Ducks

How to choose the best duck breed (or breeds) for you

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How do you choose the best duck breed for you? Every duck breed has unique features and benefits, so it’s important to try to match your needs and wants with the optimal duck breed. In this article, you’ll find out how! 


Every modern breed of domesticated duck originated from wild Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). The exception to this rule is Muscovy ducks (Cairina moschata), which are a separate branch on the duck family tree.

The first known Mallard domestication took place in Asia about 4,000 years ago. It’s unknown when Muscovies were first domesticated, but it likely happened thousands of years ago in their native range of Mexico, Central, and South America.

Duck breed selection is a very important consideration for backyard or pet duck parents. That’s because each breed of duck has different features, characteristics, and baseline personalities/temperaments.

This is similar to selecting heirloom tomatoes for your garden: if you want to grow small currant tomatoes for salads, you’d be better served choosing ‘Matt’s wild’ rather than ‘Cherokee purple’.

Our flock of Welsh Harlequins foraging on a summer evening.

Our flock of Welsh Harlequins foraging on a summer evening. There are other breeds of ducks that are better foragers than Welsh Harlequins, which is a feature that may be important to you if you have a farm and want ducks that can get a significant percentage of their diet from foraging and serving as pest control. 

Which duck breed features matter to you?

When selecting a duck breed or breeds, it’s helpful to start by assigning a numeric value across a range of features that are important to you. This will not only help you determine which features are most important and least important to you in a duck, but also help you better make an impartial decision about which breed(s) to get.

Examples of duck breed features you may wish to consider:

  • Egg production
  • Sociability/calmness, aka “temperament”
  • Foraging ability
  • Meat production/mature weight
  • Conservation status (if heritage breed conservation is important to you, a breed’s “conservation status” may be an important factor and you’d be more inclined to get a breed listed as Critical or Threatened)
  • Other factors – Examples: beauty, size (the larger, the less likely an aerial predator will attack them), mothering ability (if you want to breed ducks and don’t feel like hatching your own duck eggs), etc.

There are no right or wrong answers here. Whether you’re trying to put food on your family’s table or you simply want a great pet, you’ll likely find different duck breeds are better suited for your specific wants and needs.

Jackson begrudgingly showing off her gorgeous iridescent wing bars. One of the reasons we chose Welsh Harlequins was because of their beauty.

Jackson, one of our Welsh Harlequin ducks, begrudgingly showing off her gorgeous iridescent wing bars. One of the reasons we chose Welsh Harlequins was because of their beauty.

Duck breed analysis

Below is a ranking of duck breeds based on some of the criteria listed above, with breed evaluation data from Metzer Farms, the largest duck breeding operation in the US. We’ve added our own 1-10 scoring system for each category to help you better quantify the differences between breeds.  

A. Egg production:

  • Up to 290 eggs/year (Score: 10) – Golden 300 Hybrid Layer, White Layer
  • Up to 240 eggs/year (Score: 8.5) – Khaki Campbell
  • Up to 200 eggs/year (Score: 7) – Grimaud Hybrid Pekin, Pekin
  • Up to 180 eggs/year (Score: 6.5) – Black Swedish, Black Runner, Blue Runner, Blue Swedish, Buff, Cayuga, Chocolate Runner, Fawn and White Runner, Rouen
  • Up to 175 eggs/year (Score: 6.0) – Jumbo Pekin, Saxony, Silver Appleyard,
  • Up to 150 eggs/year (Score: 5.0) – Muscovy, Welsh Harlequin,
  • Up to 130 eggs/year (Score: 4.5) – White Crested
  • Up to 120 eggs/year (Score: 4.0) – Mallards

B. Sociability/Calmness (10 = more calm / 1 = less calm)

  • Saxony – 9.0
  • Muscovy – 9.0
  • Silver Appleyard – 8.8
  • Welsh Harlequin – 8.7
  • Black Swedish – 7.7
  • Blue Swedish – 7.0
  • Buff – 7.0
  • Black Runner – 6.5
  • Blue Runner – 6.0
  • Chocolate Runner – 5.7
  • Rouen – 5.5
  • Mallard – 5.0
  • Jumbo Pekin – 4.5
  • Grimaud Hybrid Pekin – 4.5
  • Pekin – 4.5
  • White Layer – 3.3
  • Fawn and White Runner – 2.5
  • Golden 300 Hybrid Layer – 2.3
  • Cayuga – 1.2
  • Khaki Cambpell – 1.0
  • White Crested – 1.0

C. Foraging Ability

  • Excellent (Score: 10) – Muscovy
  • Very good (Score: 7.5) – Runner Ducks (all breeds), Khaki Campbell, Mallards, Silver Appleyard
  • Good (Score: 5) – Black Swedish, Blue Swedish, Buff, Cayuga, Golden 300 Hybrid Layer, Rouen, Saxony, Welsh Harlequin, White Layer
  • Fair (Score: 2.5) – Jumbo Pekin, Grimaud Hybrid Pekin, Pekin, White Crested

D. *Conservation Status (most to least threatened):

  • Threatened (Score: 10) – Buff, Saxony, Silver Appleyard
  • Watch (Score: 8) – Black Swedish, Blue Swedish, Cayuga, Khaki Campbell, Welsh Harlequin
  • Recovering (Score: 6) – Black Runner, Blue Runner Chocolate Runner, Fawn and White Runner
  • Plenty (Score: 4) – Rouen
  • Abundant (Score: 2) – Jumbo Pekin, Mallard, Muscovy, Pekin
  • *The following breeds are currently labeled “No rank” in conservation status since they’re novel hybrid breeds: Golden 300 Hybrid Layer, Grimaud Hybrid Pekin, White Crested, White Layer.

*Note: The conservation status of breeds can and does change. For instance, since we initially got Welsh Harlequins, their status has changed from Threatened to Watch, a positive trend! To verify the current conservation status of duck breeds, visit Metzer Farms.

The importance of breed temperament

For most backyard duck or pet duck parents, we would strongly urge you NOT to undervalue sociability/calmness. For us, this has proven to be the most important feature in our ducks.

Jackson, one of our Welsh Harlequin ducks, enjoying some lap time with a pregnant human Tyrant.

Jackson enjoying some lap time with a pregnant human Tyrant.

Ducks that are less stressed, tend to be healthier. They might not love it, but they don’t overreact to being handled or picked up by humans (especially important when they’re sick, injured, or headed to a vet appointment). And they tend to be more amenable to conversion to “pet” status, which requires petting, snuggling, and lap time.

(Read: 9 tips and tricks for keeping indoor pet ducks.)

The only duck breed we’ve been enslaved by to date is Welsh Harlequins, a gorgeous midweight breed originally bred by Leslie Bonnet of the British Royal Airforce in the early 1950s. Bonnet lived in Wales, hence the name “Welsh”.

(Read: The fascinating history of Welsh Harlequin ducks.)

We can say with certainty that our hand-raised Welsh Harlequins are generally calm and can make excellent, tame pets (or even house ducks) under the right circumstances, which we’ve detailed in other articles.

It is important to note that there is individual variability within a duck breed. Some of our Welsh Harlequins seem naturally more calm and open to human handling than others. Just because one breed has a higher sociability score than another breed doesn’t mean that an individual duck in a less calm breed won’t actually be more calm than an individual duck in a more calm breed. The numbers listed are breed averages.

How to choose the duck breed(s) that’s right for you

Ready to select the duck breed (or breeds) that’s right for you? Here’s what we’d recommend:

Step 1: List the features that are most important to you in a duck, from most to least important.

Step 2: Weight the most important features higher than the least important features. For instance, if egg production is most important to you, you might weight it 1.5x higher whereas the least important feature (example: foraging ability), would be weighted less, at 0.5x.

Step 3: Calculate the breeds that are best suited to your needs, then do more research on the individual breeds to determine which breed or breeds you want to get.

Example of duck breed evaluation:

Let’s say you’re a homesteader and the two most important duck breed features to you are: 1) egg laying ability, and 2) foraging ability. Less important features to you are: 1) sociability, and 2) conservation status.

Duck breed calculation:

Based on this example scenario, you’d calculate your duck breed analysis as follows:

a. Egg production

The scores below are based on a 1.5x multiplier of the original score since this feature is more important.

  • Score: 15 – Golden 300 Hybrid Layer, White Layer
  • Score: 12.75 – Khaki Campbell
  • Score: 10.5 – Grimaud Hybrid Pekin, Pekin
  • Score: 9.75 – Black Swedish, Black Runner, Blue Runner, Blue Swedish, Buff, Cayugga, Chocolate Runner, Fawn and White Runner, Rouen
  • Score: 9.0 – Jumbo Pekin, Saxony, Silver Appleyard,
  • Score: 7.5 – Muscovy, Welsh Harlequin,
  • Score: 6.75 – White Crested
  • Score: 6.0 – Mallards

b. Foraging ability

The scores below are based on a 1.5x multiplier of the original score since this feature is more important.

