Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version

October 1965


Published in Natural History 74:8 (October 1965), pp. 26–29. Copyright © 1965 The American Museum of Natural History. Used by permission.


If one were to try to choose the most remarkable duck in the world, serious consideration would have to be given the Australian Musk Duck (Biziura lobata) of the family Anatidae. Among its unusual features are the great dimorphism of the sexes (males weigh eight pounds or more and are about three feet from bill to tail; females weigh two to three pounds and measure about two feet), the leathery pendent lobe that is located on the lower mandible, the strong odor of musk that is prominent in males during the breeding season, and the remarkably large eggs (averaging one-half pound). To these facts it might also be added that comparatively few people have ever seen Musk Ducks fly, that males have a most unusual whistling call, and that the males’ displays are so loud and conspicuous that they can be seen and heard for at least a half mile under favorable conditions. In spite of all these unusual characteristics, no comprehensive studies on the biology of this species exist. This is the more remarkable considering the abundance of the bird over the southern half of Australia. The Musk Duck is of relative unimportance as a game species, since both sexes are of a dull gray color and, as they rarely fly, make poor targets. Also, the birds have a tendency to inhabit weedy, overgrown marshes and to dive from sight at the first sign of danger. This behavior probably is the reason that relatively little has been written about them.

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