Ancona ducks are a calm and multi-purpose duck breed that are quite popular with backyard keepers and large homesteaders alike – when they can be found. In fact, it is their love of this breed by keepers that has helped save them from extinction during the past decade.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy designated Ancona ducks as critically endangered in 2015. In 2000, there were only 125 known breeding Ancona ducks in the United States. Thankfully, the population numbers of this duck breed have increased to between 1,000 and 1,500 breeding pairs in more recent years. The increase in numbers has successfully moved the Ancona duck breed off of the critically endangered list and onto the “watch” list designation.
While Ancona ducks are not as common as the Pekin in the United States, the folks who keep them rave on their ability to consistently lay quality eggs. Although most keepers use Ancona ducks merely for their eggs, they do also produce a rich and moist meat, as well.
The average lifespan of an Ancon duck is approximately 10 years.
Ancona Duck History
Tracing the history of the creation of the Ancona duck breed has a few curves. Until fairly recently the breed was largely thought to have been developed in Great Britain and later be introduced into the United States. But, an article found in the 1913 Water Fowl Club of America Yearbook indicates a farmer from Knowlesville, New York – W.J. Wirt of Ridge View Farms, announced the creation of the Ancona duck breed.
Wirt reportedly bred together several types of American standard duck breeds to create the Ancona. Not long after the article about the New York farmer appeared, Ancona ducks were taking blue ribbons at the Willdum Duckery of Rowley show in Boston. Hence, the Ancona has now been declared to be an American breed.
Ancona ducks are a heritage breed. This means they are a traditional breed that has been carefully selected for their specific traits over generations for a vastly extended period of time without distortion to the line.
Heritage breeds like the Ancona are nearly always incredibly hardy in their native environment and survive quite well with little to no human intervention or aid from modern agricultural practices.
Some of the mental and physical traits often associated with heritage breeds include excellent maternal instincts, ease of mating, parasite and disease resistance, as well as quality fertility, longevity, and foraging prowess. The Ancona duck is an excellent example of a top quality heritage breed. Unlike some to even many heritage breeds of livestock, Ancona ducks have a fast growth rate.
Ancona Duck Physical Attributes
- Mature Ancona ducks range in size from six to six and a half pounds.
- Ancona domesticated duck breeds are slightly more stocky that Magpie ducks – which are believed to be a fairly close relative, but less bulky than Pekin ducks.
- Ducks of this breed boast a medium length bill that appears to concave at the top line.
- Ancona ducks have an oval and medium sized head and a neck that arches forward just slightly.
- The plumage on Ancona ducks is truly unique. It is similar to that of a Holstein cow but has no standard such design. A mixture of color and white is accepted by show judges and breed association – providing distinct areas of “broken color” are visible on the underbelly, head, sides, and back of the duck.
- Ancona bills are dark green and yellow in color and often feature a small amount of black spotting.
- The neck on an Ancona is solid white.
- Ancona duck feet and legs are orange with either brown or black markings that become more distinct as the bird ages.
- Color varieties that are common in Ancona ducks include: chocolate and white, lavender and white, black and whtie, white and blue, silver and white, and tricolored.
- Chocolate feathering is a recessive and sex-linked trait carried only by drakes. If a black hen mates with a chocolate drake all of the male offspring will be black and all of the females will be chocolate.
- Varieties include Black and White, Blue and White, Chocolate and White, Silver and White, Lavender and White, and Tricolored. Chocolate is a sex-linked recessive trait. If a chocolate drake mates with a black duck, all female offspring will be chocolate, while all male offspring will be black. A black drake that mates with a chocolate hen will churn out only black ducklings of either sex.
- Like nearly all domesticated duck breeds, Ancona cannot really fly and do not migrate during the winter months.
- Members of this duck breed are prone to fairly rapid growth. The meat they produce is known to be quite flavorful and is often considered to be less fatty than the meat garnered from Pekin ducks.
- Ancona ducks, once mature, are not victims of birds or prey with the exception of eagles, in somecases, due to their heavy weight.
Ancona Duck Personality
These ducks are known to be not only hardy, but among the hardiest of all the breeds kept in the United States. While I am personally partial to the Pekin duck breed and believe them to be the most hardy and best layers, the Ancona comes in a very close second.
Both hens (females) and drakes (males) are highly regarded for their calm demeanor. For folks who are keeping a duck flock in a backyard or on small acreage, this breed might be the best bet. While they are solid free rangers, they tend to stay close to their duck house or coop and run when turned out and have no desire to wander too far from their home base.
Ducks of this breed are not only highly adaptable to varying climates, they are also exceptionally hardy as well. Cold winters and humid summers do not phase Ancona ducks – as long as they have a fresh water source to get into to cool off.
While foraging the little noise some Ancona ducks make resembles that of a squeaking hinge. All in all, these ducks are generally quite quiet and do not panic when exposed to loud noises that can cause chaos when some breeds are free ranging.
Members of this duck breed as dedicated free rangers. They will roam close by their living area in search of insects, tadpoles, small frogs or fish, as well as their favorite snack – banana slugs
Ancona ducks, even from a very young age, will forage for at the very least half of their diet if allowed to free range. Even when insects are cleared out of their “close to home” foraging area Ancona ducks will dine upon grasses and wild greens.
To expand the foraging area of Ancona duck free ranging, you can use a chicken tractor to relocate them to another space where all of the bugs have not been depleted. Planting a small garden near their duck house and run and creating connected tunnels out of chicken wire or hardware cloth around or through the gardening area will offer more bug eating opportunities without any destruction of the growing plot.
Placing aquatic plants in the pond or even baby pool used by the Ancona ducks – especially “duck weed” will also offer a sustainable and natural food source for the flock.
Ancona ducks can be fed water fowl feed, game bird feed, or chicken feed. Ducklings can eat chick starter but it MUST be non-medicated. Game bird feed is excellent to use during the winter months when foraging opportunities for insects have greatly diminished. Game bird feed boasts a higher percentage of protein than other common types of feed designed for poultry birds.
Ancona Egg Production
Ancona duck hens lay roughly 210 to 280 eggs per year. The eggs are large and vary in color from cream, to white, to blue. Ancona hens do not tend to go broody or have much of a desire to consistently sit their own eggs to hatch.
Increasing the number of Ancona ducks in your flock will also assuredly require the use of an incubator. Because ducks nearly always lay eggs between duck and dawn, they are easier to collect than chicken eggs – allowing you to find more viable Ancona eggs to place in an incubator before they get trampled and cracked throughout the day.
On average, Ancona ducks lay eggs consistently for five to eight years. It is during the first three years that a hen of this breed will lay the most eggs. As the Ancona hen ages toward full maturity and beyond, her eggs increase in size.
Ancona duck eggs are grade large and weigh roughly 70 grams.
Ancona ducks do not really have any specific husbandry needs that are also not shared by other breeds – shelter, constant access to clean water, and proper feed. I would recommend a deep litter system inside of the duck house or coop. Ancona ducks can tend to be a little more messy with their droppings and splashed water than some other breeds. The bedding should be changed regularly to avoid mold or mildew from growing in it or bacteria growth from forming.
Because Ancona ducks are a medium sized to heavy duck they will need four square feet of space per bird in their living quarters. It would be wise to make the duck house or coop run as large as possible since they birds prefer to forage in very familiar territory. Growing small plants or greens in containers inside of the run can also be a handy way to create a rotated and steady supply of natural food for the members of the Ancona flock to forage.