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Cairina moschata

Muscovy Duck

  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Monotypic

Authors: Eitniear, Jack, R. Bribiesca-Formisano, C. Rodríguez-Flores, C. Soberanes-González, and M. C. Arizmendi

Life History


Muscovy Duck is an opportunistic consumer, feeding on stems, seeds, grasses, aquatic plants and leaves; its diet also includes small vertebrates such as fish and reptiles, and invertebrates such as spiders and crustaceans. It has a special predilection for termites.


Muscovy Ducks are versatile generalist feeders that use both open marshes and grain fields (Baldassarre 2014). Foraging is accomplished by tipping in shallow water, dabbling at the water's surface, and grazing along grassy shorelines and in agricultural fields near water.


Muscovies are non-territorial in the breeding season but otherwise aggressive towards each other (Hoffman 2005). However, Sibley (1967) states that paired Muscovies swim and sun together and drive away intruders from their own chosen area. Otherwise there are no data on territory or home range size for Muscovy Duck.

Sexual Behavior

While considered promiscuous in captivity, field observations (see Hoffmann 1992) suggest that they are monogamous. Reproduction may begin at 1 year but most likely at 2 years of age. Courtship displays of Muscovy ducks are relatively simple in comparison with those of other ducks (Raud and Faure 1988, Stai 1999, Johnsgard 1978).

Social and interspecific behavior

Aggressive behaviors between males are common, when they usually use the wings and legs during the fights. Males make simple displays, which include rising crest, move the tail side to side, partially lifting its wings, and flying in circles (Fischer et al. 1982).

Muscovy Ducks usually are solitary, in pairs, or in small groups; they do not associate with other species.


Ducklings are vulnerable to a variety of predators including, alligators, snakes, turtles, predatory fish, various birds, and mammals. Snakes and raccoons predate eggs and recently hatched ducklings. Hoffman (1992) states duckling mortality is estimated at 70% due to predation and scarcity of food. Of course this will vary with the area.


Although the breeding season is variable, Muscovy Duck typically breeds during the local wet season. It nests singly, in hollow trees, caves (Eitniear et al. 1998) or in small cavities with down lining, between 2 and 18 m above the ground, sometimes nest in dense vegetation on the banks of streams. The clutch size is 8-15 (on average 10) eggs, the eggs are sub-elliptical to oval, white to greenish white, and ca 63 x 47 mm (Baicich and Harrison 1997). Incubation lasts about 35 days. The chicks are precocious, born covered with dark brown down above, yellow face and belly, with a black list on the eye that extends to the neck, relatively long tail, yellow spots on the wings, gray-brown bill, and grayish-yellow legs. Juveniles fly at ca day 70 (Woodyard 1972).

Populations and Demography

Censusing Muscovy Ducks is problematic as they prefer forested areas and do not form large flocks. In the early 1980s a nest box program in northeast Mexico increased their numbers but no reliable data has been collected since so their current status in unknown (Woodyard and Bolen 1984). A small population in Texas near Laredo in Starr, Zapata and Webb counties appears stable but increased activity by Homeland Security on the Rio Grande often disperses birds along the river (Brush and Eitniear 2002). Elsewhere throughout its range population status greatly depends on local food resouces and predation levels.

Recommended Citation

Eitniear, Jack, R. Bribiesca-Formisano, C. Rodríguez-Flores, C. Soberanes-González, and M. C. Arizmendi. 2015. Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: