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The Magpie Duck is a lightweight breed of domesticated duck. Developed in the early 20th century, they are raised as general purpose ducks, since they have attractive markings, and are highly productive layers of large eggs.
Anas platyrhynchos domesticus
Named for its distinctive black and white plumage, reminiscent of the colouration of the European Magpie, the typical example of the species is predominantly white with two large black areas on the back and top of the head. As the bird ages the black cap will normally begin to be flecked with white and may eventually become completely white. Similar in shape to the Khaki Campbell, but more substantial, the Magpie is moderately streamlined with a somewhat upright carriage that suggests Indian Runner Duck in its ancestral bloodline. The bill is yellow or orange, but turns green in older birds. The legs and feet are orange but may be mottled. The chest is rounded and the neck moderately long. Males have, when fully feathered, curled feathers on the tail. Females have, when fully feathered, straight feathers on the tail. Males weigh around 2.7 kg (6 lb) on average, and females around 2.5 kg (5½ lb), although the American standard specifies 1 lb (0.45 kg) lower for each. They lay between 220–290 large green/blue eggs annually. They are a hardy variety, active foragers, and live for approximately 9 years.
Magpie Duck's are often a docile and calm breed, especially when handled regularly. Individuals can be high strung. Regular handling from a young age will ensure your Magpie Ducks are friendly and easy to manage. An agitated Magpie Duck tends to stand more upright, while a relaxed duck is more horizontal.
9 - 12 years
Magpies will graze and hunt for a sizable portion of their feed from grass, seeds, insects, and aquatic life. They eagerly search for and consume slugs, snails, and insects; so much so that keepers of large livestock find that these ducks are effective at eliminating liver fluke infestations. Their meat is of gourmet quality. Carcasses will pick cleanly because of their light colored under-bellies, and each bird will yield portions suitable for two to three people. Magpies tend to have high strung dispositions. While generally at home on land and not capable of sustained flight, they can propel themselves over a 2-3 foot wall if startled. The drakes have high libido, therefore the ratio of drakes to ducks in a flock should no be more than 1:5 or so.
The Magpie Duck is believed to have originated in the early 1900s, having been developed by Oliver Drake and M.C. Gower-Williams in Wales. It is possible that they were selectively bred from the Belgian Huttegem, an old breed that was popular in the duck-raising area north of Brussels in the 19th century. Descriptions of the Huttegem are remarkably similar to the modern Magpie Duck, and old pictures show many of the features of the Magpie including the coloring. The Magpie Duck was imported to the United States from Great Britain in 1963, but was not widely kept. It was admitted to the American Standard of Perfection in 1977, but it did not become popular in the US until 1984. It is still one of the rarer varieties of domesticated duck. Color patterning of ducklings will not change as they develop to adults, so breeders can select good specimens for breeding while using other ducklings as utility birds.
When choosing breeders, select robust, active, strong-legged birds which come from families known for high egg production. Laying ability and egg size are strongly influenced by the father and therefore it is prudent to choose breeding drakes from high-producing families. Because the genetics of Magpie coloration is complex, breeding good show specimens is a challenge.
ALBC's 2000 census of domestic waterfowl in North America found only 126 breeding Magpie. While seven people reported breeding Magpie, only one primary breeding flock with 50 or more breeding birds existed. There is a critical need for more conservation breeders of Magpie ducks. Their excellent laying ability, gourmet quality meat, and excellent foraging abilities make them a great addition to any small farmstead or backyard producer's flock.
If the incubator is not already in operation, start the incubator and allow the temperature and humidity to stabilize a day or two before setting eggs. Set the temperature at 37.5°C (99.5°F) and relative humidity at 55% (84.5°F on wet bulb thermometer). Set ventilation as recommended by the incubator manufacturer. Eggs must be turned, either automatically or by hand, a minimum of 4 times a day. Most automatic turning devices are set to change the position of the eggs hourly.
Select eggs to be set by carefully inspecting and candling them at the time they are put in setting trays. Do not set eggs that are cracked, double yolked, misshapen, over sized, undersized or dirty. For best results, set eggs within 1-3 days from the time they were laid. There is an average loss of about 3% hatch ability for eggs stored 7 days before setting, and about 10% loss for those stored 14 days. Always set eggs with the small end down, except in the case of small incubators that have no trays. If eggs have been stored in a cooler, take them out of the cooler the night before setting and allow them to warm to room temperature.
On the day of setting, put eggs in incubator, close the doors and allow the incubator to reach operating temperature. Check frequently to make sure the incubator is working properly the first day, and continue checking thereafter at least four times a day.
At about seven days after setting, candle the eggs and remove any eggs that are infertile (clear) or have dead germ (cloudy).
At 25 days after setting, the eggs are transferred to hatching trays, and if eggs are hatched in a separate machine, moved to the hatcher. Candle and remove eggs with dead embryos. At the time of transfer, the temperature of the hatcher should be set at 37.2°C (99°F) and the humidity set at 65% (88°F wet bulb). As the hatch progresses, and eggs begin to pip, increase the humidity to 80% (93°F wet bulb), and increase ventilation openings by about 50%. As the hatch nears completion gradually lower the temperature and humidity so that by the end of the hatch the temperature is at 36.1°C (97°F), and the humidity is at 70% (90°F wet bulb). Vents should be opened to their maximum setting by the end of the hatch. Remove ducklings from the hatcher when 90-95% of them are dry.
Proper Water Loss During Incubation As the duckling develops inside the egg there is a loss of water from the egg and an increase in the size of the air cell. If the duckling is developing normally, the air cell should occupy about one-third of the space inside the egg at 25 days of incubation (common ducks). Weight loss can also be used as a guide. Common duck eggs should lose about 14% of their weight at time of setting by 25 days.
Natural Incubation. Duck eggs may be hatched naturally by placing them under a broody duck or even a broody chicken hen. Muscovy ducks are very good setters, capable of hatching 12-15 duck eggs. The nest box should be located in a clean dry shelter, bedded with suitable litter. Feed and water should be available for the broody duck and for the ducklings when they hatch.
Egg Storage If eggs are stored for a while before they are set, they should be stored at a temperature and humidity level that will minimize deterioration of the egg. For a small number of eggs, storage in a cellar may suffice. Whenever possible, store eggs at about 55°F (13°C) and 75% of relative humidity. Store eggs small end down.