Chicken-duck Hybrids

Fact or fiction?



I believe, that two species widely different from each other, as water-fowl and land-birds, &c. cannot possibly conjoin, so as to produce a living mixed offspring.
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

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. One can now find much more information about such animals than would have been possible in Gray’s day.

For example, a story, accompanied by photographs (see image at right above), 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 see the creature and its story hit the news. 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.

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

chicken-duck hybrid A bird hatched in Texas, “Chuck, the Chicken-duck,” differed substantially from the Chinese bird pictured above. A female, “Chuck” had chicken feet and head, but a duck-like body. According to her owner, this bird could float and swim like a duck. Notice her erect, duck-like posture. This strange creature is shown in the video above.

A second bird (image at right and video above), a female hatched here in the U.S., appeared in several news reports and is better documented than the Chinese specimen. Despite her sex, her owner dubbed her “Chuck the Chicken-duck” (from chicken + duck). Chuck not only had chicken-like feet, as did the alleged chicken-duck hybrid in China, but also differed substantially from the Chinese bird in having a chicken-like head. Nevertheless, as can clearly be seen in the picture at right and the video at the top of this page, she had a duck-like body. In the video her waddle and her erect posture, in particular, are quite strikingly reminiscent of a duck.

I contacted the bird’s owner, Ron Schneider, by phone (1/21/2016) in an attempt to obtain feathers for genetic testing to ascertain whether Chuck actually was a chicken-duck hybrid. Unfortunately, he informed me that she had been dead for two years. Schneider did, however, supply me with some additional information. He had originally gotten Chuck from a friend, he said, who kept ducks and chickens together in the same pen.

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

Schneider also told me that she could float and swim like a duck (unlike the Chinese bird discussed above). Chuck didn’t cackle or scratch like a chicken, he said, and her eggs never hatched (a fact consistent with the idea that she was a sterile hybrid). Indeed, they often exploded (as old, addled eggs often do, as gas pressure builds inside the shell). Individual eggs produced by this bird showed an unusual variation in pigmentation from one egg to another not seen in purebred birds.

In response to my request for feathers Schneider said he thought Chuck’s buried remains might still be available, which would have allowed testing. Unfortunately, as explained in the following quoted email, it turned out that that wouldn'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.
chicken-duck hybrid Chuck compared with an ordinary chicken and an ordinary duck.

Numerous cases of alleged chicken-duck hybrids reported in newspapers are cited on this page. However, some cases, such as the following, if honestly reported must necessarily refer to a bonafide cross between chicken and duck, due to the indubitably mixed characteristics it presented. The report appeared in many U.S. newspapers in 1919, but the following transcript is taken from page 13, column 3, of the June 28, 1919, issue of The Seattle Star, a newspaper published in Seattle, Washington (source).


    THORNTON, Texas, June 28.—The strangest freak in the nature of a fowl ever seen in this section of the country is a hen or duck belonging to Mrs. Mary Martin. The fowl is a little larger than an ordinary hen. It has one regular chicken foot while the other foot has web toes like a duck. It has a “comb” like an ordinary chicken and a bill like a duck. It neither cackles nor quacks, but goes about with a peculiar little grunt of its own.
     While the strange fowl is one year old it has never laid an egg. Sometimes it will fly to roost and again it will squat down and roost on the ground.

This report is of interest not only because, if it is honest, it describes what must definitely have been a duck-chicken hybrid, but also because it is an example of a rare condition in a hybrid, that is, asymmetry with respect to the appendages, the presence of one chicken foot and one duck foot. Most hybrids are symmetrical even when their bodies are composed of what seem extremely disparate parts.

Another report, which again, if it was not a hoax, described a clear chicken-duck hybrid hatched from a duck egg. The story appeared on page 7, column 4, of the August 18, 1904, issue of the Cameron County Press, a newspaper published in Emporium, Pennsylvania (source).


