Magpie duck – breed profile

reading time: 5 minutes

ReproductionMagpie Duck: A light, dual-purpose, heritage breed, a challenge for exhibitors, but adapts well to the range.

Origin: first developed in England and Wales around the 1920s for eggs and meat; We do not know which strains are included in their foundation. However, its shape, hardness, and markings suggest a mixture of an Indian runner and an ancient Belgian breed, the Huttegem.

In the 1970s, a similar breed, Old Rhine duck (Old Rhine Duck) was developed in Germany. It is considered to be of the same lineage as the magpie in Europe, although it likely has a different basis.

Belgian duck cultivation and type of origin

Edward Brown, the English Poultry Authority, wrote about the Huttegem duck in 1906, after touring Belgium. It was considered to have developed during the 19th century from the crossing of an old domestic heavy meat breed, the Dendermondse (or Termonde), and Runner-type ducks.

huttegem- ducks
Huttegem Ducks by Edward Brown Domestic poultry breeds1906.

Raising ducks was a popular family industry along the Scheldt and around Oudenaarde in East Flanders, first for eggs, and later also for meat. The meadows along the river were swampy until 1920 when the land dried up. Farmers can raise ducks in rich water meadows at little cost, as the ducklings can get all their nourishment from the land. The ducklings were hatched in the fall and put out on pastures at the age of a few days, and had to survive snow and ice with minimal straw shelters and as the wind blew. These hardy ducklings made excellent forage and families would take time digging up the ground to raise the worms for their voracious appetites. When a new lock and steer dried up the surrounding land, the breed was abandoned, except for a few enthusiasts who keep herds for show. Now, Huttegem and Dendermondse are extremely rare.

How did the magpie pattern evolve?

While the Belgian farmers did not bother with color, and focused on productivity and hardiness, the standards initially accepted blue and white markings, which were prevalent, and later black and white. Waterfowl expert Dave Holderreid recognizes Brown’s description of the Huttegem’s head, beak, body, and bearing as true of the Magpie. He considers that the genes for the white bib and runner pattern have produced some offspring with magpie markings.

Indian Duck Runner_1900s
Indian duck runner in the early twentieth century. Drawing by L. Barillot, from My aunt’s chicken By Mr. Rollier-Arnault, National Poultry Association of France.

These traits indicate the use of Huttegem stock to develop magpies, whose breeders sought to have white plumage on the breast to avoid dark bumps when plucked. In the 1920s duck eggs were very popular in Britain, so duck eggs were kept for both meat and eggs. The breed was then standardized to offer distinct, consistent markings in 1926.

In 1963, magpies were imported to America and eaten by a few breeders in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. The standard was accepted by the APA in 1977. Difficulty in obtaining the desired markings may discourage fanciers and limit the breed’s popularity. However, birds have become more available since 1984, and homeowners have found them hardy, adaptable, productive, and a pleasure to keep.

blue duck
Blue magpie duck © The Livestock Conservancy.

A rare heritage breed with hardy genes

conservation statusThey are listed as threatened by the Livestock Conservation Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization has recorded very low numbers.

Biodiversity: their hardiness indicates a long-acquired adaptation to harsh conditions, likely acquired from Northwest European breeds, while several traits, including pattern, shape, and posture point to Indian Runner genes. Along with the Ancona duck, magpies may preserve rare genes from the ancient Belgian breeds.

The colorful pattern varies widely, making it difficult to reproduce according to the standard for width. Even if both parents have the desired mark, the offspring show variability, with males being paler and females being darker with each generation. Therefore, good breeding stock with markings unsuitable for showing can be used to produce show birds. Magpie ducklings hatch with marks approximating how their plumage pattern developed, making it easier for exhibitors to pick out show birds early on.

blue duck
Blue magpie duck © The Livestock Conservancy.

Characteristics of a magpie duck

a descriptionA duck of medium size, light weight, long body and neck. The body is rather broad and deep, bearing 15–30° above horizontal when relaxed.

The plumage is covered with the white of the face, neck, breast, undercarriage, and primary and secondary flight feathers. The crown of the head and the back from shoulder to tail are solid coloured. When the wings are closed, the posterior markings perfectly resemble the shape of a heart. As the birds age, parts of the colored areas gradually turn white, particularly in females. Older females often lose their colorful crown and may become completely white.

The eyes are dark. The bill is long, buff or yellow, with some green blotching or shading that becomes more widespread and darker with age. The legs and feet are buff, often mottled with black, and also darken with age.

varieties: Black and Blue are the original and most common varieties. There is Don in Britain, and chocolate is rare.

Black magpie duck
Black Magpie Duck © The Livestock Conservancy.

skin colour: white

Large magpie duck eggs and other useful attributes …

common useAside from being kept for show, magpie ducks make excellent dual-purpose house birds or pets, clearing the garden of weeds and pests. They can rid a garden of slugs and snails, or a pasture of liver fluke-bearing snails. Being mild, they cause little damage to soil or plants.

egg colour: white, cream, or blue-green.

egg size: Large / 2.3 oz. (65 grams).

productivity: 180-290 eggs per year and long life span.

WeightAdult male: 5–7 lb (2.3–3.2 kg), female 4.5–6 lb (2–2.7 kg), depending on breed. Market Weight: 4 – 4.5 lbs (1.8 – 2 kg).

print: Friendly if handled, young and very active. Ducks have a high libido, and need at least five mates to avoid exhausting the females.

swimming duck
Magpie Duck: Photo from a morning walk around the pond at Zephyr Park, Zephyrhills, Florida. Photo © Marc Barrison / flickr CC BY-SA 2.0.

AdaptabilityMagpie ducks adapt well to most humid climates, from cold to hot and humid. As active and vigorous foragers, they can sustain themselves on pastures with little supplementation, eating grass, seeds, insects, slugs, snails, and aquatic life. They thrive on being given room to run, and they appreciate swimming. They need at least access to water to take a shower. They can launch themselves over a three-foot barrier if they feel anxious. Females usually do not brood, but those that do raise their young do well.

In general, they make ideal chickens for children, beginners, and home keepers, but they do require specialized breeding for showing.

quotes: “I’ve raised other domestic duck breeds, and none of them enjoy grazing or are as active foraging as magpies… These ducks have great personality and are really friendly and captivating to watch and enjoy in the yard!” Matthew Smith / APA.


Originally published in the April/May 2023 issue of Backyard poultry They are checked regularly for accuracy.

Magpie ducklings feed on bedbugs.

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