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Can a duck be black?

Ducks come in a variety of colors, from the familiar mallard brown to bright yellow, green, blue and white. But can ducks ever be black? The answer is yes, certain duck species and breeds can have black plumage. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the duck types that can have black feathers and discuss why black ducks are less common than other brightly colored waterfowl.

Mallard Ducks

The mallard is one of the most common and widespread duck species. Male mallards have the iconic green head and brownish body that we associate with wild ducks. However, some female mallards can have mostly black plumage. This is known as melanism, where more melanin pigment is produced, resulting in darker feathers.

Sex Common Plumage Colors
Male Green head, brownish body with white neck ring
Female Mottled brown, tan, buff, white

As you can see, black is not a standard plumage color for either male or female mallards. However, melanistic mutations can result in some female mallards being almost entirely black. The melanistic gene is recessive, so a female duck needs to inherit it from both parents to display the black coloration. Even then, melanistic females often still show some brown mottling.

Cayuga Ducks

Cayuga ducks are a domestic breed known for their black plumage. Both males and females are completely black with a greenish iridescent sheen on the head and wings. This breed originated in the early 20th century from American Pekin ducks crossed with wild American Black ducks. Cayuga ducks are popular amongst poultry owners for their beautiful black feathers.

Breed Plumage Color
Pekin White
American Black Duck Dark brown/black
Cayuga (hybrid) Black

As a hybrid between a white and dark breed, the Cayuga inherited the dark pigmentation and lack of wild-type camouflage plumage. Through selective breeding, the solid black color was stabilized in the Cayuga duck.

Swedish Blue Ducks

Swedish Blue ducks are another domestic breed exhibiting a melanistic color pattern. As their name suggests, these ducks have a slate blue color with some black spotting. Both males and females are similarly colored. This auto-sexing breed was developed in Sweden by crossing the Blue Swedish landrace with mallards and other birds. The melanistic gene mutation produces the dark blue/black plumage.

Breed Origin Plumage Color
Blue Swedish Landrace breed from Sweden Blue/black spotted
Mallard Eurasia, North America Green/brown sex-linked
Swedish Blue Hybrid breed Blue/black

The Blue Swedish duck contributed the melanistic genes, which when crossed with mallards, produced a stable blue-black phenotype in the Swedish Blue duck breed.

Black East Indies Ducks

The Black East Indies breed has nearly pure black plumage. Both sexes are blackish-brown with a green sheen on the head and wings. They originated from the East Indies region and were likely influenced by melanistic mutations from crossing with wild ducks indigenous to Southeast Asia. Their dark coloration is thought to be adaptive for tropical environments.

Breed Origin Plumage Color
East Indies Southeast Asia Blackish brown
Wild SE Asian Ducks Southeast Asia Brown, black, white

The East Indies breed was likely influenced by native duck species in Southeast Asia that carry melanistic genes, leading to the predominance of black plumage when crossed with domestic ducks.

Black Swedish Ducks

Not to be confused with Swedish Blue ducks, Black Swedish ducks originated as a cross between Swedish mallard landrace ducks and the Cayuga breed. Both sexes are entirely black without iridescence. The Black Swedish breed inherited melanistic genes from both the native Swedish ducks and the Cayuga breed used to develop it.

Breed Origin Plumage Color
Swedish Mallard Landrace breed from Sweden Mottled brown
Cayuga North America Solid black
Black Swedish Hybrid breed Solid black

The Black Swedish combines genetic melanism from mallards and domestic breeds to create a duck breed that is totally black with no iridescent sheen.

Why Are Black Ducks Uncommon?

Most wild duck species have brown, grey or mottled plumage that provides camouflage and mimics the patterns of a duck’s natural habitat. Bright melanistic mutations like solid black generally do not confer a survival advantage for wild ducks. However, in domestic duck breeds, black coloration is selected by breeders for aesthetic reasons.

Some possible reasons why black is an uncommon color for wild and domesticated duck species include:

  • Melanistic mutations that produce black plumage are relatively rare in wild ducks
  • Solid black coloration reduces natural camouflage from predators
  • Male ducks use bright, contrasting colors to attract mates, so black may not be selected for in wild populations
  • Many domestic breeds originated from wild-type mallards and inherited their brown/green coloration
  • Black ducks may suffer heat stress in hot climates due to increased light absorption from their plumage

In summary, the evolution and breeding of most duck species has not favored black plumage. However, melanistic mutations do occasionally occur, producing some black domestic breeds and rare black individuals among wild ducks.


While uncommon, black plumage can occur in certain duck species and breeds. Female mallards, Cayuga ducks, Swedish Blue ducks, East Indies ducks and Black Swedish ducks all exhibit predominantly black feathers. This is made possible by genetic mutations leading to increased melanin production, resulting in melanism.

Melanistic ducks are more common in domestic breeds because their coloration is selected for by breeders. In the wild, black plumage does not provide camouflage advantages so is less commonly seen. However, random melanistic mutations do sometimes occur in wild duck populations as well.

So in conclusion – yes, ducks can sometimes be black! The unique breeds of fully black domestic ducks demonstrate that melanistic mutations can produce black plumage, even if it is rarer in their wild relatives. So next time you see a duck, look closely, because some may have black feathers instead of the usual mallard brown or grey.

Duck Breed Plumage Color
Mallard Brown, green
Cayuga Black
Swedish Blue Blue-black
East Indies Blackish brown
Black Swedish Solid black