Planning to keep a muscovy duck as a pet? You need to know about their diet and what to feed them first. We put together a handy guide to help you understand the dos and don’ts.
Are you experiencing an influx of pesky, biting insects around your home?
Is your pond becoming unsightly and overgrown with algae and aquatic weeds?
If yes, consider raising a flock of Muscovy ducks!
Yes, I am aware that sounds like a cheesy intro for some cheap commercial; however, Muscovy ducks really do help control pest insects and algal blooms.
Read on to discover what food Muscovy ducks like to eat.
Global Distribution of Muscovy Ducks
Muscovy ducks are a large species of waterfowl native to the Americas.
Their native range extends from the warm, humid rainforests and swampy marshlands of Central and South America.
Perhaps as a result of climate change, Muscovy ducks have since extended their range naturally into areas of Texas and North America.
Muscovy ducks have been domesticated for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
As a result, their non-native range now extends through much of North America, including Canada, as well as parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
Throughout the world, the feral populations of Muscovy ducks have become established and self-sustaining.
Their bright red caruncle, which can be found on much of its head, is one of the easiest ways to identify a Muscovy duck.
Diet of Wild Muscovy Ducks
Muscovy ducks are omnivorous. This means they consume both animal and plant protein.
In the wild, Muscovy ducks are often found close to water sources.
Although they do not spend as much time on the water as other species of waterfowl, they rely on water sources and the surrounding shoreline to hunt for their prey.
But what do Muscovies like to eat?
Well, the answer is pretty much anything they can catch and fit in their mouth – they are not fussy.
Shallow water and riverbanks are where Muscovy ducks spend most of their time foraging.
They actively seek out a wide range of invertebrate prey, such as worms, insects, and small crustaceans.
Older, more experienced Muscovy ducks venture into deeper water to catch fish, larger crustaceans, and other aquatic animals.
You may see just their tails sticking out of the water as they forage the watery depths.
However, being omnivorous, Muscovy ducks also eat copious amounts of plant material.
This includes aquatic plants and algae, as well as the leaves, stems, and shoots of terrestrial plants and grass.
One of the biggest sources of protein for Muscovy ducks comes in the form of insect larvae.
Searching under rocks, which they are able to lift with their bill, they look for caddisfly larvae, black soldier fly larvae, and, most importantly, mosquito larvae.
To sustain themselves, Muscovy ducks can eat thousands of mosquito larvae in a single day.
Although many duck species eat mosquito larvae, Muscovies come out on top as the number one waterfowl-based mosquito predator.
As mosquitoes lay their eggs on the water’s surface, Muscovy ducks mostly feed on the free-swimming pupal stage of the insects.
However, given the opportunity, Muscovies won’t turn down a tasty mosquito adult either.
Can I Feed Wild (and Feral) Muscovy Ducks?
Growing up, I was taken down to my local duck pond and encouraged to throw bread into the water.
Feeding the ducks was a childhood staple. And I’m sure I’m not alone.
However, new research suggests that bread is seriously harmful to not only the ducks themselves but also the pond ecosystem as a whole.
Bread has little nutritional value, especially for omnivorous Muscovy ducks.
The bread fills ducks up without delivering the nutrition benefits they need, leading to malnutrition.
Leftover bread in the water can cause harmful mold spores to develop that put waterfowl at risk.
Bread also releases extra nutrients into the water, leading to algal blooms that decrease the water quality for other aquatic animals.
By feeding wild or feral Muscovy ducks, you inevitably change their foraging behavior.
Human-fed Muscovy ducks will not forage for insects as often, leading to an increase in mosquitoes, which can lead to an increase in disease transmissions in humans.
At the end of the day, human food is made for, you guessed it, humans.
Much of the food we eat is processed and, if eaten by other animals, can cause sickness and diseases. Ultimately, this reduces an animal’s lifespan.
But, surely, just a little bit won’t hurt anything?
Well, unfortunately, this isn’t true. Even a little bit of food fed to wild or feral ducks will change their foraging behavior.
