Welsh Harlequin Duck: Everything You Need To Know

Welsh Harlequin Duck- Everything You Need To Know

Welsh Harlequin ducks are known for both their quality egg production and their avid desire to procreate. So much so in fact, that you only need one drake (male duck) to service an entire flock of hens. – female ducks. 

This popular duck breed is a relatively young one. Welsh Harlequin ducks were created after a unique genetic “mishap” with some Khaki Campbell ducklings. Like the majority of domesticated duck breeds, Welsh Harlequins do not truly fly. They can only get roughly 12 inches off the ground (at most) and move forward a couple of feet for sustained flight.

Although Welsh Harlequin ducks are primarily raised for their egg production capabilities, they also produce a lean meat that is not greasy and has a robust flavor.

welsh harlequin ducks in run

Welsh Harlequin Duck History

This duck breed was created in Wales in 1949. Criccieth resident Leslie Bonnet discovered a mutation of color in a clutch of recently hatched Khaki Campbell ducklings. Bonnet began breeding exclusively to establish the mutation to create an entire flock of ducks – and ultimately a brand new breed. 

Leslie Bonnet was an officer in the British Royal Air Force, a writer, scholar, banker, and magazine editor – and a fan of duck breeding. Bonnet and his wife purchased a fixer upper manor situated on 25 acres and turned the space into a globally renowned duck breeding operation. 

In 1960, Bonnet published Practical Duck-Keeping – which went on to be deemed the “go to” duck husbandry guide for decades to come. In the book the accomplished farmer – scholar maintained that the Welsh Harlequin was created to start a line of ducks that were even better egg producers than the Khaki Campbell and would boast a “docile and placid nature.” Bonnet staunchly maintained that the demeanor of the ducks would help eliminate egg laying interruptions so hens could produce on average, more than 300 eggs annually. 

 Just a few decades later in 1908, the direct descendants created from the original imported fertilized eggs were confined in only two small flocks.

Two Khaki Campbell ducklings in an unusually light shade were bred and hatched from pure stock. After Bonnet had successfully recreated more ducklings with the same genetic mutation, John Fugate imported the Welsh Harlequin eggs to the United States in 1968. 

In an effort to increase the Welsh Harlequin gene pool, more pure breeders were imported both in 1982. Fugate enlisted the help of Millie and Dave Holderread to diversify the Welsh Harlequin gene pool. Dave Holderread is the author of one of the top selling duck husbandry books ever published, Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks.

Two years later Welsh Harlequin ducks finally had established population numbers and began being sold across the country. In 2001. The silver plumage variety of this breed were set as a standard and accepted by the American Poultry Association.

farmer feeding welsh harlequin ducks

Welsh Harlequin Physical Characteristics

  • The male of this duck breed are known for their voracious libido. While drakes do not typically fight with each other (or attack humans) like roosters, putting too many drakes in a single flock can be a recipe for disaster. The hens in the flock will be overly worked by having more than a single drake, potentially causing severe damage to their reproductive problems or even death.
  • Welsh Harlequin ducks are a light class bird. They typically weigh between five to five and half pounds once mature, on average.
  • Members of this duck breed have a full abdomen and a medium sized back.
  • Welsh Harlequin ducks have a streamlined physique with a fairly long body and a rounded chest.
  • The legs on a member of this breed are spided wide.
  • Their oval heads are topped off with colorful plumage trim. 
  • The plumage patterns on Welsh Harlequin ducks consists of a reddish to chestnut frost with white on the shoulders.
  • The plumage pattern on a Welsh Harlequin is rather intricate. A drake has a head that is a greenish to black tone – similar to that of a Khaki Campbell.
  • The shoulder area consists of a frosted chestnut or reddish shade of feathers with a creamy, white, and reddish chestnut breast area.
  • The upper back on members of this duck bread has a patterning that is similar to tortoiseshell with brown, cream, and white. 
  • The forewings are a mixture of reddish brown with white to cream feathers.with portions of a shiny shade of green and a cross band in a bronze hue.
  • The legs and webbed feet of a harlequin duck are orange with brown to black toenails. The legs of members of this duck breed change to a brown shade as they mature.
  • Welsh Harlequin tails are bronze to black in color and edged in white – with some brown stippling.
  • Some burnt orange to rust shaded feathers also appear in portions of the breast, head, and neck of members of this duck breed.
  • Welsh Harlequin tail feathers are a combination of brown and a creamy white. 
  • Hens go through a series of “gold phase” or “silver phase” plumage changes until they are two years old.

