Let’s discuss rare duck breeds! Domestic ducks have been with us for literally thousands of years. They diligently supply us with meat, eggs, and feathers. They also provide pest control and the invaluable companionship and joy of having such cute birds flopping around on their webbed feet.
However, when commercial meat and egg production took over – especially the cruel practice of battery cages – ducks lost the race against chickens as the favored farmyard poultry.
Simply put, the ducks can’t provide produce nor survive getting crammed into such small spaces. And thus, the prices of duck meat and eggs could not compete with chicken produce.
Still, we consume meat from about 3 billion individual ducks per year, largely thanks to China and the persistent popularity of duck meat there.
The consequence of dwindling domestic duck popularity in the West resulted in the loss of unique breeds. As you’ll shortly learn, even the once-common domestic duck breeds are now among the rarest of duck breeds.
Let’s check out the nearly-lost world of rare duck breeds. We should admire their beauty and elegance for a while.
- The Origin Of Domestic Duck Breeds
- Top 15 Rare Duck Breeds List
- 1. Dutch Hookbill
- 2. The Shetland Duck
- 3. Orpington Duck
- 4. Rouen Duck
- 5. Cayuga Duck
- 6. Black East Indian Duck
- 7. Abacot Ranger Duck
- 8. Silver Appleyard Duck
- 9. Silver Appleyard Miniature Duck
- 10. Bali Duck
- 11. Indian Runner Duck
- 12. Magpie Duck
- 13. Australian Spotted Duck
- 14. Aylesbury Duck
- 15. Welsh Harlequin Duck
- The Quack-Up
The Origin Of Domestic Duck Breeds
Domestic ducks are subspecies whose scientific name is Anas platyrhynchos domesticus.
It may seem strange when you look at the variety of their shapes, sizes, and colors, but nearly all originated from the Mallard – Anas platyrhynchos.
The exception is the domestic Muscovy Duck or Barbary (Cairina moschata domestica, a South American jungle breed whose ancestor is (you’ve guessed it) the wild muscovy duck (Cairina moschata).
Another breed that is only suspected to be a descendant of a different wild duck species is the Cayuga (see more below).
Besides the utility reasons they got selected, people also started to appreciate the unique look of these breeds and began keeping them as ornamental and show birds.
However, the fame was not to last.
Why Did So Many Duck Breeds Become Rare?
Generations ago, continents and countries had unique duck breeds due to local selection. With the standardization of agriculture aimed primarily at efficiency and profits and globalized trade, only a handful of these breeds were deemed suitable for commercial production.
With no economic interest in keeping and breeding them, the number of individual breeds began to dwindle, turning once popular types of ducks into critically rare ducks or even critically endangered ducks.
Luckily, because of the enthusiasm of individuals and local organizations for the protection of rare domestic breeds, many of these unique and elegant ducks still exist.
A Tiny Duck Dictionary
To avoid confusion, let me introduce you to terms used in the duck talk (don’t worry, you won’t need to quack).
First, the term “Duck” can refer to both domestic and wild ducks, both males and females.
- Drake – a mature male duck
- Duckling – an immature duck of either gender.
- Duck or Hen – a female duck.
- Mallard – the wild duck (Anas platyrhynchos) and an ancestor of nearly all domestic ducks.
Top 15 Rare Duck Breeds List
I was undeniably selfish and picked my favorite duck breeds for the Outdoor Happens Top 15. However, there is no competition – all are beautiful in their own right! And there are endless duck breeds that are equally intriguing. The common thread is that all require our interest and protection.
1. Dutch Hookbill
|Breed Name||Dutch Hookbill, Hook Bill|
|Weight||4.4 lb or less|
|Eggs||Large; White to bluish-green|
|Characteristics||Good forager. Strong flier. Docile|
The Dutch Hookbill is probably the most distinct breed on our list due to its unique hooked bill.
Although the breed developed in the Netherlands, its true origins are murkier. Researchers have discovered some Indian runner duck populations with hooked bills in India, which indicates that these could be the ancestors of the Dutch Hookbill.
Considering their current critical status, it is surprising that this duck was widely distributed through Europe in the 19th century and kept as an egg and meat bird. However, their decline started with the popularity of chicken eggs. Today, the total population numbers around 1,000 individuals.
