All About Black Cayuga Ducks
‘Darkwing Duck’ at Moose Manor
The Black Cayuga is a domestic duck raised in many home flocks for egg & meat production as well as pets. The Cayuga name is taken from Cayuga Lake, so called after a local Native American tribe in New York State where the breed was popularized.
The breed started out as a commercial roasting bird but lost favor in the market when the Pekin took over. The meat of the Cayuga is of excellent taste and fine quality, but its black pin feathers on white skin don’t leave as clean a carcass as white feathered birds. Though it’s harder to process than light feathered ducks, the meat is high quality with an intense beefy flavor. The breast is a bit smaller than many standard meat ducks but it has a succulent deep red meat with a wonderful complex flavor.
‘Shadow’ drake at Moose Manor
The history of the bird is a little fuzzy but the traditional story is that a miller in Duchess County, New York, caught a pair of wild black ducks on his millpond in 1809. The birds were captured by the millers family to raise and breed, they promptly settled in to life on the miller’s pond. The pair raised large broods, providing the miller’s family with flavorful meat. At market, the offspring of this pair was prized for excellent meat and breeding efficiency. Some of those offspring were brought to the Finger Lakes region of New York in 1840. These ducks became very popular in northern New York and its surrounding area.
The Cayuga is a medium-class duck, weighing an average 8 pounds for mature males and 7 pounds for females. The Cayuga have a jet black bill with occasional olive tips and the feet are black to dusky. The plumage is a beautiful jet black with an iridescent beetle green shimmer in the right light. The wing tips shine from green to deep purple as the light direction changes. Ducklings are coated in fuzzy black down that won’t show green until the feathers come in. As the duck ages the feathers will eventually become mottled with white until it’s almost all white. This changing of colors occurs much quicker in females than males. In addition, their black legs turn more orangish as they mature.
They are a good layer duck, producing 100-150 eggs per year. The shell color is initially coal black, but as the season progresses it lightens to a very light grey-green color. The shell color itself is actually a dusty green color; the black is deposited on the outside of the egg right before it’s laid. If you leave the eggs in the nest, you’ll find your Cayuga hen is a fairly reliable mother who will sit on and hatch her eggs more often than many domestic ducks are known for.
Today this breed is prized for its quiet, docile personality and extreme hardiness. The Cayuga is absolutely one of the hardiest domestic ducks. They tolerate the harsh winters of the northeast and are still able to produce large broods of ducklings.
The Cayuga duck is listed as “Threatened” on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List. This means there are fewer than 1, 000 breeding birds in the US, with ten or fewer primary breeding flocks, and they are globally endangered. The Cayuga is in a good position to rapidly increase in number with little effort. Only a few additional breeders are needed to help further secure its future.