I have been raising magpie ducks for easily over 10 years and have exhibited them across western Canada. I am definitely always learning more about this breed and fine tuning my practices, but I have gained some knowledge over the years that I think other breeders or people interested in Magpie ducks may benefit from. These tips come from my own personal experiences, but there might be other methods or solutions that achieve the same results.
Selecting Breeding Birds
Developing a breeding program for Magpie ducks can be quite difficult as there are many variations in colouring that can occur, no matter the quality of your breeding pen. The basic principles of focusing on type before colour (building the barn before painting it) and choosing birds that compliment each other and don’t have the same faults, are true to breeding Magpie ducks also. The nuance of the breed comes from understanding the genetics or background of your ducks, and how they pass on traits to their offspring. It takes time, seasons of breeding and some trial and error to learn which breeding combinations work and which do not. Just putting two well-marked Magpie ducks together for breeding does not mean you will get well-marked offspring!
I prefer to breed my ducks in groups of 5-6 birds as this helps reduce the stress on the females since male magpie ducks are very vigorous breeders. One of my goals over the years of breeding Magpie ducks has been to raise the whole quality of my breeding flock in order to reduce the number of poorly marked ducklings hatched. I have been aiming for consistency and high quality in my flock, rather than having some high quality and some with less desirable traits. As well, I have kept note of which birds produce well-marked offspring as although some ducks may themselves appear well-marked, they might have the tendency to produce poorly marked offspring more frequently. It has taken time, but I have noticed a reduction in poorly marked ducklings in more recent years. This approach has been beneficial for me as I can now put breeding groups together and know that the quality of my birds is at a level which will produce quality offspring.
Challenges with the Breed
The biggest challenge with Magpie ducks is getting crisp and well-defined markings on the birds, whether it be their back, cap, or rear/tail. But, that is one of the qualities that makes working with them so fun!
One challenge I have struggled with in my breeding flock of Magpie ducks is the back colouring. I made the choice one year to keep a male that had great type, a great cap but the markings on his back were uneven with one side having black only half way down the back and the other side having black the whole way down. It is the difference of just one or two feathers but with a black and white bird this issue is very obvious! What I didn’t know when choosing to keep that male, was how hard that trait was to breed out. This became a multi-year challenge to raise quality drakes that had even colour on their back again.
Another challenge I have faced, which may be specific to Canada, is finding exhibition quality breeders of Magpie ducks to get new birds from. The foundation of my flock came from Holderread Waterfowl Farm, but it has been a challenge to find other breeders in Canada that are breeding Magpie ducks to the APA Standard of Perfection.
By Matthew Smith