Chicken-duck Hybrids

Fact or fiction?

Video: An ostensible chicken-duck hybrid, “Chuck, the Chicken-duck” (Source: YouTube)

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EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS

     
It is foolish presumption to imagine all things false that do not seem probable, which is the ordinary vice of those who fancy themselves wiser than their neighbors.
—Michel de Montaigne
Essays I, 26
chicken-duck hybrid An ostensible chicken-duck-hybrid that made news in China in 2008. Note the chicken-like feet and mallard-like head. Enlarge image



chicken-duck hybrid A bird hatched in Texas, “Chuck, the Chicken-duck,” differs substantially from the Chinese bird pictured above. A female, “Chuck” has chicken feet and head, but a duck-like body. According to its owner, this bird can float and swim like a duck. Notice its erect, duck-like posture. This strange creature is shown in the video at the top of this page.



chicken-duck hybrid eggs Variably pigmented eggs laid by the Texas bird “Chuck.” According to the owner, Chuck’s eggs never hatch, a fact consistent with the idea that she is a sterile hybrid.

Annie P. Gray, author of the mid-twentieth century reference Bird Hybrids (1958), lists this cross (Gallus gallus × Anas platyrhynchos), but rejects its authenticity. After all, it involves members of two different avian orders (Galliformes and Anseriformes). But Gray was writing at a time when far less was known about animal hybrids, and she had no access to the powerful search engines of the modern internet.

It is now possible to find news stories and YouTube videos about such animals. For example, a story, accompanied by photographs (see upper image at right), circulated widely on the internet in 2008. It told of a Chinese farmer, Fu Haiwen, who had a duck with the feet of a chicken. “It never went with the other ducks to swim in the river,” he said, adding that it even seemed scared of water. Puzzled by its strange behavior, he picked it up and was surprised to see its feet lacked webbing. When his discovery became known, curious residents of his village (Huangjin in Xicheng) flocked to his house to see the creature. As can be seen in the photo, this literal rara avis had a mallard-like head, though the bill was green, not yellow. Its plumage from the neck down was more like that of a chicken.

A second bird, hatched here in the U.S., which the owner has dubbed “Chuck the Chicken-duck,” differs substantially from the Chinese bird in having not only chicken-like feet, but also a chicken-like head. Though her name is Chuck (from chicken + duck), she’s a female. The owner says he got the bird from a friend who keeps ducks and chickens together in the same pen. Her body is like that of a duck, and for that reason, she can, according to her owner, float and swim like a duck (unlike the Chinese bird discussed above). This bird, pictured in the lower image at right, is shown in the video at the top of this page. Towards the end of the video, when she stands beside a normal chicken, her duck-like body, her waddle and her erect posture become quite striking.

chicken-duck hybrid Above: An old news report about a chicken-duck hybrid from page 4 of the April 11, 1913 issue of The Tacoma Times, a newspaper published in Tacoma, WA (Access Source). The description of the Tacoma bird is similar to that of "Chuck," the alleged Texas chicken-duck.

The owner says “Chuck” does not cackle or scratch like a chicken. He also notes that her eggs never hatch, a fact consistent with the idea that she is a sterile hybrid, and that they often explode (as old, addled eggs often do, as gas pressure builds inside the shell). Individual eggs produced by this bird show an unusual variation in pigmentation from one egg to another (see image).

Update: I was recently (1/21/2016) able to contact the owner of “Chuck the Texas chicken-duck,” Ron Schneider, by phone. I was interested in obtaining feathers for genetic testing, in order to ascertain whether the animal actually was a chicken-duck hybrid. He told me that Chuck had died a couple of years ago, but that he thought the buried remains were still available, which would have allowed testing. Unfortunately, as explained in the following quoted email, that won't be possible:

Hi Eugene. I enjoyed talking to you on the telephone today. But I have some bad news for you. I told you that my daughter and her husband threw away the chicken-duck feathers. What I didn't know, and my wife told me today, was that she didn't bury the chicken-duck body. She told me that she burned it. Now we will never know the truth. The chicken-duck was hatched in May of 2012. She lived until her death on July 11, 2014. She was killed with her throat slashed. … She ate food lying on her belly. She could float and swim. She would not try to roost with the rest of the chickens. She would go back in her cage every night and come out in the morning. She would run, stop, rear back, flap her wings and wiggle her tail from side to side. She was very affectionate. She would run up to me and jump up and down, until I picked her up. She would not cackle when she laid an egg. Her eggs were no good. The infertile eggs would just sit there. The fertile eggs, the yolks would turn green and explode in 18 days. To me in my opinion she was actually half duck. She had more duck habits than chicken habits.

