A common sight in Central America, South America and Mexico, the Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) is popular both as a captive and wild animal. It is said that Muscovies originated in Brazil but today small populations can be found as far away as California. Muscovy Ducks are non-migratory creatures that prefer to live in forested swamps, lakes and trees due to the abundance of food present at such sites. They generally eat plant material and some small vertebrates and insects. Muscovy Ducks get most of their food by grazing and dabbling in shallow water. When they are not nesting, these ducks often choose to roost in trees at night. Domesticated Muscovy Ducks are the only such ducks not to originate from mallard stock.
The average bird is 64-86 cm long with the male being quite a bit bigger than the female. Traditional wild Muscovies are strictly black and white in colour though domestication has resulted in several color variations. Hence, you may find blue, blue and white, brown, brown and white, white, black, lavender and calical coloured ducks amongst the traditional black and white colored birds on farms and at zoos. It is interesting to note that domesticated Muscovy Ducks are commonly known as ‘Barbary Ducks’. The male Muscovy Duck has a bare red face and a low crest of feathers which he can raise and lower at will. There is a pronounced caruncle at the base of the bill and his bill is yellow in color. The feet of the Muscovy have strong, sharp claws which can be used for roosting in trees and which are webbed for swimming. However, the Muscovy Duck does not swim as much as other ducks do because their oil glands are not as well developed as other those of other duck species.
Muscovy Ducks are not particularly monogamous and males and females do not form stables pairs. Hence, sexual intercourse between the two sexes may on occasion be forced. The hen will usually make use of a tree hole or hollow for a nest and in certain countries, such as Mexico, nest boxes have been frequently used. The average clutch size varies from 8-21 eggs which are incubated for a period of 35 days. The hens are capable of having three broods a year. Many consider these birds to be of value as they consume pesky insects in their natural environment. However, they are even more popular as a food source and this has resulted in them becoming quite scarce in some parts of their natural territory.
Bird breeding generally begins as the daylight hours of summer increase. Territorial behavior becomes evident with males selecting and defending their territory by means of singing and flight displays. Territories vary in size depending on availability of food and requirements of birds breeding in the area. When a female enters a male’s territory she may be threatened by him as if she were another male. However, she will not fight back or fly away if she is ready to mate, and copulation will take place.
The first eggs are usually laid the day after the breeding pair completes the nest. Eggs may be laid daily or on alternate days, even up to five day intervals depending on the species. For the breeding of birds to be successful, the eggs must be incubated. The parents transmit heat to the eggs by means of brood spots (bare patches on underbelly with many blood vessels). Eggs are turned as often as 12 times an hour and incubation periods vary according to species. When they hatch, some chicks are completely dependent on their parents, these are called altritial. Others are able to run and feed themselves immediately, and these are called precocial.
Many people are interested in finding out about bird species breeding in their area. Studies are conducted and breeding bird atlases are produced which will provide this information. If for example you would like to find out about a British bird’s breeding habits, you would consult a breeding bird atlas for Britain.
The basic concepts discussed above also apply to breeding birds in captivity. For example, when breeding love birds it is important that they receive the correct amount of sunlight so as to stimulate breeding. Breeding love birds can be done in aviaries or individually in bird breeding cages. Bird breeding cages must have enough space for the birds to move around comfortably and continue with normal behaviour. Ensure that breeding pairs are fed properly so that they remain in good condition and that the eggs will not have defects. Once the young hatch, they too require suitable nutrition.
Breeding, whether in captivity or in the wild, is vital for the continuation of bird species and our continued pleasure in these beautiful feathered creatures.
What should you do if you find a baby bird? There are times that baby birds either fall out of their nests or their nests are destroyed. People often feel sorry for these babies and take them home to care for them, but there are a few dangers involved for the bird that the public should be aware of.
Some bird species build very large nests. The Bald Eagle, for instance, arranges sticks and branches into a giant platform weighing hundreds of pounds. One bald eagle nest that fell from a tree weighed in at 2 tons!
Marbled Murrelets make an odd conservation story. No other seabird creates a conservation problem for timber companies!