Muscovy ducks have been introduced into urban and suburban areas in Florida where they often occur in high densities. These birds were illegally released primarily by private individuals for ornamental purposes or as pets. Muscovy ducks can be extremely prolific and local populations can increase dramatically in a short time. As a result, controversies frequently arise between residents who enjoy the birds and residents who consider them a nuisance.
Because this introduced, non-native species sometimes creates problems through competition with native species, damage to property, and transmission of disease, in 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revised its regulations concerning muscovy ducks.
- Cool Facts
- One of the oldest domesticated fowl species in the world, the Muscovy Duck was already being kept by native people in Peru and Paraguay when the early Spanish explorers arrived. The word “Muscovy” may refer to the Muscovy Company (incorporated in London in 1555), which transported these ducks to England and France.
- Aztec rulers wore cloaks made from the feathers of the Muscovy Duck, which was considered the totem animal of the Wind God, Ehecatl.
- Wild Muscovy Ducks are dark-plumaged, wary birds of forested areas. Domestic varieties—heavier, less agile birds with variable plumage—live on farms and in parks in warm climates around the world, where they can be confusing to bird watchers. Complicating the issue, male Muscovy Ducks frequently mate with other species and often produce sterile hybrid offspring.
- Equipped with strong claws, Muscovy Ducks spend a lot of time perching in tall trees. They make their nests in large cavities of mature trees, but will also use artificial nest boxes. The first recorded wild nest in the United States was found in 1984, in a nest box built for Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks near Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.
- The male Muscovy Duck is the largest duck in North America, but the female is only half his size. After laying 8–15 eggs, she does all of the nest defense and raises the ducklings (which have sharp claws and hooked bills to climb out of the nest). She may also raise additional eggs laid in her nest by sneaky Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.
Importance to humans
The large size of waterfowl has made them from prehistoric times inevitable quarry for humans. Not only do they provide protein but also large amounts of fat and feathers, especially down, much prized in colder regions. Among the unusual uses of waterfowl parts may be mentioned the conversion of swan tracheae into children’s whistles in Lapland and the eating of the of the king eider’s (Somateria spectabilis) billknob as an aphrodisiac in Greenland.
Wary and difficult to approach in their watery haunts, waterfowl required ingenuity to take them before the advent of efficient weapons. The period of flightlessness was discovered early and exploited by driving the birds into corrals of stone or netting. From the latter evolved the Dutch method of catching full-winged ducks by enticing them up large net-covered pipes leading from a secluded pond where a decoy duck was placed. Many other ingenious traps were devised, from the clapnets of the ancient Egyptians to the rocket-propelled nets of today’s research workers.
Keeping the plumage waterproof occupies much of the time not spent feeding or sleeping. The bill is used both to stimulate the oil gland (situated above the tail) and to spread the oil. Rubbing the chin and throat on oiled areas also helps the process. Preening occurs at the same time, the fine structure of the feathers being nibbled into the interlocking position necessary to prevent the entry of water.
Rearrangement of the feathers involves preening, scratching with the feet, and a general body shake produced by a muscular contraction sweeping from tail to neck. Various wing-stretching movements settle the flight feathers. Bathing movements include dipping the head, beating the wings on the surface and, at high intensity, actual diving or somersaulting through the water. Sleep often follows such maintenance activities, the bill being turned and placed under the scapular (shoulder) feathers. Bathing is often a communal activity, and mutual preening is seen in several species.