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
An ostensible chicken-duck-hybrid that made news in China in 2008. Note the chicken-like feet and mallard-like head. Enlarge image|
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.
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.
|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:
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).
|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.
|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.|
|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
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:
Prof. Wilhelm Peters|
Dr. Anton Sommer
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
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 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
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.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).|
|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).|
Note: Mylius (1751, pp. 392-394, 627-628) also briefly describes some chicken-duck hybrids.
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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