Notice: If you have a bird you think might be a chicken-duck hybrid, and you'd like to have it genetically tested, please contact me through the contact page of this website. Thank you.

So in the two cases just cited, we have one individual with a duckbill and another with a beak like that of a chicken. Several other alleged chicken-duck hybrids are described in the old reports quoted below, but only one other individual among these had a beak like that of a chicken. All of the others had mandibles intermediate between that of a chicken and a duck. So it seems these hybrids, (if they are hybrids at all) are quite variable even though they are, presumably, the products of a first cross (F₁ hybrids). In less disparate crosses, F₁ hybrids are generally rather uniform, showing little variation from one individual to another.

Given available information, then, it may well be that chicken-duck hybrids, though quite rare, do exist. This possibility is consistent with the fact that in distant crosses involving domestic poultry, such as quail-chicken, turkey-chicken or capercaillie-chicken, thousands of inseminations are needed to produce even a few mature hybrids (McCarthy 2006).

Article continues below

Above: Video about a chicken who adopted a clutch of ducklings. Ducks will imprint on the animal that raised them, that is, they will seek a mate of that kind after they reach sexual maturity. So in this case these ducklings, raised by a chicken, when they reach sexual maturity, will likely seek chickens as mates, and thus, might produce chicken-duck hybrids. The creator of the video, Scott Mandarich, states that "I snuck some duck eggs under one of my broody hens just before they hatched after incubating them and she takes care of them like they are her own. This video shows them swimming around and following the mamma chicken around. She takes care of the baby ducks like they are her own baby chicks."

Mating between chickens and ducks

Before discussing additional reports of alleged chicken-duck hybrids, it should perhaps be pointed out that chickens do often mate with ducks, as is amply documented on YouTube. Although many city dwellers are surprised by this fact, such behavior has been observed in the farmyard for centuries. One of the first well-documented scientific reports of a duck mating with a chicken (though no chicken-duck hybrids resulted) was given by the eighteenth-century French scientist René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur (The art of hatching and bringing up domestick fowls of all kinds at any time of the year either by means of the heat of hot-beds, or that of common fire, 1750, London, C. Davis), who describes such a case.

chicken-duck hybrid Above: An old news report about a chicken-duck hybrid from the front page, col. 5, of the January 17, 1889 issue of Waco Evening News, a newspaper published in Waco, Texas (Access Source). This story, originating from the Atlanta Constitution appeared in many papers around the U.S. Henry C. Hamilton of Dalton, Georgia, served as Clerk of the United States Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
I have had an opportunity of seeing daily an ordinary domestic duck squat to receive the caresses of a rooster—and that not always the same rooster—and which she received as readily as she would have those of a drake, and the rooster himself seemed as eager for the duck as for any hen. And really, this ill conduct of hers amounted to downright lewdness, for she lived with a drake whom she did not refuse, and who had only two other ducks to mate with other than herself. And yet, whenever he was away, and she yearned to have him near, she invited a cock to perform for her the functions of the drake, which he would generally do very well. Accidents that happened to her eggs robbed me of the pleasure of seeing the birds that might have been hatched from them; the progeny would perhaps have been something different from ordinary ducks. Death deprived me of that duck, and of the hopes I had cherished of getting other eggs from her, which would never have been fertilized by any other than a cock, with whom I would have confined her, and which would no doubt have produced a singular kind of bird. This experiment should be done on some other duck, and would not be hard, since I have been told in no uncertain terms that ducks as disorderly as mine are no rarity.

Chicken-duck hybrids: Old Reports

chicken-duck hybrid Above: An old news report about a chicken-duck hybrid from section 2, p. 7, col. 3 of the July 3, 1919 issue of East Oregonian, a newspaper published in Pendleton, Oregon (Access Source).

