What Do Muscovy Ducks Eat?

Muscovy ducks standing on stone wall
Mark D Bailey/Shutterstock.com

Written by Lex Basu

Updated: September 20, 2022

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Weighing in at up to fifteen pounds the Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) is the largest duck in the world. While males commonly reach this weight, females are significantly smaller, reaching their limit at roughly six pounds. The male duck is called a drake and has a low breathy call, while the hen is a female duck with a quiet trilling coo.

These aquatic birds are easy to recognize by the red, fleshy parts around their beaks and eyes called caruncles. The Muscovy duck was originally a tree dweller, and is therefore able to fly

Muscovy ducks are one of the most common species in the duck-farming industry due to their large size, meat quality and high value for small farmers and large factories. Although common as backyard pets or livestock, we’ll first explore what Muscovy ducks eat in the wild.

What does the Muscovy Duck Eat?

What Do Muscovy Ducks Eat

Muscovy ducks eat a diet consisting primarily of plants, worms, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, small fish and reptiles. They are omnivores that consume both plants and animals, and can enjoy them in many stages from egg to adult and from seed to nut.

The seeds, buds, leaves and nuts, roots and tubers of both aquatic and terrestrial plants are enjoyed by Muscovy ducks. They love to eat insects like mosquitoes in both their larval stage and when they are flying adults. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water to hatch into larvae, so Muscovy ducks have easy access to them before they even have a chance to fly away.

A Complete List of 15 Foods Muscovy Ducks Eat

Here are 15 foods that form the majority of a Muscovy duck’s diet:

  • Roots
  • Nuts
  • Tubers
  • Seeds
  • Stems
  • Buds 
  • Leaves
  • Worms
  • Mosquitos
  • Spiders
  • Termites
  • Crabs
  • Snails
  • Reptiles
  • Fish

The Muscovy Duck Habitat

Muscovy ducks standing on stone wall

Muscovy ducks spend most of their time on pond shorelines, in grass, and in tree cover.

Native to South America, Central America and Mexico, feral populations have established themselves in the United States and are common in Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts and the Big Island of Hawaii. They’ve also made a home of southern Canada and other parts of North America. They can also be found in New Zealand, Australia, and in parts of Europe. Muscovy ducks are commonly domesticated and raised for meat all across the globe.

This non-migratory species normally inhabits forested swamps, lakes, streams, grasslands and farmland. Preferring to roost in trees at night or on the ground along the shoreline, they utilize open water, grass, tree, shrub, and urban habitats. Lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, and swamps are all swimming grounds for these waterfowl.

A study in the Suburban Sustainability Journal was done on feral, domesticated Muscovy duck’s habitat use in urban areas. It found that 12% of their time was spent on open water for swimming, foraging and bathing. Pond shorelines (13%) were used for nighttime roosting and daytime rest and foraging. Grass (42%) and tree cover (18%) were also important habitats for foraging. Shrubs (8%) and urban habitats (7%) were resting grounds. The study concluded that free-ranging populations are highly adaptable and display different nesting and habitat behaviors than their wild counterparts, who like to occupy forested riverside areas and nest in tree cavities.

How Muscovy Ducks Find their Food

Muscovy ducks search for food primarily in water bodies and at the water’s edge. They prefer slow-moving water that allows for easier swimming and foraging. They are expert foragers, and obtain their meals through methods of dabbling, gleaning, grazing, and probing. In urban areas, they will occasionally obtain a meal from human sources.

The duck’s bill is designed to help locate and eat the food surrounding them. Muscovy ducks’ bills are broad, round-tipped and soft around the edges so that they can locate food by touch. It consists of two mandibles: the upper which is fixed to the skull, and the lower which can move up and down freely, functioning like the human jaw. 

How the Muscovy Ducks Eat

Muscovy Duck

The facial caruncles of the Muscovy Duck make it a less attractive species.

Muscovy ducks have a hard, specialized bill that can be used for grasping, tearing, and scooping food.

  • Spatulate Shape: Muscovy ducks have an elongated, flattened bill shape. Similar to having teeth, this spatulate shape helps them to crush food, but without the same strength for pulverizing tough foods. Their wide, spoon-shaped bill also helps them to filter food from water, sand and mud. 
  • Lamellae: The lamellae are thin, comb-like structures on the sides of a duck’s bill. They lie on the inside edge of the bill and look like little serrated teeth. These structures are slightly pliable and used for straining food from mud or water. 
  • Nail: Muscovy ducks have a small bump on the tip of the upper side of their bill called a nail. The nail is useful for digging through mud or debris and helps ducks uncover small roots, seeds, worms, and other foods. It can also help with prying and moving food around. 

What to Feed the Muscovy Duck as a Pet

Backyard domestic Muscovy ducks can graze and digest surrounding sources such as snails, water weeds, grass, small fish, shellfish and insects. They will gain the protein and vitamins they need if able to forage for these materials. Foraging can be supplemented with energy-rich feeds such as rice, cassava, sago, and sweet potato.

Muscovy ducks that are confined indoors are reliant on feeds specifically made for ducks. These are normally complete feeds without any additions required. Whole or cracked corn can be a nice optional addition. Muscovy ducks can also take advantage of fruit and vegetable leftovers from the kitchen. They are especially fond of water plants like kangkong and duckweed.

What Not to Feed Your Muscovy Ducks

Muscovy ducks should avoid eating the following:

  • White bread – Feeding white bread to ducks at ponds has been a common cause of a condition called “angel wing,” in which they develop twisted wing joints and lose the ability to fly.
  • Citrus fruits – They can interfere with duck’s ability to absorb calcium, which can cause thin-shelled eggs.
  • Spinach – Also interferes with their ability to absorb calcium.
  • Iceberg lettuce – Small portions may be okay, but large amounts can cause digestive upset. 
  • Nightshades – Potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants are all part of the nightshade family. All parts of the plant, the stem, leaves and fruit, are toxic to ducks.
  • Raw beans – Raw or dried beans are toxic to Muscovy ducks, if you want to feed them be sure to sprout them first.

Next Up…

  • 10 Incredible Duck Facts: Learn some more about ducks, the most favored domesticated aquatic-bird kept as pet.
  • Pet Birds: If you are interested in keeping a bird as pet, this comprehensive guide will help give you an idea as to what you are up for.
  • Do Turkeys Make Good Pets?: As far as keeping domesticated birds as pets go, Turkeys are quiet popular if you have a large area for them to roam in. Find out more here.

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About the Author

Lex is a green-living, tree-hugging, animal-lover, who at one time was the mother to twenty one felines and one doggo. Now she helps pet owners around the globe be the best caretakers for their most trusting companions by sharing her experience and spreading love.

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