So ugly its cute? Or just plain ugly? Moscovy ducks (not actually from Moscow) are recognized by their signature bald faces and protruding caruncles (the bumpy looking things). The baldness and caruncle coverage is more pronounced in the males than in the females. Overall, Muscovy Ducks with smooth heads are frowned upon by the Standard of Perfection set forth by the American Poultry Association. Bumpy (well, uniform bumpiness) = Better.
No one is really sure why the Muscovy Duck was given its name, as its origins come from no where near Russia. It is also interestingly known as Barbary Duck... and it isn't from the Barbary Coast either. One thought on the name origin comes from the Muscovy Trading Company, which traded the birds, but even that is just a theory. Wild Muscovys actually come from South and Central America, and had already been domesticated for hundreds of years when first European contact was made. There are remaining wild flocks in their native habitat, but in their domesticated form, Muscovy ducks can be found all over the world. They have a strangely high tolerance to both heat and cold, despite coming from tropical climates. Unfortunately, feral populations can cause problems for the native species. In Florida for example, the ducks produce large quantities of dropping that damage the water supply, aggressively pester humans and other species, pass diseases on to the native, wild ducks, and interbreed with the other duck species, damaging the gene pool. In short, don't set your non-native ducks free in the wild!
From a farming and culinary standpoint Muscovy duck are popular because of their large size, beef-like tasting meat, and the fact that they are one of the few types of duck that don't quack. The males make a sort of hissing sound, while the females coo. Muscovy Ducks are also the only domesticated duck not descended from mallards! While we're on the topic of descendants, they are a really interesting example of how evolution is driving by reproductive habits. In short, females are able to select their mates, but if a male is rejected, they can basically force copulation with a female anyway, which is why the female duck anatomy has evolved to become a barrier against male advances... and why the males have subsequently evolved to get at the females, and back and forth.. I'll just let you read this article....
Thanks Hannah for the suggestion and the excellent pictures!