Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Russians are coming?

The Muscovy duck - surely this must be an immigrant to Brazil right? Maybe from Moscow? After all there are feral populations around Britain and they can withstand pretty cold temperatures (down to -12). The gourmets amongst you may know it as the Barbary duck, which means it comes from North Africa? Wrong again! It's actually a native of South and Central America, the name deriving from their "musky" smell, as described by the famous biologist Linnaeus. They seem to be pretty easy to domesticate, and were farmed all over Latin America before the Spaniards arrived.

Quite large for a duck, they do apparently make a good meal, with a strong flavoured meat. Ironically, this has probably helped it as a species, as populations have been imported to North America, Asia and Europe, and subsequently become feral. They can cross breed with local Mallards, and although the offspring are sterile this has been encouraged by duck farmers, for two very different reasons. Firstly, crosses grow fast like Mallards, and large like Muscovies. Secondly, for the Jewish market. Now, I am open to correction on this, but as I understand it........ the Torah lists those foods which are kosher, and only these can be eaten, and this does not include ducks. However, there is a dispensation for animals that have been eaten historically, which covers Mallards, and those domestic ducks derived from them. South American Muscovies weren't eaten by ancient Israelites BUT, if crossed with Mallards the offspring are, sort of, Mallards. Apparently, there is a long running discussion about this.

I've got rather a soft spot for Muscovies as they form one of my earliest memories, on a little pond in Norfolk. So perhaps I'll stop talking about eating them, and talk about biology instead. They eat plant life, insects, and small fish if they can catch them, and domestic ones are said to be great for removing insects and weeds from a garden, and even mice apparently. They live in small groups of 4-12 rather than pairs, and are pretty polygamous, both reasons why they domesticate so well, and lay huge clutches of eggs, 8 to 16. The drake won't incubate the eggs, but he will hang around and protect the ducklings, and Muscovy drakes can be quite aggressive.

So, the Muscovy duck. A duck of the world, but not from Muscovy.


Anonymous said...

Where are these pictures from? Is it common to find theses ducks in Brazil?

Macaco verde said...

The photos are from a park in Espirito santo, but the origin of Muscovies is unclear. Some people say Mexico, some South America, it's lost in the mist of time. In my experience they're not very common, but in some parts of Brazil, maybe?

Sarah Stephen said...

I saw one in the Isis, although it was exceptionally territorial - I suppose it was guarding its nest. Having not seen one before, I did run around trying to identify it, but my efforts were, alas, unsuccessful. So do accept my thanks :)

tideliar said...

Great blog. You're bookmarked :)