Question: Can Muscovy Ducks Actually Fly? How Far?

One of the single biggest concerns for all poultry keepers is whether or not their birds can fly the coop. Although chickens are a lot less likely to take flight, many duck breeds can. One duck breed in particular is claimed to be the best flyers of all: Muscovies.

Muscovy duck on nest
Muscovy duck on nest

However, some folks claim that they cannot fly. It’s enough to make anybody uncertain, so what’s the real story? Can Muscovies actually fly, and if so, how far?

Wild Muscovies can fly well, but domestic Muscovies typically cannot. Females and adolescents are more likely to be flight-capable, but mature males rarely are. If they can fly, they can usually sustain flight for about a mile.

There you go! The answer is actually they can and they cannot. Part of the confusion concerning this perplexing question when seen around the internet is that some folks refer to Muscovies generally to mean wild and domestic strains without making the distinction between them. Obviously, the devil is in the details here.

Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything that you need to know about the flight abilities or lack thereof that your beloved birds have…

Do Muscovies Need to Fly?

I guess it depends on how you define need. Wild Muscovies absolutely need to fly even though they spend much of their time on the ground looking for food. They roost and nest up in trees and depend on their flying abilities to migrate, look for mates, and to get away from predators.

Domestic Muscovies, ostensibly, don’t need to fly because they certainly don’t need to migrate and you don’t want them staying up in trees, but they can definitely fly to get away from predators when they are attacked.

Generally, though, most duck keepers don’t want birds that can fly because that makes them difficult to contain and highly likely to escape.

Why Can Some Muscovies Fly and Others Can’t?

Simply, it’s a matter of selective breeding. Contrary to popular opinion, not all Muscovies are the same even though they nominally look identical.

You’ve got wild Muscovies which look and live pretty much as they always have, and like most wild ducks they are lighter and have highly developed flight muscles in their wings and torso. This enables them to fly.

And then you have domestic Muscovies, strains that have been selectively bred over many, many generations, remember that Muscovies are one of the oldest domesticated ducks, for docility, size, and a lack of flying ability. Keepers don’t want ducks that can fly away, remember?

However, the old genes have died hard in domestic Muscovies and they are one of the domestic breeds that are fairly likely to fly in certain circumstances. We’ll talk about those more in a bit…

Domestic Muscovies are Far Less Capable Flyers

If you are keeping domestic Muscovies, and you are sure they are domestics and not captured wild birds, you can breathe a short sigh of relief because they are far, far less able to fly compared to their wild brethren.

You should interpret this to mean that most Muscovies are unable to fly, and the ones that can are less likely to fly for any reason but they might.

Understanding these nuances and then taking appropriate action, when and if required, is critical for keeping these birds safe and sound and where you want them.

Hens and Young Males are the Ones You’ve Got to Watch

If there are any specific birds in your flock that you must keep an eye on, it is hens and all adolescents after they have feathered.

Hens are significantly lighter than drakes, and even though they aren’t as strong and muscular, they have a much better power-to-weight ratio and this, along with a running start, might let them take to wing.

The same rule, such as it is, applies to young Muscovies that have feathered; they can’t fly before they have feathered, but there will be a span of time when they are feathered but not yet fully grown where they will be a significant flight risk.

Chocolate and White Muscovy Drake
Chocolate and White Muscovy Drake

Mature Drakes are Rarely Capable of Flight

When it comes to mature male ducks, you rarely have to worry about them taking flight unless they are very small for their breed.

Despite their greater muscle mass and endurance, as mentioned, they’re simply too heavy to be able to reliably fly. They might be able to get off the ground a little bit after taking a long run-up, but even this is not certain.

Once your males are fully grown, you generally won’t have to worry about them flying away. But as always, there might be some exceptional individual birds that can surprise you, so keep an eye on them!

Will Muscovies Come Back if They Can Fly?

Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Muscovies are like most domestic ducks in that the things they value the most are food, clean water, shelter, and their friends and family, i.e., social connections.

Even if they do fly the coop temporarily, they will hopefully come back in short order and do so well before sundown.

However, it’s not at all unheard of that Muscovies, and other flight-capable domestic ducks, can fly the coop permanently looking for greener pastures! This is far more likely if you aren’t taking very good care of them or giving them enough food, or if males or females are feeling mating pressure.

Note that this mating pressure can be both positive and negative in nature, meaning your birds might want to depart looking for a mate or they might flee to escape overbreeding or too much competition.

Keeping a good ratio of males to females, anywhere from one to five to one to eight, will reduce this likelihood.

Should You Clip Your Muscovies’ Wings?

If you don’t want to go through all the trouble of figuring out whether or not your specific birds are capable of flight, or you want to completely eliminate that eventuality, you should clip their wings.

Done properly, clipping the wings doesn’t harm them and it isn’t even truly painful. It just removes a section of some of their primary flight feathers on one or both wings, grounding them.

And, because Muscovies rarely regrow their feathers, this will ground them on a semi-permanent basis.

What are Some Other Ways to Keep Muscovies Contained?

If clipping your flock’s wings is not an option for you for whatever reason, you might consider trying on wing weights or keeping them in a covered run. Either will make flying the coop impossible with no trimming of feathers required.

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