AppearanceAll Muscovy ducks have long claws on their feet and a wide flat tail. In the domestic drake , length is about 86 cm and weight is 4.6–6.8 kg , while the domestic hen is much smaller, at 64 cm in length and 2.7–3.6 kg in weight. Large domesticated males often weigh up to 8 kg , and large domesticated females up to 5 kg .
The true wild Muscovy duck, from which all domesticated Muscovys originated, is blackish, with large white wing patches. Length can range from 66 to 84 cm , wingspan from 137 to 152 cm and weight from 1.1–4.1 kg in wild Muscovys. On the head, the wild male has short crest on the nape. The bill is black with a speckling of pale pink. A blackish or dark red knob can be seen at the bill base, and the bare skin of the face is similar to that in color. The eyes are yellowish-brown. The legs and webbed feet are blackish. The wild female is similar in plumage, but is also much smaller, and she has feathered face and lacks the prominent knob. The juvenile is duller overall, with little or no white on the upperwing. Domesticated birds may look similar; most are dark brown or black mixed with white, particularly on the head. Other colors such as lavender or all-white are also seen. Both sexes have a nude black-and-red or all-red face; the drake also has pronounced caruncles at the base of the bill and a low erectile crest of feathers.
''C. moschata'' ducklings are mostly yellow with buff-brown markings on the tail and wings. Some domesticated ducklings have a dark head and blue eyes, others a light brown crown and dark markings on their nape. They are agile and speedy precocial birds.
The drake has a low breathy call, and the hen a quiet trilling coo.
The karyotype of the Muscovy duck is 2n=80, consisting of three pairs of macrochromosomes, 36 pairs of microchromosomes, and a pair of sex chromosomes. The two largest macrochromosome pairs are submetacentric, while all other chromosomes are acrocentric or probably telocentric. The submetacentric chromosomes and the Z chromosome show rather little constitutive heterochromatin , while the W chromosomes are at least two-thirds heterochromatin.
Male Muscovy ducks have spiralled penises which can become erect to 20 cm in one third of a second. Females have cloacas that spiral in the opposite direction to try to limit forced copulation by males.
NamingThe term "Muscovy" means "from the Moscow region", but these ducks are neither native there nor were they introduced there before they became known in Western Europe. It is not quite clear how the term came about; it very likely originated between 1550 and 1600, but did not become widespread until somewhat later.
In one suggestion, it has been claimed that the Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands traded these ducks to Europe occasionally after 1550; this chartered company became eventually known as the Muscovy Company or "Muscovite Company" so the ducks might thus have come to be called "Muscovite ducks" or "Muscovy ducks" in keeping with the common practice of attaching the importer's name to the products they sold. But while the Muscovite Company initiated vigorous trade with Russia, they hardly, if at all, traded produce from the Americas; thus they are unlikely to have traded ''C. moschata'' to a significant extent.
Alternatively – just as in the "turkey" bird , or the "guineafowl" – "Muscovy" might be simply a generic term for a hard-to-reach and exotic place, in reference to the singular appearance of these birds. This is evidenced by other names suggesting the species came from lands where it is not actually native, but from where much "outlandish" produce was imported at that time .
Yet another view – not incompatible with either of those discussed above – connects the species with the Muisca, a Native American nation in today's Colombia. The duck is native to these lands too, and it is likely that it was kept by the Muisca as a domestic animal to some extent. It is conceivable that a term like "Muisca duck", hard to comprehend for the average European of those times, would be corrupted into something more familiar.
The Miskito Indians of the Miskito Coast in Nicaragua and Honduras relied heavily on this domestic species. The ducks may have been named after this region.
The species was first scientifically described by Carl Linnaeus in his 1758 edition of ''Systema Naturae'' as ''Anas moschata'', literally meaning "musk duck". His description only consists of a curt but entirely unequivocal ''[Anas] facie nuda papillosa'' , and his primary reference is his earlier work ''Fauna Svecica''. But Linnaeus refers also to older sources, and therein much information on the origin of the common name is found.
Conrad Gessner is given by Linnaeus as a source, but the ''Historiae animalium'' mentions the Muscovy duck only in passing. Ulisse Aldrovandi discusses the species in detail, referring to the wild birds and its domestic breeds variously as ''anas cairina'', ''anas indica'' or ''anas libyca'' – "Duck from Cairo", "Indian duck" or "Libyan duck". But his ''anas indica'' also seems to have included another species, perhaps a whistling-duck . Already however the species is tied to some more or less nondescript "exotic" locality – "Libya" could still refer to any place in Northern Africa at that time – where it did not natively occur. Francis Willughby discusses "The Muscovy duck" as ''anas moschata'' and expresses his belief that Aldrovandi's and Gessner's ''anas cairina'', ''anas indica'' and ''anas libyca'' refer to the very same species. Finally, John Ray clears up much of the misunderstanding by providing a contemporary explanation for the bird's etymology:
"In English, it is called ''The Muscovy-Duck'', though this is not transferred from Muscovia [the New Latin name of Muscovy], but from the rather strong musk odour it exudes."
