Disclaimer: This website contains affiliate links, from which Heritage Acres Market LLC may receive a small commission from the vendor on the sales of certain items, all at no cost to you. Please read our full disclosure for more information. Thank you for supporting Heritage Acres Market LLC!
The Cayuga Duck breed is a beautiful variety of domesticated duck dating back to the 1800s. Their black feathers have a fantastic beetle green iridescent sheen that is something to behold on a sunny day. In this article, we will be finding out more about this lovely American heritage breed.
Is the Cayuga Duck right for your flock?
- Cayugas are calm, docile, and easy for beginners and children
- Their beautiful shiny black feathers with a beetle green sheen reflects shades of deep blue or purple iridescence in sunlight
- Quiet ducks that do well in urban backyards
- Great dual purpose breed, laying eggs 100-150 large eggs annually and providing flavorful duck meat
Table of Contents
Background and History of the Cayuga Black Duck
The breed history of the Cayuga Black Duck is not at all clear. There are several theories as to how the duck came about, but none can be proven.
One theory is that they descended from a wild black duck, American Black Ducks (Anas rubripes; syn. A. Obscura). Another is that they result from hybrids between the American Black Duck species and a local wild Mallard duck or some similar domesticated variety.
It is also thought that they was an early domestication of the Dusky Duck (Anas Obscura, of Audubon) and hybridization with a domestic duck breed.
In a publication of “The Book of Poultry” by Lewis Wright in 1885, a Mr. R. Teebay of Fulwood in Preston, Lancashire, UK, stated that the Cayuga Black Duck was identical to an English black duck that had been common to Lancashire up until a few decades before.
Wright believed that the Cayuga breed originated from these birds. His belief was backed up by an unnamed acquaintance who was a hunter and trapper in the Cayuga region. He had extensive knowledge of the domestic and wild duck breeds in the area and, like Mr. Teebay, believed that the Cayuga was not derived from the local wild ducks at all, but the black ducks of Lancashire.
In an article written in “The Poultry Book USA” of 1904, it was stated that:
“An East Indian drake with our common white ducks will often produce blacks; and Mr. Henry Digby informed me that he got the larger-sized Cayuga ducks from a drake of the breed mated with the modern Aylesbury duck.”The Poultry Book USA
The final idea, which has only recently come to light, is that the ducks descended from some imported from China. The Putian Black Duck produces sooty-colored eggs, has greenish-black plumage and a black bill and feet, just like the Cayuga Black Duck.
Putian is an area of China located approximately 400 miles east of Hong Kong on the South China Sea. Therefore, the possibility exists that the Puitan Black Duck found its way to North America from Hong Kong or Canton when trade routes were opened up in the 1800s.
Chinese Geese were imported into the US around 1835, so it is reasonable to expect other waterfowl were also traded at this time.
The first article referencing the Cayuga Duck appears in “The Cultivator” in 1851. The article states that Mr. John S. Clarke was breeding ducks at his farm in Throopsville, Cayuga County. Mr. Clarke was quoted as saying that the birds were a “good size” and that one duck was laying “from 150 to 200 eggs in a season.”
Due to the lack of records from the time, the exact heritage of this breed will likely never be fully known.
Today the Cayuga Black Duck is classified as an American heritage duck breed. It is still kept by enthusiasts and is currently on the Livestock Conservancy Organisation’s watch list.
Temperament and Behavior
Cayuga ducks are known to be calm, docile, and easy for novice keepers. When handled regularly as ducklings and while growing up, they can become quite tame, which means they make good child-friendly birds.
If you’re looking for an attractive, easy to keep duck capable of feeding itself when free-range, then the Cayuga could be a good choice. They are very active foragers and enjoy eating insects, slugs, and snails.
They rarely fly, being heavy, and don’t stray far from home. Due to their calm and obliging demeanor, Cayugas are often used in dog herding trials, where dogs have to direct a flock around a course.
The Cayuga duck will go broody easily, and they make excellent mothers. They tend to hide their eggs, making a nest hard to find if the birds are free-range.
Unlike other duck breeds, Cayugas are known for being exceptionally quiet and passive with their flock mates.
Breed Specifics and Traits
Cayuga ducks are excellent dual-purpose meat and egg production bird. They are also very ornamental, making an attractive addition to a pond or as a show animal.
Cayuga Black Ducks have beautiful shiny black feathers with a beetle green sheen that reflects shades of deep blue or purple iridescence in sunlight. As the female Cayuga ages, it isn’t uncommon for her to acquire a few white feathers, and they can sometimes turn almost completely white by the time she reaches six years old.
Cayugas have a black beak, legs, and feet with dark brown eyes. The legs sometimes take on a slightly orange tinge in older drakes.
In shape and size, the Cayuga is very similar to an Aylesbury duck. They should have a finely formed, long head. The bill slightly flattened along the top line. Their neck is slightly arched and of medium length. The wings folded smoothly and closely against their sides. The back is broad and long and tail slightly elevated with stiff, hard feathers and well-curled sex feathers on the drake. The breast should be prominent, broad, and full and the body deep, broad, and long. Thighs are large and short with medium-length shanks. The feet should have straight toes with connective webbing between them.
