Cayuga Duck Breed Spotlight

Flock Owners Raise this Duck Breed for its Flavorful Meat, Egg Production and Show Quality

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By Holly Fuller – Cayuga ducks are a threatened breed. These beautiful, iridescent, green feathered ducks are great for their flavorful meat, egg production, show quality, and their ability to make great pets. Their medium size (6-8 lbs.) and quiet quack make them an excellent choice for a backyard duck.

Cayugas appear black until the light hits them, then they show their beautiful green color. Their bills, shanks and feet are usually black. As Cayugas age they start to get white feathers, which can eventually take the place of most of their colored feathers, and their shanks and feet may take on an orange hue.

The biggest challenge in Cayuga duck care is thwarting the efforts of their predators, and every backyard has a few. Cats, mink, weasels, raccoons, and owls will all eat ducks if they are given the chance. Cayugas must be brought inside a building or enclosed in a tightly covered pen at night. A raccoon can kill and eat a duck through 1″chicken wire, so the bottom 30″ of fence must be ½” wire to protect them.

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Cayugas also need protection from hot sun; shade must be provided when temperatures reach 70° Fahrenheit. They love to swim, so a wading pool is nice as long as the water is kept clean and the surrounding areas are not allowed to get muddy. Ducks can, however, live well when provided with nothing but fresh drinking water; it must be deep enough to cover their bills so they can use it to clear their nostrils. Water needs to be replaced at least twice a week. Cayugas can forage for their own food when given enough space (1/4 acre for five ducks). Where space is limited a commercial duck feed is needed. Ducks need small gravel or coarse sand to help them digest their food.

Well-kept Cayugas produce between 100 and 150 eggs per year. The first eggs of the season are black and lighten to gray, blue, green and even white as the season goes on. Cayugas are hardy and can produce a large quantity of offspring despite cold temperatures. Unlike most duck breeds, Cayugas will brood their own eggs which hatch in 28 days.

Cayugas have a quiet, docile temperament. When they are hand raised, they make wonderful, tame pets. With quality care, they live 8 to 12 years. Cayugas are a welcome, colorful addition to any backyard flock.

Cayuga Article References

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Cayuga ducks have an almost iridescent greenish hue in the feathers but this coloring fades with age to a nearly gray-white color. Photo courtesy of American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC).

 

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Photo by Samantha Durfee

 

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Cayuga ducklings look nearly black, with black bills, shanks, and feet. Photo by Angela Szidik

 

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Cayuga duck eggs are a deep brown, nearly black color. The gestational period for ducks is 28 days (except Muscovy ducks, which is 35), while chickens hatch in 21 days. Photo by Angela Szidik

The History of the Cayuga Duck

By Jeannette Beranger – The Cayuga duck is an American duck breed that is as beautiful as it is mysterious in its origins. With its striking beetle green color, there are few birds that catch the eye as the Cayuga. According to local lore, this breed was developed from a pair of wild ducks that a miller in Duchess County, New York, caught on his mill pond in 1809. This report as it turns out seems to be historically inaccurate and is actually an accounting of the Gadwall duck as reported in the Birds of America by John J. Audubon in 1843. It is possible that Cayuga ducks could have originated from a population of wild ducks from the region but there is currently no definitive evidence found to substantiate the hypothesis.

Another accounting of the source of the Cayuga duck breed is told by Mr. R. Teebay of Fulwood, Preston, Lancashire, UK in the 1885 publication The Book of Poultry by Lewis Wright. Teebay states that the Cayuga duck resembles (if it was not identical) to an English black duck breed commonly found in Lancashire in the 1860s. He believed that the Cayuga breed may have originated from this stock. He notes that the English black duck had since disappeared in Lancashire as it was replaced in popularity by the Aylesbury duck by the 1880s. His view on the Cayuga’s origin was supported by an unnamed source Teebay references in the book. The source was an acquaintance who hunted and trapped extensively the Cayuga region and was familiar with both domestic breeds. The hunter, having extensive knowledge of the local wild ducks, supported the theory that the Cayuga was derived from the Black duck of Lancashire as opposed to originating from a local wild duck population.