An early report of hybrids being produced from matings between a female duck and a rooster also dates to the eighteenth century. The German naturalist Johann Taube (1727-1799) was physician to the British court and to the court of Brunswick-Lüneburg. He was also the author of a collection of articles on the natural history of Celle (Beiträge zur Naturkunde des Herzogthums Zelle, 1766-1769, Zelle, Johann Dieterich Schulze), a duchy in northern Germany. The following is excerpted from an essay in that publication entitled “Bemerkung von einer Hühner-Endte” (“Comments on a Hen-Duck,” vol. 1, pp. 257-259). “A female duck living alone in a barnyard with the chickens was unable to avoid an aggressive rooster there, and was many times subjected to his advances. When she then brooded, she brought into

the world six young that indeed were similar to their mother, but in many ways, too, like the father. And having the tendencies of their mother, they sought their food in the water. But their bodies, though much like a duck’s, did not allow them to do so. They sank in water, and several drowned. But with careful supervision, two reached maturity, and one, which is three years old, and I examined last year — something I owe to the kindness of His Honor Counselor von Leiser — lives now in the farmyard of the learned Pastor Roque. They were both females and laid many eggs, which were just like a duck’s. They are distinguished mainly by their beaks and feet. The lower part of the bill is entirely a duck’s, wide in front and with the adjacent skin feathered. The upper mandible, however, is bent, shorter than the lower, and entirely like a chicken’s. Given this condition, they are unable to pick up individual kernels of grain, and if they are eating off the ground, have to be given their grain in a heap. At the water trough, they quack just as a ducks do. The feet, in their position and form, are like those of a duck, but unwebbed, and their claws are like a chicken’s. The lack of webbing means they cannot maintain themselves on water, so they sink like chickens. Up to the present, given equal opportunity, they have shown little tendency to associate with ducks, and have generally flocked with the hens. [Translated by E.M. McCarthy. Original German.]
Ode to a Duck-hen
by Gene McCarthy
If your father were a chicken,
And your mother were a duck,
Would you be a dicken?
Or would you be a chuck?

Duck-hen’s somewhat clearer,
But hen-duck seems good, too,
For a duck who’s nearer
Chicken than a duck who’s true.

There are at least two other eyewitness reports. In the first, a letter to Magazine of Natural History (Biggs, 1834, p. 516) with the lengthy title "Ducks with the toes not connected by a web or membrane, and the upper mandible imperfect: presumed to have proceeded from a union between the domestic duck and domestic fowl," Arthur Biggs (1765-1848), a fellow of the Linnean Society of London and for many years Curator of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, describes three alleged hybrids:

They were bred at a small farm at Gamlingay, Cambs, and were bought, about seven years ago, by Mr. Bowles, veterinary surgeon, Cambridge, who sent them to the Botanic Gardens, and … [later] they were added to the London [Zoological Society’s] farm at Kingston, Surrey … they differed from common ducks in the upper part of their beak being twisted and jagged, and so much smaller than the lower part, that it was with some difficulty that they could gather up their food; and in being not web-footed, but having feet like those of a hen. The colour of one of them was a dark brown, like that of some hens; the other two were nearly of the usual colour of common ducks. One of them manifested a dislike to go into water; so much so, that, when driven to the water, it would turn away. The general appearance, and habits of all were such as to induce many persons to suppose that they were mule beings which had been produced from a union between the common species of duck and the common species of fowl.
Wilhelm Peters Prof. Wilhelm Peters
(1815-1883)

Anton Sommer Dr. Anton Sommer
(1816-1888)

In a third report (Peters 1862), the German zoologist, anatomist, and explorer Wilhelm Carl Hartwig Peters (1815-1883) communicated to Journal für Ornithologie, a letter from Dr. Anton Sommer (1816-1888), a resident of Rudolstadt in Thuringia. Sommer, a well-known author, was founder and headmaster of a school in that town. Peters was a professor at Berlin University (Berliner Universität, the precursor of today’s Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin). The latter was also the director of the university’s zoological museum. At the time he communicated Sommer’s letter, Peters was also director of the Berlin Zoological Gardens. He provides the following introduction to Sommer’s letter. “Last autumn, when I had the pleasure of spending some time with

the excellent Professor [Harald Othmar] Lenz [(1798-1870)] in Schnepfenthal [in Thuringia], we happened to discuss the subject of hybridization. He then told me of a case of interbreeding between a duck and a chicken, which I did not believe because he had not personally observed it. In consequence of this conversation Professor Lenz was kind enough to send me a letter from Dr. Sommer, which contains the following interesting information. The letter dated March 23, 1862 was not intended for the public. However, Professor Lenz said he would take responsibility if I published it in a journal. [Translated by E.M. McCarthy. Original German.]