  • Score: 15 – Muscovy
  • Score: 11.25 – Runner Ducks (all breeds), Khaki Campbell, Mallards, Silver Appleyard
  • Score: 7.5 – Black Swedish, Blue Swedish, Buff, Cayuga, Golden 300 Hybrid Layer, Rouen, Saxony, Welsh Harlequin, White Layer
  • Score: 3.75 – Jumbo Pekin, Grimaud Hybrid Pekin, Pekin, White Crested

c. Sociability

The scores below are based on a 1.0x multiplier of the original score since this feature is less important.

  • Saxony – 9.0
  • Muscovy – 9.0
  • Silver Appleyard – 8.8
  • Welsh Harlequin – 8.7
  • Black Swedish – 7.7
  • Blue Swedish – 7.0
  • Buff – 7.0
  • Black Runner – 6.5
  • Blue Runner – 6.0
  • Chocolate Runner – 5.7
  • Rouen – 5.5
  • Mallard – 5.0
  • Jumbo Pekin – 4.5
  • Grimaud Hybrid Pekin – 4.5
  • Pekin – 4.5
  • White Layer – 3.3
  • Fawn and White Runner – 2.5
  • Golden 300 Hybrid Layer – 2.3
  • Cayuga – 1.2
  • Khaki Cambpell – 1.0
  • White Crested – 1.0

d. Conservation status

The scores below are based on a 0.5 multiple of the original score since this feature is least important.

  • Score: 5 – Buff, Saxony, Silver Appleyard
  • Score: 4 – Black Swedish, Blue Swedish, Cayuga, Khaki Campbell, Welsh Harlequin
  • Score: 3 – Black Runner, Blue Runner, Chocolate Runner, Fawn and White Runner
  • Score: 2 – Rouen
  • Score: 1 – Jumbo Pekin, Mallard, Muscovy, Pekin
  • *Score: 1 – Golden 300 Hybrid Layer, Grimaud Hybrid Pekin, White Crested, White Layer (*This is a somewhat arbitrary score based on a conservation status of “no rank” since they’re new breeds.)

e. TOP SCORES

  • Silver Appleyard: : a. 9.0 + b. 11.25 + c. 8.8 + d. 5.0 = 34.05
  • Muscovy: a. 7.5 + b. 15 + c. 9.0 + d. 1 = 32.5
  • Black Runner: a. 9.75 + b. 11.25 + c. 6.5 + d. 3 = 30.5
  • Saxony: a. 9.0 + b. 7.5 + c. 9.0 + d. 5.0 = 30.5
  • Blue Runner: a. 9.75 + b. 11.25 + c. 6.0 + d. 3 = 30
  • Chocolate Runner: a. 9.75 + b. 11.25 + c. 5.7 + d. 3 = 29.7
  • Buff: a. 9.75 + b. 7.5 + c. 7.0 + d. 5.0 = 29.25
  • Khaki Campbell: a. 12.75 + b. 11.25 + c. 1.0 + d. 4 = 29
  • Black Swedish: a. 9.75 + b. 7.5 + c. 7.7 + d. 4 = 28.95
  • Blue Swedish: a. 9.75 + b. 7.5 + c. 7.0 + d. 4 = 28.25
  • Welsh Harlequin: a. 7.5 + b. 7.5 + c. 8.7 + d. 4 = 27.2
  • White Layer: a. 15 + b. 7.5 + c. 3.3 + d. 1.0 = 26.8
  • Fawn and White Runner: a. 9.75 + b. 11.25 + c. 2.5 + d. 3 = 26.5
  • Golden 300 Hybrid Layer: a. 15 + b. 7.5 + c. 2.3 + d. 1.0 = 25.8
  • Rouen: a. 9.75 + b. 7.5 + c. 5.5 + d. 2 = 24.75
  • Mallard: a. 6.0 + b. 11.25 + c. 5.0 + d. 1 = 23.25
  • Cayuga: a. 9.75 + b. 7.5 + c. 1.2 + d. 4 = 22.45
  • Grimaud Hybrid Pekin: a. 10.5 + b. 3.75 + c. 4.5 + d. 1.0 = 19.75
  • Pekin: a. 10.5 + b. 3.75 + c. 4.5 + d. 1 = 19.75
  • Jumbo Pekin: a. 9.0 + b. 3.75 + c. 4.5 + d. 1 = 18.25
  • White Crested: a. 6.75 + b. 3.75 + c. 1.0 + d. 1 = 12.5

In this scenario, it would be prudent for the homesteader to take a more in-depth look at the top five duck breeds as calculated above. Silver Appleyards, Muscovies, Black Runners, Saxonies, and/or Blue Runners are likely going to be the optimal duck breed(s) based on the features deemed most important to the homesteader.


Why evaluate duck breeds prior to getting ducks? 

Can you see how doing such an analysis is important to matching your wants and needs to a duck breed, similar to the way you might do a cursory evaluation prior to going car shopping?

