Oliver Drake and M. C. Gower-Williams of Wales are credited with developing the charming Magpie duck. Because of their size, somewhat upright carriage, and plumage pattern, it’s conjectured that Magpies may descend from Runner ducks and the Huttegem, an old Belgian duck breed with possible Runner breed ancestry that was raised during the 1800’s. Isaac Hunter of Michigan imported Magpies to the United States in 1963, and since then Magpies have been kept alive by a handful of breeders in America. The American Poultry Association recognized Magpies in 1977.
The Magpie is a light breed, reaching weights of between four and five pounds. They’re named for their distinctively marked plumage. The plumage is predominantly white, with a colored cap on the crown of the head, and a large colored patch extending along the back from shoulders to tail. The Magpie is a long-bodied bird, with a broad head, and a long orange or yellow bill. This duck’s body carriage is fifteen to thirty degrees above horizontal when relaxed, and slightly higher when agitated. Standard varieties include Blacks and Blues. Some breeders have also developed nonstandard color varieties.
Magpies are active foragers that 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. Magpies are good layers and will produce 220 to 290 eggs yearly. 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 to 3-foot wall if startled.
When choosing breeders, select robust, active, strong-legged birds from families known for high egg production. Laying ability and egg size are strongly influenced by the father and therefore it’s prudent to choose breeding drakes from high-producing families. The drakes have a high libido, therefore the ratio of drakes to ducks in a flock should be no more than 1:5 or so (Holderread, 2001). Because the genetics of Magpie coloration is complex, breeding good show specimens is a challenge. 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 (Holderread, 2001).
Holderread, Dave. Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks. Pownal, VT: Storey Publishing, 2001.
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