Linnaeus came to witness the birds' "gamey" aroma first-hand, as he attests in the ''Fauna Svecica'' and again in the travelogue of this 1746 Västergötland excursion. Similarly, the Russian name of this species, ''muskusnaya utka'' , means "musk duck" – without any reference to Moscow – as do the Bokmål and Danish ''moskusand'', Dutch ''muskuseend'', Finnish ''myskisorsa'', French ''canard musqué'', German ''Moschusente'', Italian ''anatra muschiata'', Spanish ''pato almizclado'' and Swedish ''myskand''. In English however, musk duck refers to the Australian species ''Biziura lobata''.
In some regions the name Barbary duck is used for domesticated and "Muscovy duck" for wild birds; in other places "Barbary duck" refers specifically to the dressed carcass, while "Muscovy duck" applies to living ''C. moschata'', regardless of whether they are wild or domesticated. In general, "Barbary duck" is the usual term for ''C. moschata'' in a culinary context.
This species was formerly placed into the paraphyletic "perching duck" assemblage, but subsequently moved to the dabbling duck subfamily . Analysis of the mtDNA sequences of the cytochrome ''b'' and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 genes, however, indicates that it might be closer to the genus ''Aix'' and better placed in the shelduck subfamily Tadorninae. In addition, the other species of ''Cairina'', the rare white-winged duck , seems to belong into a distinct genus. The generic name ''Cairina'', meanwhile, traces its origin to Aldrovandi, and ultimately to the mistaken belief that the birds came from Egypt: translated, the current scientific name of the Muscovy duck means "the musky one from Cairo".
StatusAs noted above, the Kosher status of the Muscovy duck has been a matter of dispute among deciders of Jewish Law in previous generations. Although some consider the Muscovy duck to be non-kosher, others continue to disagree.
In 2008, a "Mesora Dinner" was held to reaffirm the kosher status of various species, and Muscovy duck was on the menu. In discussing the halachic issues surrounding the species' kosher status, it was noted that the Muscovy duck was "highly controversial, due to its ban in America by the acerbic Rabbi Bernard Illowy in the mid-1800s. As such, it is still not recognized as kosher in the [United] States today, but in Israel, no such ban ever existed."
HabitatThis non-migratory species normally inhabits forested swamps, lakes, streams and nearby grassland and farm crops, and often roosts in trees at night. The Muscovy duck's diet consists of plant material obtained by grazing or dabbling in shallow water, and small fish, amphibians,
reptiles, crustaceans, insects, and millipedes. This is a somewhat aggressive duck; males often fight over food, territory or mates. The females fight with each other less often. Some adults will peck at the ducklings if they are eating at the same food source.
The Muscovy duck has benefited from nest boxes in Mexico, but is somewhat uncommon in much of the east of its range due to excessive hunting. It is not considered a globally threatened species by the IUCN however, as it is widely distributed.
ReproductionThis species, like the mallard, does not form stable pairs. They will mate on land or in water . Domesticated Muscovy ducks can breed up to three times each year.
The hen lays a clutch of 8–16 white eggs, usually in a tree hole or hollow, which are incubated for 35 days. The sitting hen will leave the nest once a day from 20 minutes to one and a half hours, and will then defecate, drink water, eat and sometimes bathe. Once the eggs begin to hatch it may take 24 hours for all the chicks to break through their shells. When feral chicks are born they usually stay with their mother for about 10–12 weeks. Their bodies cannot produce all the heat they need, especially in temperate regions, so they will stay close to the mother especially at night.
Often, the drake will stay in close contact with the brood for several weeks. The male will walk with the young during their normal travels in search for food, providing protection. Anecdotal evidence from East Anglia, UK suggests that, in response to different environmental conditions, other adults assist in protecting chicks and providing warmth at night. It has been suggested that this is in response to local efforts to cull the eggs, which has led to an atypical distribution of males and females as well as young and mature birds.
For the first few weeks of their lives, Muscovy duckling feed on grains, corn, grass, insects, and almost anything that moves. Their mother instructs them at an early age how to feed.
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