And just as with car shopping, you might find that more subjective features like physical beauty are important to you. In fact, one of the primary reasons we got Welsh Harlequins is because they’re extraordinarily beautiful ducks who also happen to be sociable, good egg layers, and good foragers.

So, take the time to do your own breed evaluation before you go “duck shopping”! Unlike a car, you can’t return your ducks to the dealer or trade them in.

Ducks are living, breathing, social critters who will rely on you for their health, wellbeing, and happiness, so please be committed to taking the best care possible of whatever breed or breeds you settle on! 

Wild card: best ducks for worst climates

There is one additional, important factor you may need to consider before selecting a duck breed: your climate. If you live in an extremely cold environment or an extremely hot environment, certain breeds may be better suited for your location.

Unfortunately, there is no detailed data or research demonstrating exactly which breeds are better for various climate extremes.

Our thoughts: 

  • For colder climates (Agricultural Zones 5 or lower), avoid Muscovies (which are adapted to warmer climates) and Runner ducks (which were bred in the tropics/Indonesia). Any other Mallard-derived breed will do well in cold climates provided they have a dry coop that’s sheltered from wind to bed down in at night.
  • For warmer climates (Agricultural Zones 9+), pretty much any duck breed will do fine (Mallards and Mallard-derived breeds are tolerant of a wide range of weather, including heat). However, Muscovies and Runners are more likely to thrive in the hotter weather due to their genetics. In extreme hot climates (and summer weather), it’s especially important to make sure your ducks have access to swimming water and shade to cool off in.

If you live in one of these climate extremes, you may need to eliminate certain breeds from contention, even if they rank high based on other features that are important to you.


We hope this information proves helpful in your quest to find the right duck breed for you! 

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    noble
    June 17, 2021 at 8:31 am

    Hi! Love this site and all of the super helpful info. Wondering why you didn’t include call ducks in this analysis?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      June 17, 2021 at 12:54 pm

      Hi Noble! Great question. Unfortunately, there are other duck breeds left out of this analysis, including Call ducks. That’s because the data comes by way of duck breeders/workers at Metzer Farms, and they don’t raise every breed of duck. We also don’t have personal experience with Call ducks, so we’re not confident adding a breed assessment here. If you have extensive experience with Call ducks and would like to provide some input, we’d love to hear it and consider it for inclusion in the article.

  • Reply
    Mary
    February 7, 2021 at 10:11 am

    Where did you get your ducks? We are looking to get some welsh harlequins and there are a number of different hatcheries. Thank you in advance!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      February 7, 2021 at 11:25 am

      Hi Mary! We got most of our ducks (they’re Welsh Harlequins) from Metzer Farms, since we needed to get sexed runs. Metzer is a very good hatchery that will ship day old ducklings. Best of luck to you with your new flock!

  • Reply
    Honey Caffina
    January 18, 2021 at 10:07 am

    Great information sent! I am getting my first set of ducks this spring, the duck type is not the highest in egg production, but good at calmness. Do you have information how to store extra eggs?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 18, 2021 at 5:32 pm

      Hi Honey! We only have five laying ducks and we eat a lot of eggs, so we seldom have an overabundance of eggs. If our eggs are unwashed (e.g. still have the bloom on) we just store them in duck-sized egg cartons on our kitchen counter for up to ~14-20 day. If they’re washed (no bloom), we store them in egg cartons in our fridge. One thing that helps is to use a pencil to write the date on the bottom of each egg after you’ve collected them so you can make sure to eat your oldest eggs first. Hope this helps and best wishes with your flock!

  • Reply
    Douglas Rowe
    January 17, 2021 at 1:03 am

    Well done. Don’t overlook noise as a factor in calmness. Along with general friendliness, calmness also relates to how much noise you can expect. If you are not on a large plot of land and have neighbors close by, you might want to decide if you like your neighbors before choosing. Mallards particularly can be heard for miles when they want to. My Saxony ducks are very quiet unless they are hanging around those low-brow, bad influence Mallards on the pond.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 17, 2021 at 12:01 pm

      Great point, thanks Douglas! A funny side note: researchers in England found that rural and urban Mallards had different “dialects” of sorts. The urban Mallards had much louder vocalizations, presumably to be heard by their peers over the loud background noise of the city. Mallards living in rural areas had much lower volume vocalizations. The same is probably true of humans. 😛

      Our Welsh Harlequins are generally pretty quiet throughout the day unless: a) they run out of food, b) something scares them (they have a distinct vocalization for snake that can be heard a mile away), or c) we’re late on letting them out to forage the grounds at night. Funny creatures.

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