Besides the peculiar look, the Dutch Hookbill has many remarkable traits.
These ducks are productive, docile, and formidable. They got bred to fend for themselves and forage freely in the famous Dutch canals, and their curved bills helped hunters not mistake them for mallards. Their original lifestyle hints that these ducks are tremendously athletic and independent, with stellar foraging and flying abilities comparable to their wild cousins.
2. The Shetland Duck
|Weight||4.4 lb or less|
|Eggs||White to grey, ideal size; prolific producer|
|Characteristics||Dark plumage gradually replaced with white as ducks age|
The Shetland duck is a handsome medium-to-smallish bird and a prolific egg producer that can keep laying through January in areas with a mild climate. It has characteristic black plumage with metallic green/blue shine and white breasts and spots on the head. As ducks age, the white markings spread. (Some older Shetlands may turn entirely white!)
Shetland ducklings are thought of as very cute due to their black base color with yellow spots.
This duck breed is one of the rarest on the list, and thus its conservation is of notable concern.
3. Orpington Duck
|Breed Name||Orpington Duck|
|Use||Eggs, Ornamental, Meat|
|Weight (Min. Ducks/ Max. Drakes)||4.8-7.5 lb|
|Eggs||150 per year on average|
|Characteristics||Hardy, active, showy, interesting color range|
Orpington ducks were developed in 19th-century England, likely by cross-breeding the Indian Runners, Aylesbury, Cayuga, and Rouen.
The result was a hardy, versatile light duck – a decent producer of delicious eggs and meat. Curiously, Orpingtons have captivatingly creamy-blue colorations, which made them very popular show ducks during the breed’s zenith. The elusive genetic nature of the Buff and Blue varieties made them a prestigious challenge for breeders.
With all these nifty traits, it is shocking that Orpingtons are among the most endangered duck breeds on the list!
4. Rouen Duck
|Weight (Min. Ducks/ Max. Drakes)||11-13 lb|
|Characteristics||Huge and docile; cannot fly|
If you ever wanted to own a massive version of the wild mallard, the Rouen duck is a rare duck breed for you. The original colors of the mallard in both males and females are a standard for Rouen – just applied to a massive body.
Due to their size, the breed primarily gets kept for meat. For the same reason, this breed is effectively flightless, despite having normal-sized wings.
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5. Cayuga Duck
|Origins||New York State, USA|
|Use||Meat, eggs to a lesser extent|
|Weight (Min. Ducks/ Max. Drakes)||7-8 lb|
|Eggs||Coated in black pigment; 100-150 yearly|
|Characteristics||Unique dark coloration; large, easy-going|
The black-metallic-green beauty was possibly not bred not from a mallard but rather from the Wild Black Duck (Anas rubripes).
The impressive dark coloration of these gentle giants is not limited to their feathers but transfers to their eggs as well! That is one goth duck if you ask me.
If you find this trait too weird, know that the black coating on the shell can wipe off.
Despite the attractive looks and calm nature, the black color was a market disadvantage for a table (meat) breed. So even before the commercial pressures, Cayuga got (mostly) replaced by the heftier and white-colored Pekin.
6. Black East Indian Duck
|Name||Black East Indian Duck|
|Weight (Min. Ducks/ Max. Drakes)||1.5-2 lb|
|Eggs||White 40-100 per year|
|Characteristics||Bantam breed, good fliers, females get white patches with age.|
Now, we enter the showy world of miniature ornamental or bantam duck breeds.
Bred in the 19th century United States, the Black east Indian duck is considered the first bantam duck breed.
This duck is ideal if you like the jet-black-with-metallic-sheen look of the Cayuga but feel put off by its size and the mess it could make in the garden. Looking like their miniature versions and likely sharing the same color gene, the Black East Indian Duck weighs less than a kilogram.
Interestingly, the breed has nothing to do with India. The name was probably just a marketing trick because exotic animals generated more income back in the day.
7. Abacot Ranger Duck
|Name||Abacot Ranger, Hooded Ranger|
|Use||Ornamental, Eggs, Meat|
|Weight (Min. Ducks/ Max. Drakes)||4.4-5.5 lb|
|Eggs||Large and white, 180-200 per year|
|Characteristics||Alert, busy, interesting coloration|
Originally known as the ’Hooded Ranger,’ this rare duck breed stems from the Abacot Duck Ranch in Colchester, England. It is a relatively small, light, attractive duck that makes a prolific egg layer.