In his letter, Sommer describes a bird he believed to be a hybrid between a chicken and a duck, which he says he “saw in the late twenties at the mill at Oeblitz, about halfway between [the cities of] Naumburg and Weissenfels, across [the river Saale] from [the municipality of] Goseck. It was here that I spent most of my school holidays. In the barnyard there,

a hybrid hatched from a duck egg, a dark-colored thing halfway between chicken and duck, which in the form of its body was more duck-like, but in that of the head and bill, more chicken-like. The feet were just like a chicken’s, except that the toes were webbed about half way up. During the hot days of summer when I had this creature daily before my eyes, the wings and tail were not yet fully developed. It kept to the duck brood with which it had hatched out, allowed itself to be driven into the water with them, and, indeed, swam quite well, but would soon return to shore, and on its own entered the water only to bathe, and then only where it could touch bottom. Whether it was male or female, I could not tell before the end of my vacation. When I again arrived the following Easter break, a certain Thienemann in Naumburg, the keeper of an inn called the Brown, or Red, Stallion, had somehow talked my aunt into giving him this weird and wonderful animal, and put it in the courtyard of the inn in a cage with a bird of prey and various other odd creatures, and left it to perish there during the winter. This Vandal intervention into what I saw as my special studies in natural history so upset me that the next day I took my little knapsack and left for home. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original German.]
chicken-duck hybrid A reconstruction of the beak of a chicken-duck hybrid based on two of the quoted historical reports. The upper mandible is chicken-like, the lower, like the bill of a duck. However, when considered as a whole, the few reports available suggest a high level of variability in this cross, even in the F₁ generation, with some individuals having bills like ducks, and others, beaks like chickens (as seen in the photographs above), but with most having a mandibular structure somewhere in between.

Sommer was then in his early teens. He goes on to say that after returning to his home in Rudolstadt he came to the realization that he could repeat the experiment with birds from his parents’ flock. He intentionally imprinted cocks on ducks, he says, by placing duck eggs under hens so that they would raise the ducklings when they hatched. As he, continuing, explains, “Naturally, I could not rest after this, and I wanted to do intentionally, what had first occurred by chance. Already, I held in my hand the thread that would lead me to this goal, that is, I had observed that a drake, which had hatched under a hen, was always chasing hot after our chickens. I therefore caused cocks to be brooded under ducks and perceived already

in a not half-grown cock the same passion for ducks, and realized from this that the urge for such a pairing could in fact exist. However, because of the noise that this disturbance among the poultry caused in my parents’ otherwise quiet parsonage, I was obliged, beg as I might to the contrary, always to keep the culprit, who was seen as an incorrigible troublemaker, confined to the kitchen. And yet, I wanted actually to carry out the experiment I had planned. So I had to resort to subterfuge. I indeed knew of another drake that also chased after hens, so I started long before slaughter time to take care of him by keeping him aside, until eventually only he remained to maintain the species during the next breeding season. As laying time again began, it so happened that the drake preferred one especially tame hen above all others, which allowed me to assist him in his desires and to more easily collect the eggs. From these there emerged at hatching, which unfortunately took place in my absence, two monsters, one which was in all respects like a chick, except in having duck-like legs—somewhat long for a duckling—but which already on that first night was crushed to death by its mother; and one that was more duck-like in form, but with chicken feet and a beak that was intermediate between that of a chicken and a duck. This latter animal also feathered out in exactly the same way as do ducks, in which the first feathers erupt not at the wing tips, but first on the shoulders. I could not myself monitor and watch over him, given that I could only visit from Jena on Saturdays, and in doing so neglect my studies of Reinhold’s Geschichte der Philosophie. Thus, probably as a punishment for this intellectual sin, I found the little creature one day, when it was about 6 weeks old, dead in front of the house, trampled by a cow. This must have been in 1829 or '30. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original German.]

