Muscovy ducks are large wild tropical ducks native to Mexico and Central and South America. These birds are predominantly black and white, with the back feathers being iridescent and glossy in males, while the females are more drab. The amount of white on the neck and head is variable, as well as the bill, which can be yellow, pink, black, or any mixture of these. They may have white patches or bars on the wings, which become more noticeable during flight. Both sexes have pink or red wattles around the bill, those of the male being larger and more brightly colored.
Muscovy ducks are found in Mexico and Central and South America. Small wild and feral breeding populations occur in the United States, particularly in Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas as well as in many other parts of North America, including southern Canada. Feral Muscovy ducks are also found in New Zealand, Australia, and parts of Europe. These birds usually inhabit wet forests, forested swamps, wetlands, lakes, rivers, streams, and nearby grassland and farm crops.
Muscovy ducks are agile and speedy birds. They are non-migratory and are active during the day; at night birds often roost in trees. Days are spent feeding by grazing on the ground or dabbling in shallow water. Muscovy ducks are social birds; they are often seen in pairs or small groups. They are aggressive ducks; males often fight over food, territory or mates. The females fight with each other less often. Some adults will even peck at the ducklings if they are eating at the same food source. In order to communicate with each other, Muscovy ducks wag their tails, raise and lower their heads and use various vocalizations including hisses and quacks. Males have a low breathy call, and females produce a quiet trilling coo.
Muscovy ducks are polygynous and do not form stable pairs. The dominant male mates only with those females that nest in his territory. The breeding usually takes place from August to May. The female lays a clutch of 8-16 white eggs, usually in a tree hole or hollow, which are incubated for 35 days. During incubation the female leaves her nest once a day to drink water, eat and sometimes bathe. Once the eggs begin to hatch it may take 24 hours for all the ducklings to break through their shells. Ducklings are born precocial (fully developed). For the first few weeks of their lives, they feed on grains, corn, grass, insects, and almost anything that moves. Their mother instructs them at an early age how to feed. Often, the male will stay in close contact with the brood for several weeks. The male will walk with the young during their normal travels in search of food, providing protection. Ducklings usually stay with their mother around 60 to 70 days, until they become independent. Female Muscovy ducks reach reproductive maturity at 28 weeks of age while males become reproductively mature when they are 29 weeks old.
The main threats to Muscovy ducks include hunting, egg-collecting and habitat loss. Another threat for the wild species comes from the hybridization with domestic birds.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Muscovy duck population size is 50,000-499,999 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.
Muscovy ducks are important in their habitats as predators of aquatic and terrestrial vegetation and animals, thus controlling their populations. These birds are also an important food source for local predators.
Muscovy ducks had been domesticated by various Native American cultures in the Americas when Columbus arrived in the Bahamas. The first few were brought onto the Columbus ship Santa Maria they then sailed back to Europe by the 16th century. Muscovy ducks have been domesticated for centuries, and are widely traded as "Barbary duck". Muscovy breeds are popular because they have stronger-tasting meat than the usual domestic ducks. Muscovy ducks are also less noisy and sometimes marketed as a "quackless" duck. Domesticated Muscovy ducks often have plumage features differing from other wild birds. White breeds are preferred for meat production, as darker ones can have much melanin in the skin, which some people find unappealing.