Among the most numerous ducks at Ballard Park in Tupelo are the Muscovy ducks. These large ducks are common in urban parks, lakes, streams, zoos and farms because people often feed them at these sites. Muscovies are large ducks with long, flattened tails and large claws, in comparison to other ducks. Males, or drakes, often appear brighter and their black feathers reflect a purplish tint, whereas females are more drab in appearance. The presence of fleshy red caruncles, or warty bumps, on the face are more prominent in the males. Additionally, the male Muscovies are somewhat larger than the females. Muscovies sound different than other ducks because, rather than calling with a "quack", the male's call is a loud, dry hiss and the female's is a quiet coo.
Muscovies are native to the tropical climates of Central and South America, Mexico, and extreme southern Texas in the United States, but they can also tolerate colder temperatures. They were intentionally released in the United States by private individuals, businesses, and governmental organizations as an ornamental species believed to enhance the aesthetic appeal of urban parks and lakes.
However, Muscovy populations expand rapidly in urban areas, often becoming a nuisance. These large ducks are sometimes aggressive, especially when accustomed to being fed, and may chase or attempt to bite children. The excessive droppings not only decrease the aesthetic value of parks and lakes, but also contaminate water, presenting a significant hazard to the health of humans and their pets.
Muscovy hens can produce up to three clutches a year. The mother duck will keep her brood of ducklings together to protect them from predators. The eggs and ducklings are preyed upon by raccoons, large turtles, birds of prey, large fish and snakes. Ducklings can fly within 5 - 8 weeks. Their feathers develop very fast.
This species, like the Mallard, does not form stable pairs. Popular males are often seen with up to four females - potentially the entire female population in the group; while the remaining males "hang out" in bachelor groups. However, the female may also mate with other males. Males will fight other males for social status and for the right to breed with a female. They can become very aggressive; they will head bob, raise their crests, bite, and pinch, flog, and literally jump on each other’s backs to attack.
Muscovy ducks will eat insects, roots, stems, leaves, seeds, fishes, reptiles, and small mammals. They do not swim as much as other ducks because their oil glands are not as well developed. This results their feathers fraying more. They are very intelligent and will wag their tails and raise their crests when talked to.
Some breeders and people that keep Muscovies as pets have a different opinion of these ducks. They report the ducks have wonderful personalities, are most often quiet, are great foragers and insect hunters and the females make excellent mothers. The Muscovies I observed as I walked through the park were quiet for the most part. During one instance, I observed a group of them head bobbing at each other...really strange behavior. Many of them seemed to ignore me and even allowed me to get close enough for some good shots. If I had known about their potentially aggressive behavior, I may have been more cautious, but then I would have missed some good shots!
Information gathered from birdinginformation.com, muscovyduckcentral.com, beautyofbirds.com and the University of Florida IFAS Extension.