American Pekin duck
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The American Pekin duck, Pekin duck, or Long Island duck (Anas platyrhynchos domestica, or Anas peking), is a breed of domestic duck used primarily for egg and meat production. It was bred from the mallard in China. The ancestors of those ducks originated from the canals which linked waterways in Nanjing and originally had small bodies and black feathers. With the relocation of the Chinese capital to Beijing, supply barge traffic increased in the area which would often spill grain on which the ducks fed. Over time, the ducks slowly increased in size and grew white feathers. By the Five Dynasties, the new breed of duck had been domesticated by Chinese farmers.
The Pekin duck is the most popular commercial duck breed in the United States, after a small number were imported to Long Island from China in 1873 by James Palmer of Stonington, Connecticut.
The eggs must be regularly turned during incubation. This occurs in nature when the female duck shifts her position while sitting on the eggs. For artificial incubation, machines are available which will constantly turn the eggs.
When being artificially incubated, the eggs are moved to a "hatcher" three days before they are due to hatch. This has a slightly lower temperature and higher humidity which increases the survivability of the hatchlings while their protective down develops.
Compared with other birds, duck eggs are relatively easy to hatch, as they are very forgiving of variations in temperature and humidity.
Hatchlings and young ducklings
Pekin hatchlings have bright yellow plumage with an orange bill, shanks, and feet.
Hatchlings should not be given free access to swimming water unless they have been hatched naturally by other ducks. The feathers of a young duckling are not sufficiently developed to properly protect them for extended periods in the water and they do not produce enough preen oil to waterproof this plumage. In the wild, a mother duck will monitor the time her ducklings spend in the water as well as supplying additional preen oil to supplement what is produced by the hatchlings.
It can be difficult to determine the sex of young ducklings due to the lack of external genitalia or other differences. Venting is one common method; this entails gently squeezing the duckling to cause feces to be expelled, which forces the cloaca to open slightly, permitting the sexer to view the sexual organs; however, these are almost undifferentiated in hatchlings.
As a male duck matures it acquires a curled tail feather called a drake feather. Much like their wild ancestor, the mallard, males develop a deep rasping call, while females quack. Female pekins are also known to make a low 'cluck' like noise when content. Venting is also easier when the ducks' genitals are fully mature but is not necessary because of the readily-apparent external differences between males and females.
A female may be missing feathers on the back of her neck; this is due to the male grabbing and holding the back of the female's neck during mating.
Fully mature adult Pekin ducks weigh between 8 and 11 pounds (3.6 and 5 kilograms) in captivity. Their average lifespan is about 9 to 12 years. Their external feathers are white, sometimes with a yellowish tinge. This is more obvious with ducks that have been reared indoors and not exposed to sunlight. The ducks have a more upright stance than dabbling ducks, and possess an upturned rump. The eyes of this duck appear to be black when seen far away, but up-close one sees a grayish-blue colored iris. They have orange bills and orange legs.
An adult Pekin will lay an average of 200 eggs per year if it does not try to hatch them or is prevented from hatching them. They will normally only lay one egg on any given day. They will lay their eggs in what they consider to be a safe place and will often lay where another duck has already laid (egg dumping). Ducks can be tricked into laying eggs where desired by placing a golf ball or similar object in a place where they might normally lay.
Pekin ducks are less "broody" than other ducks which means they will incubate eggs less frequently and they are more likely to abandon their nest before their eggs hatch. Hens can be used to sit on the duck eggs, or they can be incubated artificially.
Pekin ducks, for the most part, are too heavy to get airborne. While some individual ducks may be lighter and capable of short bursts of vertical flight, clipping their flight feathers (pinioning) is generally unnecessary. They are gregarious and will usually group together with other ducks.
As with most waterfowl, the Pekin duck has feet perfectly adapted for paddling through water but is also capable of walking while foraging and exploring as well. If keeping ducks, be sure to remove items from their environment which may cause tripping or stumbling, and house them on natural surfaces, such as grass, hardpack, straw, or sand which is gentler on the bones and ligaments, will not abrade the sensitive surface of the webbed feet, and is easy to keep clean. Ducks are happiest when they have free access to clean, safe water in which to swim and mate.
As precocial birds, Pekin ducks make ideal companion animals for a variety of reasons. As a duck imprints on a human, the bond of trust that develops rivals that of humans and dogs, for example, and can provide enduring companionship if they are not surrounded by other ducks. Pekin ducks are very intelligent, and are capable of lifelong strong and loyal bonds with humans, and often then prefer human company over the company of other ducks.
Ducks can be both outdoor and indoor companion animals, and there are many products available to help keep them comfortable and one's home clean. They are successful indoor pets because they are adaptable to house life; it is important to provide them with toys and social stimulation. When taken on supervised trips outdoors, if properly imprinted, the duck will stay with the human "flock" member(s) and not wander away. If a predator or danger approaches, the duck will seek safety from, and remain with, their human flock rather than flee and become lost or separated. Like geese, they are excellent guard animals, and will provide warning of approaching strangers or other dangers.
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