History of Ducks and Geese

Ducks are closely related to swans and geese; in fact, biologists have had
difficulty classifying the three species into different categories. The three species
belong to the biological family Anatidae, meaning birds that swim, float on the
surface of the water, and (in some birds) dive in water for food. For the most
part, the birds in this group eat plants and grains and are monogamous (one
mate) breeders under natural conditions.
It is no wonder biologists have trouble classifying the three species, as there are
more than 100 species of wild ducks alone. Despite the large number of wild
ducks, all domestic ducks, except for the Muscovy duck, were domesticated
from the wild Mallard. The Mallard belongs to a group of wild ducks called
dabblers. This describes their feeding habit of dabbing their bill in the water to
filter food particles from the water. Mallards have an appetite for grasses,
insects, bugs, worms, small fish, toads, snails, frogs, and even snakes.
The Chinese are credited with first domesticating wild Mallards around 2000
B.C., but ducks also were domesticated around the same time in the Middle East.
Ducks were first domesticated for meat and egg use, although later ducks were
used to control pests in rice paddies. Even today, people will herd flocks of
ducks to the rice paddies. In the field, the ducks feast on insects, snails, slugs,
small reptiles, and waste rice; they provide great pest control without using harsh

The Muscovy duck had a far different history. The Muscovy is actually a
perching duck and will roost and nest in trees. They are a native of Central and
South America. It is thought they were domesticated in pre-Inca Peru to be used
as pets. The Muscovy is a carnivorous duck that eats small mammals, snakes,
frogs, flies, and other insects. They can grow to be larger than most breeds of
duck. In the United States, many people keep this breed as pets because they do
not make much noise, and they have distinct personalities.
Geese are hardy, lively birds that practically raise themselves after they lose their
down. Not much maintenance work is required for the majority of a goose’s life.

They are elegant birds and have a unique personality while being versatile.
The goose was domesticated both in eastern Asia and in northern Africa, Europe,
and western Asia. In eastern Asia, the swan goose (Anser cygnoides) was
domesticated to become the Chinese goose. These geese possess a large knob at
the base of their bill. The European-type goose was domesticated from the
Greylag — or wild grey — goose (Anser anser) in northern Africa, Europe, and
western Asia. Both types have been used since first domesticated for their meat,
down, and eggs.
Archaeological evidence in Egypt has shown that geese were kept in ancient
Egypt since 300 B.C. The Romans dedicated geese to the goddess Juno. Huge
flocks of geese were raised in western Europe and slowly herded to Rome to
supply this great city with meat and feathers. As time advanced, large flocks
were raised in southern England, Holland, and Germany and were driven to
markets in large cities during the fall. Another important product of the goose
was the quill, which was used for pens.

Despite being domesticated for centuries, the goose has not undergone the
drastic changes seen in other domesticated livestock. The major changes include
an increase in size, more fat deposition under the skin, selection for color (most
notably white), and improved fertility. The domestic goose does tend to have an
upright posture than its wild brethren and generally is unable to fly.
In Asia, the goose is still an important livestock species. Markets do exist in the
United States, particularly among immigrants from Asia and along the eastern
seaboard. Geese often act as guards for property. For example, the company that
brews Ballantine’s Finest Blended Scotch Whisky has been using geese to guard
their maturing products since 1959. The guards are nicknamed “The Scotch
Watch.” When being sold for meat, geese are usually marketed for a fall market,
particularly around the Christmas season

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