Domestic duck

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Domestic duck
Farm in Taiwan
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Anas
A. p. domesticus
Trinomial name
Anas platyrhynchos domesticus

The domestic duck or domestic mallard (Anas platyrhynchos domesticus) is a subspecies of mallard that has been domesticated by humans and raised for meat, eggs, and down feathers. A few are also kept for show, as pets, or for their ornamental value. Almost all varieties of domesticated ducks, apart from the domestic Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata), are descended from the mallard.[1][2]


Whole-genome sequencing suggests that domestic ducks originate from a single domestication event of mallards during the Neolithic, followed by rapid selection for lineages favouring meat or egg production. They were probably domesticated in Southeast Asia – most probably in Southern China – by the rice paddy-farming ancestors of modern Southeast Asians, and spread outwards from that region. There are few archaeological records, so the date of domestication is unknown; the earliest written records are in Han Chinese writings from central China dating to about 500 BC. Duck farming for both meat and eggs is a widespread and ancient industry in Southeast Asia.[3]

Wild ducks were hunted extensively in Ancient Egypt and other parts of the world in ancient times, but were not domesticated. Ducks are documented in Ancient Rome from the second century BC, but descriptions – notably those of Columella – suggest that ducks in Roman agriculture were tamed, not domesticated; there was no duck breeding in Roman times, so eggs from wild ducks were needed to start duck farms.[4]

Most breeds and varieties of domestic duck derive from the mallard, Anas platyrhynchos; a few derive from Cairina moschata, the Muscovy duck, or are mulards, hybrids of these with A. anas stock.[5] Domestication has greatly altered their characteristics. Domestic ducks are mostly promiscuous, where wild mallards are monogamous. Domestic ducks have lost the mallard's territorial behaviour, and are less aggressive than mallards.[6][7] Despite these differences, domestic ducks frequently mate with wild mallards, producing fully fertile hybrid offspring.[8]


1821 painting by José Honorato Lozano of native duck farms along the Pasig River in the Philippines

Ducks have been farmed for thousands of years.[9] Domestic ducks are reared principally for meat, but also for duck eggs.[10]: 258  Some are used for production of foie gras de canard.[10]: 311  In some cultures the blood of ducks slaughtered for meat is used as food; it may be eaten seasoned and lightly cooked, as in Ireland,[11]: 392  or be used as an ingredient, as in a number of regional types of blood soup, among them the czarnina of Poland[12]: 299  and the tiết canh of Vietnam. Down and feathers are a by-product of duck farming.[13]

In 2021 approximately 4.3 billion ducks were slaughtered for meat worldwide, for a total yield of about 6.2 million tonnes;[14] over 80% of this production was in China, where more than 3.6 billion ducks were killed, yielding some 4.9 million tonnes of meat.[15] Worldwide production of duck meat was substantially lower than that of chicken – 73.8 billion birds slaughtered, 121.6 million tonnes – but considerably greater than that of geese – about 750 million birds killed for 4.4 million tonnes of meat.[14]

Ducks may lay some 200 eggs per year;[10]: 258  the eggs may be white or tinted blue or green.[citation needed] Demand for fresh duck eggs is fairly limited;[10]: 258  in many Asian countries, and particularly in the Philippines, balut – a fertilised duck egg at about 17 days of development, boiled and eaten with salt – is considered a delicacy and is sold as street food.[10]: 53 

American Pekins are almost exclusively raised for their meat.

Domestic ducks are susceptible to infection with the dangerous H5N1 strain of avian influenza.[16]

The females of many breeds of domestic duck are unreliable at sitting their eggs and raising their young. Exceptions include the Rouen duck and especially the Muscovy duck. It has been a custom on farms for centuries to put duck eggs under broody hens for hatching; nowadays this role is often played by an incubator. However, young ducklings rely on their mothers for a supply of preen oil to make them waterproof; a chicken hen does not make as much preen oil as a female duck, and an incubator makes none. Once the duckling grows its own feathers, it produces preen oil from the sebaceous gland near the base of its tail.[17]

Ducks are also kept for their ornamental value. Breeds have been developed with crests and tufts or striking plumage, for exhibition in competitions.[18]

In culture

Phú quý – Vietnamese Đông Hồ painting

In children's stories

Beatrix Potter's 1908 The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck

The domestic duck has appeared numerous times in children's stories. Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck was published by Frederick Warne & Co in 1908. One of Potter's best-known books, the tale was included in the Royal Ballet's The Tales of Beatrix Potter.[19] It is the story of how Jemima, a domestic duck, is saved from a cunning fox who plans to kill her, when she tries to find a safe place for her eggs to hatch.[20]

Make Way for Ducklings is a children's picture book written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey. First published in 1941, the book tells the story of a pair of mallards who decide to raise their family on an island in the lagoon in Boston Public Garden, a park in the center of Boston. Make Way for Ducklings won the 1942 Caldecott Medal for McCloskey's illustrations.[21]

The Disney cartoon character Donald Duck, one of the world's most recognizable pop culture icons, is a domestic duck of the American Pekin breed.[22]

In music

The domestic duck features in the musical composition Peter and the Wolf, written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936. The orchestra illustrates the children's story while the narrator tells it.[23] In this, a domestic duck and a little bird argue on each other's flight capabilities. The duck is represented by the oboe. The story ends with the wolf eating the duck alive, its quack heard from inside the wolf's belly.[24]

In art

Domestic ducks are frequently depicted in wall paintings and grave objects from ancient Egypt.[25] They are featured in a range of ancient artefacts, which revealed that they were a fertility symbol.[26]

As food

Since ancient times, the duck has been eaten as food.[27] Usually only the breast and thigh meat is eaten.[28] It does not need to be hung before preparation, and is often braised or roasted, sometimes flavoured with bitter orange or with port.[29] Peking duck is a dish of roast duck from Beijing, China, that has been prepared since medieval times. It is today traditionally served with spring pancakes, spring onions and sweet bean sauce.[30][31]


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  2. ^ Sy Montgomery. "Mallard; Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  3. ^ Zhang, Zebin; Jia, Yaxiong; Almeida, Pedro; Mank, Judith E; van Tuinen, Marcel; Wang, Qiong; Jiang, Zhihua; Chen, Yu; Zhan, Kai; Hou, Shuisheng; Zhou, Zhengkui; Li, Huifang; Yang, Fangxi; He, Yong; Ning, Zhonghua; Yang, Ning; Qu, Lujiang (1 April 2018). "Whole-genome resequencing reveals signatures of selection and timing of duck domestication". GigaScience. 7 (4). doi:10.1093/gigascience/giy027. PMC 6007426. PMID 29635409.
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  8. ^ Wood-Gush, D. (2012). Elements of Ethology: A textbook for agricultural and veterinary students. Springer. ISBN 978-9-400-95931-6.
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  10. ^ a b c d e Alan Davidson (1999). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192115799.
  11. ^ Darina Allen (2018). Irish Traditional Cooking. London: Kyle Books. ISBN 9780857836960.
  12. ^ Jennifer McLagan (2017). Blood, Not So Simple. In: Mark McWilliams (editor) (2017). Offal: Rejected and Reclaimed Food: Proceedings of the 2016 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. London: Prospect Books. ISBN 9781909248557.
  13. ^ Duck and Goose from Farm to Table. Washington, DC: Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. Archived 20 September 2013.
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  21. ^ "Randolph Caldecott Medal". American Library Association. 2021. Retrieved 27 June 2023.
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