The Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) is a large waterfowl species from the Anatidae family. These birds are native to wetlands, rivers, and lagoons in tropical forested areas of South, Central, and Southern North America. However, most people know them better as popular domestic birds that live around farmyards and ponds in parks in many parts of the world.
So what do female Muscovy Ducks look like, and how do they differ from males?
Female Muscovy Ducks are about half the size of males. In the wild, they are almost all black above, with iridescent greenish wings and no bare skin on their face. Feral birds have variable amounts of white plumage and bare, red skin surrounding their eyes.
Domestic female Muscovy Ducks could be confused with wild males in areas they occur together. However, the genders are usually fairly easy to tell apart. The differences take some time to develop, so young birds are difficult to sex until they are several weeks old.
Keep reading to learn more about wild and domesticated female Muscovy Ducks. By the end of this article, you should have no problem telling them from males in the wild or at your local pond.
Close up portrait of a female Muscovy Duck
Female Muscovy Ducks are known as hens. They are similar to males (drakes) in many ways. They are often seen together in pairs or groups, which makes it easy to tell them apart if you know where to look. These are the most obvious differences:
Female Muscovy Duck
Male Muscovy Duck
Juvenile Muscovy Ducks appear very similar to adult females. However, juveniles tend to be duller, with brownish plumage rather than black. The young birds also have less white on their wings.
Sexing young Muscovy Ducks is difficult until they are about a month old. However, young domestic females tend to grow their flight feathers earlier. They may also have smaller feet and more slender legs than males.
Continue reading to learn more about the female Muscovy Duck's appearance.
Close up of a juvenile Muscovy Duck
Female Muscovy Ducks are large, heavy waterfowl about the size of a Mallard. Wild birds are black, but feral females can include black, brown, and white plumage. They have a long neck, a pointed tail, and a longish bill with a slightly hooked point.
Wild female Muscovy Ducks have black legs, bills, and feet but feral and domestic females often have pink bills, yellow legs, and pale eyes. They have surprisingly long claws on their toes for grip in trees where they nest and roost. Their multi-purpose feet are also webbed for better swimming.
Most of the feral birds you see on ponds and farms have bare red skin and caruncles around the eyes and the base of the bill. These are rare in wild females, although older hens can develop some small caruncles.
Close up of a female Muscovy Duck
Female Muscovy Ducks are much smaller than males, and that is one of the first differences you will notice when you see a pair of these birds. Wild Muscovy Ducks are generally smaller than domesticated birds, but the size difference is noticeable wherever you see them.
Adult Male Muscovy ducks can be aggressive toward each other. They are territorial and will fight with other males to secure access to females. The most dominant males will mate with several females, while subordinate males often fail to find a partner.
Female Muscovy Ducks are less aggressive than males. They will mate with a drake who holds a prime territory with good feeding and nesting opportunities. They reach sexual maturity at about 28 weeks, slightly earlier than the males.
Female (left) and male (right) Muscovy Duck pair
Muscovy Ducks are relatively quiet, although they produce distinctive vocalizations that can be very helpful for determining their sex.
The species is not well known for quacking, although females can make croaking or quacking calls when alarmed. They are quite vocal when they have ducklings.
Females Muscovy Ducks produce pleasant murmuring calls with a musical quality. Males lose their voices as they mature, although they still make harsh hissing and chuffing sounds.
Despite their large size, wild Muscovy Ducks nest in tree cavities and caves, sometimes over fifty feet (15m) above the ground. They nest in the wet season, and females lay about ten eggs (8-15) per clutch.
Female Muscovy Ducks build their nest, defend and incubate their eggs, and raise their ducklings alone. The glossy, whitish eggs take just over a month to hatch, and the ducklings learn to feed by watching their parents. The ducklings eat various foods, including insects, grass, and seeds.
Muscovy Ducklings are precocial, which means they hatch ready to walk around and feed themselves. The young birds follow their mom and move in close to stay warm at night and in bad weather.
The young ducks learn to fly by about seventy days old and often stick together after their mother has moved on.
Male and female Muscovy Ducks - female in the foreground
Female Muscovy Ducks can raise their young alone. These birds are not monogamous, and successful males may mate with several different females. In the wild, these dominant drakes cannot care for the offspring of several partners.
However, some poultry keepers report that domestic males can be protective over their young.
Close up of a domestic female Muscovy Duck
Wild female Muscovy Ducks are almost all black. They have white wing patches and iridescent greenish feathers on their upper wings. Domesticated females have variable amounts of white, brown, and grey plumage, and some are all-white.
Female Muscovy Ducks produce croaking, quacking, and pipping calls. Males hiss during courtship and when displaying to other males.
Wild Muscovy Ducks can live for eight to twelve years, but domesticated birds have a higher life expectancy. With good care and protection from predators, some Muscovy Ducks live as long as twenty years.
Muscovy Ducks fly strongly, and the females are even more capable in flight due to their lighter build. Even domesticated birds can fly, and they often roost above the ground in trees.
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