Ducks will associate humans with an easy meal and can start to depend on them to get fed.
So one day, when you move away or stop feeding the wild ducks, they may potentially starve. Starving ducks become more aggressive, and frequent injuries can occur.
One final doom and gloom point about not feeding ducks; here goes.
If a duck has a lot of food on offer, it will have more chicks. Oftentimes, a parent duck will continue to brood clutches of eggs.
This inevitably can be too many for the local environment to support.
With the environmental chain disrupted, a cascade of negative effects occurs.
This has been seen in places such as Florida, where feral Muscovies have bred exponentially and now pose a threat to native waterfowl.
Being larger species of waterfowl, they outcompete other, smaller species.
They can also spread novel diseases to native bird species. This negatively affects the entire ecosystem.
So, if you are someone that feeds bread to ducks, please stop. You cannot stop feeding ducks cold turkey, as they will starve, so introduce seeds and local fruit and veg.
Start decreasing the quantities you feed them until you can eventually stop altogether.
Diet of Domesticated Muscovy Ducks
“But Jack, what about my flock of Muscovies at home? What am I supposed to feed them now?”
Like wild Muscovies, domesticated Muscovy ducks are keen foragers. You should allow your Muscovies to have some time to free range outside.
Not only will this increase their welfare and enrichment, but it will also save you a lot of time and money in pest control.
Besides, a free-range duck requires less feed and can therefore save you money when it comes to buying specific duck food.
Outside, domestic Muscovies hunt for a wide range of insect prey.
They will eat ticks, mosquitos, and other biting insects, as well as earwigs and small cockroaches.
Similar to their wild conspecifics, domestic Muscovy ducks are omnivorous. They will happily graze on grass, much like a goose would, as well as other vegetation.
Muscovies on a farm or homestead will happily eat your kitchen scraps. However, this should be restricted to leafy greens, vegetables high in carotenoids, and fruit trimmings.
Many people are surprised to know you can also feed your Muscovy ducks fish and fish guts.
After all, wild Muscovies eat fish, so why should domesticated Muscovies miss out? A great way to discard those smelly leftovers.
You can also supplement the diet of a Muscovy duck with specific duck or chicken feed.
This can be bought in most pet stores but is equally as easy to make yourself at home.
Most store-bought feed contains cereal grains and added nutrients.
Substitute this for rolled oats and cracked corn, as well as a variety of other food items to increase the number of nutrients in their diet.
What Not To Give Muscovy Ducks
Depending on what site you visit, you may see dietary suggestions for pasta, bread, or crackers.
No, no, no.
For the same reasons we discussed earlier, you do not want to be including processed carbohydrates in your duck’s diet.
Although filling, this can lead to malnutrition in the long run.
You can, however, add a range of different seeds, such as sunflower, chia, or sesame. Seeds are a great way to add fat, fiber, and protein to your Muscovy ducks’ diet.
Also, try to avoid iceberg lettuce. Similarly to bread, iceberg lettuce holds low nutritional value.
Earlier in the article, we mentioned giving your Muscovies kitchen scraps.
Whilst most food is okay, avoid feeding potato and onion peels.
Raw potatoes contain solanine, which is an alkaloid poison found in the nightshade family. This can be lethal to Muscovy ducks.
Lastly, and a rather obvious statement, do not feed any rotten food to Muscovy ducks – they are not trash cans!
Like us, they need fresh food daily. Besides, rotten food may attract other unwanted pests, such as rats. Eww!
How Much Should I Feed My Muscovy Duck?
This depends on whether you’re talking about mature Muscovies or ducklings.
So, let’s first discuss ducklings.
Unlike other bird species, the parents do not assist in any way with the feeding of their young.
Instead, mother Muscovies forage alongside their ducklings, teaching them what food to eat and what to avoid.
Ducklings will eat similar food to the mother, just on a smaller scale. On average, it is thought that ducklings eat around 0.25 lbs, or 113g, per day.