Note that the description Sommer gives of the hybrid crushed in the nest, differs from nearly all of the other alleged hybrids mentioned on this page, in that this animal was like an ordinary chick in all respects except that it had duck legs. The other alleged hybrids on this page all had feet similar to those of a chicken. Moreover, all except “Chuck, the Chicken-duck” had mandibles that were at least partially duck-like.

Another interordinal avian cross >>

Dog x cow >>

Jumarts (horse x cow) >>

Leopons (leopard x lion) >>

Human Origins: Are We Hybrid? >>

Online Biology Dictionary >>

More about hybrids >>

And old news report >>
Below: A news report about a chicken-duck hybrid from the front page, col. 1, of the October 17, 1889 issue of Freeland Tribune, a newspaper published in Freeland, Pennsylvania (Access Source). chicken-duck hybrid
Below: A news report about a chicken-duck hybrid that was also a conjoined twin from the page 3, col. 5, of the April 20, 1894 issue of The Washington Times, a newspaper published in Washington, DC (Access Source). chicken-duck hybrid

Note: Mylius (1751, pp. 392-394, 627-628) also briefly describes some chicken-duck hybrids.


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References:

Ackermann, K. 1898. Thierbastarde. Zusammenstellung der bisherigen Beobachtungen über Bastardirung im Thierreiche nebst Litteraturnachweisen. II: Die Wirbelthiere. Kassel: Weber und Weidemeyer.

Bechstein, J. M. 1791. Gemeinnützige Naturgeschichte Deutschlands nach allen drey Reichen: Ein Handbuch zur deutlichern und vollständigern Selbstbelehrung besonders für Forstmänner, Jugendlehrer und Oekonomen, vol. 2. Leipzig: Siegfried Lebrecht Crusius, http://tinyurl.com/cwys32f (p. 719).

Bechstein, J. M. 1793. Gemeinnützige Naturgeschichte Deutschlands nach allen drey Reichen: Ein Handbuch zur deutlichern und vollständigern Selbstbelehrung besonders für Forstmänner, Jugendlehrer und Oekonomen, vol. 3. Leipzig: Siegfried Lebrecht Crusius (p. 411).

Biggs, A. 1834. Ducks with the toes not connected by a web or membrane, and the upper mandible imperfect: presumed to have proceeded from a union between the domestic duck and domestic fowl. Magazine of Natural History and Journal of Zoology, Botany, Mineralogy, Geology and Meteorology. 7: 516-517.

Bronn, H. G. 1847. Handbuch einer Geschichte der Natur. Vol. 2, 2nd ed. Stuttgart, Wien, http://tinyurl.com/br9jpg2 (pp. 165, 174).

Gray, A. P. 1958. Bird hybrids: A checklist with bibliography. Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, The Commonwealth Bureau of Animal Breeding and Genetics Edinburgh, Farnham Royal, Bucks, England.

Mylius, C. 1751. Physikalische Belustigungen, vol. 1. Berlin: Christian Friedrich Voß.

Peters, W. 1862. Ueber Bastardbildung von Rector Dr. Sommer, in Schnepfenthal. Journal für Ornithologie. 10: 209-212.

Przibram, H. 1910. Experimentalzoologie. 3. Phylogenese. Chapter IV: Bastardierung. Leipzig and Vienna: Franz Deuticke, (p. 80).

Shufeldt, R. W. 1893. Notes on the trunk skeleton of a hybrid grouse. The Auk, 10: 281-285. http://tinyurl.com/pnhyffm (On p. 282, Shufeldt describes mating between a drake and a hen.)

Taube, J. 1766. Beyträge zur Naturkunde des Herzogthums Zelle. vol. 1. Zelle: Johann Dieterich Schulze. http://tinyurl.com/cmfzztb).

von Haller, A. 1758. Sur la formation du coeur dans le poulet, sur l'oeil, sur la structure du ... second mémoire. Lausanne, Bousquet. http://tinyurl.com/chzk6jy (p. 189).

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