What is certain about the history of the breed is that John S. Clark introduced the ducks he attained in Orange County to Cayuga County in the Finger Lakes region of New York circa 1840. Clark noted at the time that occasionally ducks would develop a “top knot” on their heads. This is further substantiated by Luther Tucker, editor of The Cultivator, in 1851. In the Finger Lakes region Clark’s ducks soon became popular as a table bird and were noted for their ability as layers of numerous eggs. The ducks were named “Cayuga” after the native people of that area. By 1874 the Cayuga duck was accepted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection. The breed was raised in large numbers on duck farms in New York until the 1890s when the Pekin duck came to dominate the duckling market in the big cities.

While ducks do not need a pond, they do need a water source deep enough to submerge their heads to clean their nostrils and eyes. Photo courtesy of ALBC.
While ducks do not need a pond, they do need a water source deep enough to submerge their heads to clean their nostrils and eyes. Photo courtesy of ALBC.

On the Farm

The meat of the Cayuga is reputed to be of excellent taste and fine quality but the carcass can be difficult to clean because of their dark feathering. Some resolve this problem by skinning the ducks rather than plucking. Their eggs, which can number up to 150 per breeding season, can be used for general eating and baking purposes. Here’s an interesting egg fact: The whites of duck eggs are usually firmer than the whites of chicken eggs and make delicious rich desserts.

When choosing stock for your farm, a fault to avoid with this breed is small size. These medium class ducks should have males that reach eight pounds and females seven pounds as mature adults. The beetle green color is most striking in young birds and as the bird’s age, white feathers typically begin to appear on the body after they go through their first breeding season. Overall, the Cayuga is an easy keeping docile breed that will be a beautiful addition to any farm.

A special thanks to Jonathan Thompson of Great Britain for helping ALBC bring to light some of the historical inaccuracies surrounding the origin of the Cayuga duck. For more information on the Cayuga contact American Livestock Breeds Conservancy: albc@albc-usa.org or visit www.albc-usa.org.

Originally published in Backyard Poultry April / May 2010 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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Comments
  • Ducks need water deep enough not only to keep their nostrils clean, but to submerge their entire head. They need to be able to keep their eyes clean. If not, they can get an eye disease that can lead to permanent blindness.

    Reply
    • I can help you with stock when my buddies start laying again, I live in Tasmania
      Cheers

      Reply
  • I have 2 female Cayuga ducks, 1 is the traditional green, blues and black, the other was the same colors but within the last month started to get whiter, her entire chest is now speckled black,white and green- is this typical of a Cayuga? Or does it imply a mix in her genetics?

    Reply
  • Another question- will Cayuga ducks lay eggs without a drake? Mine are nearly 6 months old and thought I would see an egg by now

    Reply
  • I have four Cayuga ducklings that are approximately three weeks old now. They occasionally will faint if stressed. Is this normal? I kept them inside until just two days ago and introduced them to the flock. They fainted and I had to hold them and pet them until they were coherent again. They seem fine afterwards but it has happened more than once.

    Reply
  • I have two boys, Chandra & Sunny for 9 months now, bith Biys, Both are aggressive but tame.
    I think they need duck girl friends. Iam pondering obtining littly chicks this easter for them to raise ?

    Reply
  • Sure would like to find a couple of cuyuga ducks close to Colorado so I could start raising them

    Reply
  • I have a large pond. Would I still need to provide them safety from predators? I mean, can they go out in the pond to protect themselves from predators?
    Thanks

    Reply
  • My ducks have never laid a black egg. They started laying April 2017. The ones I had before this batch never laid a black egg. They have always been off white/light gray. Never heard of them laying black eggs.

    Reply
  • I want to buy a cayuga duck but do not know if one male how many females it needs I have chickens and do not want the male harming them. I need help on this

    Reply
  • Hello
    I am living in Vietnam. I like Cayugas duck. It looks very unique and lovely, I would love to have it on my farm. Can you tell me how to get it. Very appreciate the help from you.

    Reply

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