Wild South Florida — Muscovy Ducks
 
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Muscovy Ducks
muscovy duck
Muscovy duck, photographed in northern Boynton Beach on Military Trail, Palm Beach County. Bottom photo at Pondhawk Natural Area in Boca Raton.

With a name like muscovy, you'd think this duck has a Russian connection. You'd be wrong. Probably. Maybe.

There are various theories as to how this bird got its name: its musky scent; its tendency to eat mosquitos; its origins in Central America lands inhabited by the Miskito Indians.

And there's a story that the Muscovy Co. of Russia imported this bird into Europe. Take your pick. In any regard, the muscovy duck, Cairina moschata, is an extremely adaptable bird. Despite its tropical origins, it is able to live in cold climates — as far north as Canada.

Their normal range extends as far north as the Rio Grande Valley. They were brought to Florida in 1967 as pets or to bring a splash of color into the landscape.

Muscovy ducks have made their way into just about all of Florida's 67 counties. Their presence remains controversial because they compete with native ducks for food and habitat. They also carry diseases that infect native species, and can interbreed with natives as well. But efforts to irradicate the bird are often met with protests.

 

 
 

Muscovy ducks are now found in urban areas throughout North America. The irony is that even as muscovy ducks thrive in new territory, they are declining in their native range because of overhunting and loss of habitat. Ducks Unlimited de Mexico has started a nest box program to help restore the population. They are large birds as ducks go, with males weighing as much as 15 pounds. Those warty bumps on the face, called caruncles, distinguish the muscovy from other duck species. They also tend to be more prominent on males than females.

The version we see has been domesticated — bred for color, feather pattern or for meat. Wild ducks inhabit wooded rivers and swamps, and nest in trees and tree cavities. Feral ducks, by comparison dig out shallow nests on the ground. Muscovy females lay as many as 16 eggs, which take five weeks to incubate. Males accompany and protect the offspring while they forage. Feral ducks eat human food, acorns, seeds, aquatic vegetation and a variety of invertebrates.

Muscovy ducks are members of Anatidae, the family of ducks, swans and geese.

Photographs by David Sedore
  muscovy duck family
 
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