Although it originated in the UK, it was standardized and saved from disappearance by German enthusiasts. Despite being a good egg producer, it is primarily a show and ornamental bird today.
The original name comes from the fact that both males and females have a contrastingly-colored head (‘hood’) – dark green in drakes and fawn in females (it can fade to white with age). Also, the bill is greenish in males and grey in females, so this breed has a particularly attractive sexual dimorphism.
8. Silver Appleyard Duck
|Weight (Min. Ducks/ Max. Drakes)||7-9 lb|
|Eggs||Large and white, 100-180 per year|
|Characteristics||Attractive mallard-like color patterns, good character|
Silver Appleyard breed carries the name of its creator, Reginald Appleyard. He wanted to create a prolific egg layer and a surprisingly large meat bird with deep and meaty breasts. He pretty much succeeded!
Although it didn’t seem to be the primary goal, the Silver Appleyard did end up with a friendly, lively character and attractive coloration – essentially mallard-like with white mixed in. However, due to its size, it wasn’t exactly the most practical ornamental duck, which prompted the creation of its miniature version.
9. Silver Appleyard Miniature Duck
|Name||Silver Appleyard Miniature|
|Origins||Folly Farm, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom|
|Weight (Min. Ducks/ Max. Drakes)||2.4-3 lb|
|Eggs||60-160 per year|
|Characteristics||Attractive, interesting to observe, tamable.|
As the name suggests, the Silver Appleyard Miniature is the bantam (garden) version of its heavier ancestor and the youngest rare duck breed on the list (from the late 1980s).
The breeder, Tom Bartlett, also played a significant role in saving the original breed.
The Silver Appleyard Miniature breed is an excellent ornamental duck, especially for beginners, as it ticks all the boxes of a lovely ornamental rare duck breed. Besides being showy, it has a fun character. And it is easy to tame.
10. Bali Duck
|Origins||Bali, East Java|
|Weight (Min. Ducks/ Max. Drakes)||3.9-5 lb|
|Eggs||Blue-green, 140-200 per year|
|Characteristics||Active, with a distinct crest, but carrying a possibly lethal mutation|
Bali ducks are one of the oldest rare duck breeds and are uncommon outside Bali. It hasn’t reached global popularity due to an unusual and deadly reason.
Light and upright, the Bali duck boasts feathers of white, brown, and mallard persuasion. It got created to be an egg and show breed, like the Indian runner. The Bali breed is notably similar to the famous runner, aside from its primary distinction – the characteristic crest.
The crest was precisely the obstacle to this rare duck breed’s popularity. The same mutation responsible for crest development also increases mortality in ducklings if both parents are crested. To counter that, breeders pair crested birds with plain-headed birds, resulting in only 50% of offspring having crests.
11. Indian Runner Duck
|Breed Name||Indian runner|
|Use||Eggs, ornamental, biocontrol|
|Eggs||White or blue-green, 250 or more yearly|
|Characteristics||Active foragers, healthy, friendly but can be nervous|
The Indian runner is one of the less-rare breeds on the list, marked as “Recovering” by The Livestock Conservancy Trust. Still, it is a genuinely ancient, heritage type of duck, not widespread or commercial stock. If nothing, the runner deserves mention as an ancestor of many rare breeds.
The history of Indian runners spans 2000 years or more. They are one of the most active duck species, nomming many slugs, snails, and insects on each garden inspection. That’s why these ducks are often recommended as biological control agents in pesticide-free gardening. Being such eager foragers, they like large spaces and will become quite loud if you fail to provide them with one!
Initially, the Indian runners were mostly kept for eggs since they’re prolific layers. Due to the small body size, they can’t provide farmers with much meat – but the taste is comparable with the wild mallard.
A bit timid and easy to panic if frightened, this upright hyperactive bird is quite sweet-natured and can be reasonably tamed if you work on it from an early age.
