The Cayuga Duck
With its striking beetle green color, there are few birds that catch the eye as the Cayuga
Story and photography by Jeannette Beranger
The Cayuga duck is an American duck breed that is as beautiful as it is mysterious in its origins. With its striking beetle green color, there are few birds that catch the eye as the Cayuga.
Legend has it that this breed was developed from a pair of wild ducks that a miller in Duchess County, N.Y., caught on his mill pond in 1809. Although it was an interesting story, it was completely wrong.
It is possible that Cayugas could have originated from a population of wild ducks but no hard proof exists to support this idea.
Another story, from 1885 told by Mr. R. Teebay of Lancashire, England, in The Book of Poultry suggests that the Cayuga resembles and may have originated from an English black duck breed commonly found in England in the 1860s but eventually disappeared by the 1880s.
His story was supported by an unnamed source he references in the book who hunted and trapped extensively the Cayuga region and was familiar with both domestic breeds. The hunter, having extensive knowledge of the local wild ducks, supported the theory that the Cayuga is from the British duck breed instead of wild ducks.
What is certain about their history is that John S. Clark introduced the ducks to Cayuga County in the Finger Lakes region of New York around 1840. Around the Finger Lakes, his ducks soon became popular as a table bird.
The ducks were then named “Cayuga” after the native people of that area. By 1874, the Cayuga duck was accepted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection. The breed was raised in large numbers on duck farms in New York until the 1890s when the Pekin duck came to dominate the duckling market in the big cities.
Today, the Cayuga is listed as “threatened” on The Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List. The conservancy uses this list to bring attention to livestock, such as the Cayuga duck, to connect them with people interested in saving a rare breed.
The meat of the Cayuga is reputed to be of excellent taste and fine quality, but the carcass can be difficult to clean because of their dark feathers.
The Cayuga can lay up to 150 eggs per breeding season and are great for general eating and baking purposes. The whites of the eggs are usually firmer than the whites of chicken eggs and make delicious rich desserts. What is most unusual about their eggs is that early in the breeding season, they are almost black in color and as they continue to lay, the color will lighten to become blue/green.
When choosing birds for your farm, avoid Cayugas of small size. They should be a medium-sized duck with males reaching 8 pounds and females 7 pounds as mature adults.
The signature beetle green color is most striking in young birds and as the birds age, white feathers typically begin to appear on the body after they go through their first breeding season. The breed is very adaptable to almost any climate.
Overall, the Cayuga is an easy keeping docile breed that will be a beautiful addition to any farm.