In spring and summer, you shouldn’t need to interfere too much with the diet. That is, of course, if your Muscovies have access to a large outdoor area.
If you have ducklings in the winter, add protein-rich food to their enclosure. It is best to buy non-medicated, store-bought feed for this.
But be careful; you do not want to overfeed the ducklings.
As the ducklings grow, start increasing the amount of feed you give them.
You can start to decrease the amount of protein-rich, store-bought feed you give them and introduce fresh fruit and veg into their diet, as well as insect protein.
If you have no insects for your Muscovies to forage, you can buy live or freeze-dried crickets and mealworms at most pet stores.
You do not want to overload their diet with freeze-dried insects, as they can be quite fatty. A small handful should be plenty.
Can the Time of Year Affect What Muscovy Ducks Eat?
The relatively consistent weather patterns in the Muscovy duck’s native range ensure prey is available year-round.
Domestic Muscovy ducks are found worldwide, some enduring temperatures well into freezing.
They are a hardy species of duck, but certain times of the year can affect the diet of Muscovies.
During spring and summer, many species of insects mate, spawn and die.
Across lakes and rivers, millions of larvae and adult insects litter the water surface. The ideal hunting ground for Muscovy ducks.
Spring also announces the arrival of new, tasty shoots, which adds nutritional value to a Muscovy diet.
However, the cold winter months bring new challenges.
Insect prey is greatly reduced, as is the availability of new plant shoots.
During the winter months, consider including a store-bought chicken or duck feed with added nutrients. This will help your ducks maintain a healthy weight over winter.
Forage for insects yourself, or buy live or freeze-dried insects from stores. This will add the necessary insect protein needed for a balanced diet.
Can I Eat Muscovy Ducks?
Up until now, we’ve spoken about what to feed your Muscovy duck.
But now, it’s time to address the elephant in the room. Can you eat your Muscovy ducks?
The short answer is yes, absolutely.
One of the main reasons for the species’ domestication was for egg and meat production.
Nowadays, many people own Muscovy ducks for pets and companionship, but breeding Muscovies for meat is still a common occurrence.
The meat itself is said to be less fatty than a mallard-derived species. It is lean, tender, and above all, tasty.
However, if you’re after subtly flavored foods, Muscovy meat probably isn’t for you.
The taste is strong and meaty, more comparable to roast beef than duck. This makes Muscovy a great alternative for those who don’t eat beef.
Muscovy ducks are a large variety of ducks. It should come as no surprise that there is up to 50% more breast meat in a Muscovy compared to other species such as Pekin or mallards.
Due to all these attributes, Muscovy duck meat is prized and revered in the culinary world, with many chefs paying top money for breast meat.
If you’re raising Muscovies yourself, and want to experience a culinary delight, follow this recipe.
The sweet, citrusy pairing of the pomegranate and orange cuts through the meaty taste of the duck perfectly. Add a parsnip puree to complete the dish:
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best food for Muscovy ducks?
In addition, they enjoy eating small insects and worms, which they can forage in the wild.
You can also give them store-bought duck pellets or formula, which provides many essential vitamins and minerals.
What fruits and vegetables can Muscovy ducks eat?
This includes items like apples, pears, berries, broccoli, spinach, kale, cucumbers, squash, carrots, oranges, and herbs.
Can Muscovy ducks eat rice?
Normally, you should prefer to offer leafy vegetables and fruits and let them forage insects, worms, and small fish when possible.
Muscovy ducks are large, opportunistic omnivores. They will eat pretty much anything they find.
Muscovies actively forage insects, worms, crustaceans, fish, and vegetation.
Wild Muscovies and domesticated Muscovies share similar foraging behaviors.
However, you may need to supplement the diet of a domestic Muscovy with chicken feed or freeze-dried insects.
Limit the number of carbohydrates, including bread and pasta; you introduce into a Muscovies diet. These can cause malnutrition and health risks.
I hope this has answered your questions about what to feed your Muscovy ducks. Thank you for reading!