Crested ducks are a domestic breed with fairly unknown origins, even though their existence dates back more than 2,000 years. These regal looking poultry birds were traditionally kept for meat and eggs but are now largely kept as pets.
History of the Crested Ducks
Members of this breed are often believed to have found their way to Europe where they have been predominantly kept, but Dutch ships that have traveled the East Indies. This breed was possibly developed from a cross between crested runner ducks – or Bali ducks were bred with local ducks from the East Indies to develop what is now known as the crested duck breed.
Through distinctive selective breeding efforts this breed flourished during the 17th century. Dutch painters frequently depicted members of this breed of classic works of art. Two of the most prominent such painters were Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636 -1695) and Marmaduke Craddock who lived from 1660 – 1717.
In 1874 the crested duck was granted entrance into the American Standard of Perfection. It was not until 1910 that this breed was accepted into the British Standard of Perfection books.
Most Common Color
Although crested ducks can be found in a variety of colors, only the black and white versions of this duck breed meet the established standards in either America or England. The most common colors of crested ducks include: white, black, gray mallard coloring, as well as buff and blue.
A bantam (small – miniature) version of crested ducks was created by Roy Sutcliffe and John Hall in England that was recognized by breed associations in 1997.
What Is A Crested Duck?
The cresting on these ducks is also sometimes found in mallards, which nearly all duck breeds originated from, as a mutation. Through selective breeding for the trait, the crested duck breed was ultimately developed and standards set. The crest is a heterozygous for a mutation that is genetic and causes a skull deformity.
The dominant gene mutation causes a gap to grow in the duck embryo’s skull. In this gap a mass of fatty tissue emerges. On the fatty tissue feathers start to grow, creating either large and full or rather skinny crests that are less broad.
Muscovy ducks, also the originator of the bulk of modern domesticated duck breeds, cannot have cresting bred into them – they are the only known breed that cannot be crossed with a crested duck to create this unusual genetic deformity.
Crested Duck Facts
- The crest on the head of members of this duck breed is also often referred to as a “top knot.”
- Crested ducks are a medium sized type of waterfowl. Mature males weigh roughly a little over two to 7 pounds and mature females between two to six pounds, on average.
- Both male and female crested ducks look nearly identical. In some cases males have a just slightly more pronounced crest than females.
- The lifespan of a crested duck is approximately eight to 12 years when kept in sanitary living conditions with keepers who possess at least average husbandry skills.
- The crest is centered on the top of the duck’s head and is large and “puffy” in nature.
- This breed has a slightly arched and long necks.
- The full and deep breast possessed by crested ducks is one of the reasons they were once largely kept as meat ducks despite their medium size.
- Roasted crested duck was once quite popular in the United Kingdom and are still a specialty dish in upscale gourmet around Europe today.
- Crested ducks are good layers and typically produce 120 to 200 eggs per year.
- Although many folks find crested ducks to be quite beautiful, they are not popular on the waterfowl or poultry show circuits. Because the crest can cause members of this breed to develop a stocky out outright fat body and producing crested ducks can be tricky, many breeders do not attempt to develop a show quality bird from this breed.
- Crested ducks are often plagued with a tottering method of walking that causes them to be easily knocked or fall over and sometimes be unable to get back up.
- The large percentage of body fat on crested done may also make them prone to neurological issues, seizures, or even premature death.
- This duck breeds hens usually lay 9 to 13 eggs to complete a clutch before sitting the eggs. The eggs laid by members of this duck breed are either white or blue in hue.
- It typically takes roughly 28 days for a crested duck egg to hatch.
- Eggs laid by crested duck hens weigh between 80 to 90 grams, on average.
- Like nearly all other domesticated duck breeds, crested ducks cannot really fly. At best, members of this duck breed will be able to get a few inches off the ground when flapping their wings as hard and fast as they can go, and propel themselves forward one foot – at most.
- Crested ducks are known as the Le canard Huppe’ in France and Belgium. In Italy, crested docs are most often referred to as the Ciuffate breed.
Crested Duck Behavior
On average, crested ducks are mostly quiet – as far as ducks go. They are affable and calm once they become accustomed to their keepers and surroundings. It is this friendly demeanor that has enamored members of this breed to their keepers and caused them to become popular as pets and pond “ornaments.” Crested ducks are usually less clumsy on water than they are on land.
While crested ducks can be kept in a duck house or coop and run environment and be quite content as long as they have a baby pool of water to swim in, members of this breed are excellent free rangers. When allowed to free range outside of the confines of their habitat for even a few hours a day, crested ducks will avidly search for food both on land and on water.
Breeding Crested Ducks
Continuing the crested breed can be problematic. Caution must be taken to prevent two crested ducks from mating because doing so causes a lethal allele combination in potential offspring. On average 25 percent of crested to crested duck embryos die in the shell before being fully formed. Of the offspring from two crested duck parents that hatch successfully, it is highly common for them to have frequent or severe health issues – a twisted neck being chief among them.
A crossing between two crested ducks also results in some of the ducklings not even being crested at all. Crested ducklings are not guaranteed when mating a crested duck with a non-crested duck, but you can be assured that the lethal allele combination will not result in sick ducklings or dead embryos inside of the shell.
Offspring of Crested Ducks
The offspring of crested ducks are prone to fairly rapid growth, yet another reason they were once kept as a prime meat duck.
Crested duck hens are not very attentive mothers and also rarely go broody. To vastly increase the chances of a successful hatch of crested duck eggs, I highly recommend investing in an incubator with a self-turning arm mechanism.
Once a duckling hatches from the egg you will be easily and immediately able to determine wether or not it is crested. The ducklings are either born with a crest or without, this gene mutation is not something that develops over time.
The properly crossed ducklings will typically result in having only 25 percent of live hatches also possessing the crested gene mutation. The same gene that causes the genetic mutation also has a side effect of preventing about 25 percent of fertilized eggs from ever hatching.
Crested Ducks Husbandry
Crested ducks do not need any special type of husbandry that is not common to all domesticated duck breeds. They need a safe and clean place to live that protects them from both predators and the elements. Crested ducks are hardy in both hot and cold climates.
They live equally well in both constant captivity as well as when they are allowed to free range a little bit each day or live outside on the pond exclusively.
Putting this breed to work for you in the garden may substantially help prevent “bad bugs” from getting at your crops. Some of a crested duck’s favorite foraging treats are slugs, snails, and crickets. Because ducks are larger than chickens – from both a body size and beak – bill size, they are capable of eating more and larger bugs in your garden or yard. Ducks are largely less destructive when foraging, especially in a garden, then chickens – and crested ducks are not an exception to this general rule of thumb.
In spite of their lack of popularity as meat ducks, egg layers, or exhibition ducks in our modern world, crested ducks are still fairly common to find. The number of folks who keep crested ducks as pets keeps breeding working diligently to hatch ducklings and present them for sale. While it would be unusual to find crested ducks for sale at your local Tractor Supply or Rural King store during spring and fall chick and duckling sales, members of this breed are still readily available at commercial hatcheries.