As adults, a Cayuga drake should weigh between 6.5 and 8 pounds, while hens are 6 to 7.5 pounds. Not all Cayugas reach these weights, however, and it is advised that those too small are not bred from.
Cayuga ducks are often raised for their flavorful meat. Due to the pin feathers being black and their skin white, it can be difficult to remove them all when plucking. It is, therefore, a fairly common practice for them to be skinned rather than plucked for eating.
When raised as pets or for eggs, Cayuga ducks are relatively long-lived and, under the right conditions, can reach between 8 and 12 years of age.
Cayuga ducklings are born with black down and need to get wet as soon as possible to allow their sebaceous gland to start working. If they are reared naturally, the Cayuga hen will oil them with her own feathers.
For hand-reared ducklings, provide a very shallow dish of water they can get into and out of easily. Make sure there is enough space to warm themselves up under a chick warmer or heat lamp. The water will require changing several times each day, as it gets very mucky.
Ducklings grow much faster than chickens and are quick to feather. Be prepared to clean the brooder several times a day. Fortunately, because they grow at such a rapid rate, they can be moved outside sooner than their chicken counterparts.
The Cayuga duck was first recognized by the American Poultry Society in 1867 and later in the British Poultry Club Standards in 1874.
Duck Health and Disease
Although Cayuga ducks have no genetic predisposition to any specific disease or ailments, it is still necessary to care for your ducks properly for them to remain in good health.
If possible, keep your ducks isolated from other fowl and animals that could carry disease and cause it to spread through your flock. If introducing new ducks, keep them quarantined for at least two weeks to ensure they are healthy.
If anyone entering your premises has been in contact with sick animals, keep them away from your ducks. If the disease is very contagious, get them to disinfect their shoes and change their clothing. Prevention is always better than cure, if there is one.
You can immunize your ducks against various avian diseases to help protect them. Ask your veterinarian about this, as they will be able to advise you best.
Keep environmental stresses down to a minimum. This means providing clean water, hygienic housing that is cleaned regularly, waterproof, and well ventilated. In hot weather, ensure there is somewhere shady and cool for your ducks to go. Only feed your ducks with high-quality duck food that is formulated for their age. Be careful any additional “treats” you provide are not detrimental to their health.
Common Duck Diseases
There are a variety of common duck diseases that affect birds at different ages. They include:
- Avian Cholera (Pasteurella Multocida)
- Colibacillosis (Escherichia Coli)
- Duck Virus Enteritis (Duck Plague)
- Duck Virus Hepatitis
- Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection (Pasteurella Anatipestifer Infection)
Other problems can include exposure to toxins, fungi, poisons, and harmful foods.
Due to their trusting nature, Cayugas are not predator resistant and can be picked off easily by dogs, foxes, coyotes, etc. If free-ranging, it is safest to provide them with a large pond where they will enjoy spending much of their day. If possible, the pond should be fenced to prevent predators from gaining access. If this is not possible, then they will need to be secured in a coop at night for safety.
Cold weather isn’t a problem for Cayugas, providing they are given adequate shelter and a dry, well-ventilated duck house with clean bedding. Ducks are quite dirty, and their accommodation requires a thorough clear-out frequently. To keep down bacteria and mold levels, it’s a good idea to use a disinfectant that kills all these things about once a month, ensuring you rinse it out thoroughly after use.
Cayuga Duck Eggs
The large Cayuga egg changes in color over the egg-laying season. Like brown chicken eggs, the ducks have a gland that produces the pigment which coats the eggs before they are laid. As the season progresses, the gland has difficulty keeping up with the number of eggs being produced, so the color gradually diminishes.
Early in the season, Cayuga eggs typically start out black, very dark green, or very dark gray. As time progresses, they can go through many shades, including blue-gray, gray, mottled green, and green but eventually end up white.
Incubation of the egg takes 28 days, and these ducks usually start laying between 5 and 6 months of age.
Despite the report of John S. Clarke in 1851 stating that his duck was producing 150 to 200 eggs a season, it is much more realistic for these ducks to lay closer to 100 and 150 eggs.
Where To Buy Ducklings & Hatching Eggs
You will likely be able to find Cayuga fertile eggs, ducklings, or young adult birds available near you at PoultryFinder.com.
Cackle Hatchery offers Cayuga duckling and hatching eggs at a very affordable price, which can be shipped to your door. Cackle Hatchery is our preferred and recommended hatchery. While most hatcheries require orders of at least 25 birds, you can buy as few as ten ducklings from Cackle. They are also highly rated on Google and have been in business since 1936.
These beautiful ducks are a real treat to see on a sunny day, when you’ll get to admire the full shimmering effect of their impressive black-green plumage. They are friendly, calm, and quiet, making them suitable for a variety of different situations.
As with almost all duck breeds, they require constant access to water to swim and clean themselves. Even an old bathtub will do, providing you create a way for them to get in and out easily and safely.
Not only can they provide you with eggs and meat, but they are popular in the show ring too.