12. Magpie Duck
|Breed Name||Magpie duck|
|Eggs||White, blue, green, medium to large, 220-290 yearly|
|Characteristics||Active, friendly, can be nervous|
People are always drawn to colorful animals such as the mandarin duck, but the elegance of black-and-white fowl types cannot be overlooked.
In tune with its wild namesake, the Magpie duck is black and white, upright, long-bodied, and light – elegant all the way. It is a prolific layer, and the meat is of gourmet quality, although there is not much of it.
The Magpie probably originated from – you’ve guessed it – the Indian runner, so it shares many traits with the breed. Magpies are active and love to forage. If tamed from early on, they can be very friendly but can also be highly-strung and always on the lookout.
Interestingly, it is thought that the laying productivity is inherited from the daddy drake’s side. A word of caution – drakes can be quite pushy on the ducks, so keeping at least five ducks on one drake is advisable.
13. Australian Spotted Duck
|Breed Name||Australian Spotted Duck|
|Use||Exhibition, pet, eggs|
|Weight||2 – 2.2 lb|
|Eggs||Cream, blue or green, small, 50 to 125 yearly|
|Characteristics||Docile, friendly, good flier, bad at avoiding predators|
Let’s admit it – the old breed names can sometimes be confusing. For example, the Australian Spotted Duck doesn’t come from the Land Down Under – but from the United States. It was developed in the 1920s by freely crossbreeding a call duck, a mallard (wild), a northern pintail (wild), and an unidentified Australian wild duck – hence the name. Yup, this breed is definitely a bit on the wild side!
Australian Spotted is a bantam breed that weighs less than a kilogram (2.0 to 2.2 lbs). Its meat is said to be very tasty, although it is rarely used as a table bird due to its rarity and small size. However, it is a prolific egg producer, best of all bantam ducks.
This breed is still low in numbers; thus, it predominantly remains an exhibition and pet waterfowl curiosity. The American Poultry Association does not recognize it.
14. Aylesbury Duck
|Breed Name||Aylesbury Duck|
|Eggs||White or green-tinted, extra large, 35-125 yearly|
|Characteristics||Docile, white-skinned, superb quality meat, prone to bumblefoot disease|
Out of all duck breeds on this list, the fate of the Aylesbury duck fills me with the greatest unease. There is probably no other duck breed that has had such a local cultural significance yet suffered such a tremendous decline.
Notable for the long pink bill, bulky body, and unusually large keel, Aylesbury is probably a purely English domesticated duck and used to be one of the main English table (meat) ducks in the 18th and 19th centuries. Besides the sheer amount, the meat was highly regarded as tasty, tender, and very pale.
The trouble for Aylesbury duck started brewing in the 19th century with the arrival of the French Rouen and a hardier and cheaper-to-raise white Pekin from China.
By then, the Aylesbury breed had been divided into two strains – the utility type, which essentially lost competition with the Pekin, and the exhibition type with a colossal keel, which fell out of fashion. Increasing feed prices, inbreeding, and World War I scarcity dealt a final blow to the symbol of Aylesbury.
Today the Aylesbury duck is critically endangered, with only one larger-scale breeder remaining in the UK. Still, it will live forever in The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, on the Aylesbury coat of arms, and many other local symbols.
15. Welsh Harlequin Duck
|Breed Name||Welsh Harlequin|
|Eggs||White, tinted, large, 240-330 yearly|
|Characteristics||Active, docile, curious, quiet, great forager, doesn’t fly|
The Welsh Harlequin happened by accident. It came from two mutant, light-colored Khaki Campbell ducklings hatched by a famous British breeder, Leslie Bonnet, in 1949.
The first thing that may attract you to the Welsh Harlequin is its complex color pattern. However, besides being a living decoration for the yard, the Harlequin is also a superb utility duck. It can lay an impressive amount of eggs – 240-330 yearly – and provides quality lean meat.
The friendly, curious disposition and quiet nature, coupled with no real flying abilities, make this duck excellent for free-ranging and just enjoying around the yard.
Thanks for sticking with the rare and endangered heritage duck breeds til the very end of this article.
If you are interested in raising ducks or are already a seasoned duck-friendly farmer, consider owning and breeding one of these beautiful rare duck breeds. Let’s fight the notion that people only become aware of what they had once it is forever lost.
Thanks again for reading.
Have a great day!