Runner ducks have a long history as evidenced by ancient Javan temple carvings indicating that Runner-type ducks existed in Indochina 2000 years ago. People in this region have been herding ducks for hundreds of years.
Flocks of ducks, trained to stay in sight of a herder’s long bamboo pole with cloth strips attached to one end, were driven out to rice paddies and fields during the day to glean scattered grain, weed seeds, snails, insects, larvae, small reptiles and the like. The Herder then drove their flock home at night and kept them in a protective bamboo or clay enclosure. In the morning, eggs were gathered and the herder then set off again with his ducks for another day’s foraging. Over many centuries, these conditions selected ducks that were good walkers, excellent foragers, and prolific layers. These specially adapted birds were introduced to the United Kingdom from Malaya by a ship’s captain around 1850. Their high egg production and unique appearance caused Runners to become widely popular in their new home.
The Runner, also known as Indian Runner, weighs between 4 and 4.5 pounds. Their slim bodies and long necks have prompted the description of a “wine bottle with a head and legs.” Its head is slender with eyes set high, the bill is straight, and the legs are set far back on their bodies, resulting in the upright carriage characteristic of the breed. Typical carriages are 45 to 75 degrees above the horizontal, but when agitated, some runners stand fully upright. There are more color types of Runner ducks than any other duck breed. Varieties recognized in the American Standard of Perfection are: Fawn & White, White, Penciled, Black, Buff, Chocolate, Cumberland Blue, and Gray. There are also many nonstandard color varieties.
Runner ducks are prolific layers and good strains will lay over 250 white, hen-sized eggs per year. The most active forager of all breeds, they will cover a large area in search of snails, slugs, insects, and other edibles. Their active disposition is evident right from the start, reports breeder David Holderread. When taking hatched ducklings from the incubator, he must move slowly and talk to them quietly to keep them from jumping overboard in their enthusiasm to explore their new world. While not capable of sustained flight, Runners can scramble over a two to three-foot enclosure for food. Because of its small size, this duck isn’t valued primarily as meat bird, but many regard Runners as tasting similar to wild ducks.
When choosing breeders, avoid ducks that have low body posture, short stocky bodies with prominent shoulders and chests; round heads with prominent foreheads; short bills and/or concave at the top line; and tails that are constantly cocked upward, even when the bird is excited. Look for strong legs and a smooth running gait, and choose birds that come from families with a history of good laying and foraging ability (Holderread, 2001).
Holderread, Dave. Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks. Pownal, VT: Storey Publishing, 2001.
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