so hopefully she is just a late bloomer

  15. Lesley Jackson says:

    I was wondering, how much Brewers yeast should I add to my ducks’ feed – a tablespoon per cup of feed is what I am adding now, is that enough – too much? Some advice would be appreciated.

  16. Maria says:

    Hi! I’m in the market for some ducklings and this article has been very helpful in helping me narrow down the list. I still need help though! I’m looking for very friendly but quiet ducks that are good or great egg layers. I want them for backyard pets and for eggs of course! But I do have neighbors that would not appreciate very noisy or flighty runaway ducks. If they are foragers that’s a great plus since I have plants growing. I do have size constraints and small children so smaller ducks would be best. Any recommendations for the best duck for me is appreciated!

    • Liz says:

      Hi Maria! Unfortunately a lot of your requirements are at odds with each other lol. The smallest ducks are call ducks, super cute and tiny, but as their name implies they are loud, and they aren’t the best egg layers. I think you will probably want to stick with standard size ducks. That would leave us with Runner Ducks (lighter, and they stand upright) or just Standard Domestic Ducks (heavy, normal duck shape). All ducks have their own personalities, some are just naturally friendly, flighty, loud, quiet, but we will talk generally. The more time you can spend with your ducks when they are very young, the more friendly they are likely to be. Just be careful with your small children. Ducklings like being NEAR humans, but they don’t love being picked up. It’s scary for them. So teach your kids to sit on the floor to interact with the ducklings at their level. Runner ducks tend to be flightier and anxious, honestly I would avoid them as pets, but they are excellent foragers. I personally love Pekins, they are gentle and fairly quiet and excellent layers. They are pretty big though. For smaller breeds, look at Buffs, Welsh Harliquins, and Cayugas. They would all be great in a small backyard 🙂

  17. Kristin Reese says:

    I live in Ohio and we are adding a pond to our front yard, i love watching ducks so i want to add a ciuple. Any suggestion in a good breed that will stay and not fly away?

    • Liz says:

      Any of the domestic breeds you would buy from a hatchery will be too large to fly. Mallards & Muscovies are the only two you will likely find that are able to fly. Domestic duck breeds have been bred for generations to be too large for their wings to support flight, and don’t have the instinctual desire to migrate. It’s important to remember that because they can not fly away, they have few defenses against predators, especially in the winter when the pond might be frozen and there are no leafy bushes to hide in. You will need to treat them more like pets than wild animals. They will need shelter, food, and unfrozen water year round. Domestic ducks also tend to spend a lot more time on land foraging than wild ducks who spend most of their time on the water. So you will want to figure out how to keep them out of the road and out of your neighbor’s yard if they are close by.

  18. Lesley says:

    What about Khaki Campbells? My 11 week old is beginning to flap around the garden, raising herself a few feet off the ground as she does so. She is not a big or heavy bird and I am wondering if I should be clipping her flight feathers.

    • Liz says:

      The first 6 months or so is when a domestic duck has the best chance of flight, like you said they might get a foot or so off the ground. As she matures and puts on more weight she won’t be getting much off the ground at all. My adult ducks sometimes run while flapping their wings to get places faster or just to stretch their wings but don’t get more than a couple inches off the ground. Khaki Campbells are one of the lighter domestic breeds, but once full grown she should still not be able to fly. A simple 3 foot fence should be all you ever need to keep her contained. If you seem to have a particularly nimble duck on your hands you can easily & safely clip her flight feathers on one wing to throw her off balance. I have never had to clip my duck’s wings even when they were young, but I have had to clip some of my young chicken’s wings.

      • Lesley says:

        That’s really helpful, thank you! The surrounding walls and fences are over 3 feet, so I think I will be ok. I was worried about her finding herself in a neighbouring field where she would be vulnerable to foxes.

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