welsh harlequin foraging

Welsh Harlequin Personality and Behavior Characteristics

  • Ducks of this beed adapt well to new surroundings and nearly any type of environmental conditions. 
  • Welsh Harlequins are a hardy variety of duck and do not seem susceptible to heat, cold, or vastly changing weather conditions. As long as these ducks have suitable housing, a protected run, constant access to clean water, and a healthy diet, they tend to thrive wherever they are kept. 
  • The docile and calm nature of Welsh Harlequin ducks is one of the many reasons they are so popular as backyard pets first and egg layers second. 
  • Ducks of this breed tend to embrace human interaction and do not flee in a panic what a human (either known or unknown to them) approaches.
  • They are an inquisitive duck breed and are fairly easy to train for a turn out to free range and evening put up routine. A little healthy snack is all that you are going to need to teach a Welsh Harlequin flock to come to you for not only put up, but when they are sick, injured, or running in a panic from a predator.
  • Foraging is also part of a Welsh Harlequin’s favorite daily activity. These birds are eager to search for wild greens, tadpoles, small frogs, slugs, snails, grasshoppers, crickets, and small lizards.
  • Welsh Harlequin ducks are fairly quiet, as far as ducks go. The hens typically make more noise than drakes – especially when their daily feed ration is late or they are laying an egg.

welsh harlequin duck in kiddy pool

Welsh Harlequin Egg Production

Hens of this breed are prone to laying between 250 to 300 large white eggs per year. To garner this many eggs from Welsh Harlequins during the cold weather months a coop light (solar powered) needs to be placed inside their coop to offer them the 10 or more hours a day of sunlight they need to foster egg production. 

How To Choose The Best Welsh Harlequin Ducks

If you do not purchase these ducks as hatchlings, carefully looking over the physical attributes and habits of juvenile to mature birds will help get a robust flock started. 

  1. Review the strength of the legs of the birds. Make sure they are uniformly developed, do not have any visible physical deformities (bow legged or hips placed too far apart) and are strong as well as functioning properly.
  2. Inspect the plumage of the birds to ensure their colors and patterns match the standard traits of a Welsh Harlequin from top to bottom.
  3. Lift the ducks to make sure they are neither more than a half a pound below or above the standard body weight.
  4. The birds should not boast a body that is too short or stout – blocky in style.
  5. The head feathers of a Welsh Harlequin should not have a coarse feel to them. 
  6. The bill color should match the breed standards.
  7. Attempt to find accurate information about the laying habits of mature hens. If you plan on selling some of your Welsh Harlequin hens after establishing a large flock, keep laying records to share with potential buyers.

welsh harlequin ducklings in box

How To Sex Welsh Harlequin Ducks

Sexing ducklings is a risky proposition. Vent checks should only be undertaken by either a veterinarian or a highly trained breeder. The damage to the sex organs of the duck can not only render them unable to mate if the vent check process is completed incorrectly, it could also cause terminal internal damage.

Thankfully, Welsh Harlequin ducklings are among the easiest of all breeds to sex visually. You have roughly a 75 percent chance of sexing a duckling visually when it is only a few days old based solely upon the color of their bill. 

A future drake almost always has a grey or dark green bill. Ducklets – or young females, yellow or tan with a dark tip. 

If you want a pet that lays eggs, Welsh Harlequins are probably a perfect fit for your homestead or backyard. They love to free range and swim in a pond without wandering too far from their coop and run. However, they can live healthy and contentedly if afforded a spacious duck house or coop run and a baby pool to swim in. Ducks of all breeds prefer to be outdoors in the winter far more than chickens, so ample protected outside space for them to waddle about in the snow is highly recommended.

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