Has the Head of a Chicken and the
Body of a Duck and Quacks
and Cackles

    A thoroughly developed duck, so far as feet, wings and body are concerned, surmounted with a head which would do credit to the proudest cock that ever strutted a barn yard, is a fowl owned by Albert G. Eilers, who lives on the Beardstown pike, two miles from Louisville, Ky. The bird has just passed its first birthday, and for the past 12 months has been an object of unparalleled curiosity.
     Mr. Eilers is the proprietor of a grocery and saloon, and as a side issue is a chicken and dog fancier. He also has a number of ducks of the ordinary white variety, and it was one of these which hatched the freak fowl last summer. When the chicken-duck first appeared Mr. Eilers knew not what to do with it. He scarcely expected it to live on account of its deformities, but after a sickly week or two it began to grow and thrive, until it now weighs nearly six pounds. The bird was hatched from a duck’s egg, and for a week was cared for by a mother duck. The mother soon noticed the curious build of the fowl, however, and immediately disowned her offspring. Mr. Eilers then carefully cared for it until it was able to secure its own living among the chickens and ducks of his barn yard.
     The head of the hybrid is as perfectly constructed as that of any chicken. The bill is slightly longer than that usually owned by chickens, but the head and comb are exact. The neck is long and carries the head erect, but at its base the resemblance to a chicken ceases entirely. The body is long and low and waddles about on a pair of short legs to which are appended webbed feet. The wings are large and capable of carrying the bird a considerable distance through the air. The fowl takes to water as readily as a duck, but eats everything peculiar to a chicken. Its voice is the most peculiar part about its make-up. At times the “quack! quack!” of a duck is heard all over the lot, and an instant later the “cackle! cackle!” of a chicken almost destroys the equilibrium of any curious observer.

Another, briefer report, which still must certainly describe a chicken-duck hybrid if true, appeared on the front page, column 1, of the October 17, 1889, issue of the Freeland Tribune, a newspaper published in Freeland, Pennsylvania (source).

A Poultry Freak in Town

    A few weeks ago Albert Goeppert of the Washington Hotel, Walnut Street, purchased a lot of chickens from a farmer, and among the number was one which is half-chicken and half-duck. The head is that of a chicken, while the lower part of the fowl resembles a duck, the feet being webbed. It is in a healthy condition and is an object of interest to all interested in poultry. Call around and see it.

Another brief description of such a bird appeared on page 4, column 1, of the February 17, 1917, issue of The Cobargo Chronicle, a newspaper published in New South Wales, Australia (source):

    Mr. Jack Paton has a curiosity, or monstrosity, in the shape of a male fowl. The head and forepart of the bird are those of a decent, respectable rooster, but the hind legs and hinder part are those of a duck. Altogether the chook is a funny-looking cuss.

Another report appeared that same year on page 8 of the March 23, 1904, issue of The Salt Lake Tribune, a newspaper published in Salt Lake City, Utah (source).

THIS MAY BE A DUCK;            
            IT MAY BE A CHICKEN

    Christ Christensen of Murray is the owner of a freak fowl that has the appearance of being a cross between a chicken and a duck. The bird has the head, comb and neck of a rooster and the upper portion of the body resembles a leghorn chicken; it has the wings of a duck and also the attitude. The feet of this queer bird are those of a rooster with well-defined spurs, sprouting from the legs. The tail noteworthy through its absence. The bird is more than a year old and is thriving nicely.
    The owner brought the fowl to the city yesterday in the hopes of having it exhibited by this State at the World’s Fair. Gov. Wells was not in his office, but Mr. Christensen was informed by Gen. Cannon secretary of the Utah commission, that the States are not making freak exhibits and that the bird would have to be displayed on the midway, where this State had nothing to say.

Another report about a chicken-duck hybrid appeared on page 5, column 4, of the August 22, 1897, issue of The Sun, (Section 3) a newspaper published in New York, New York (source).

One of the Chickens Is Half Duck

From the Pittsburgh Dispatch

    Officer Morris Snyder of Allegheny has a freak in the poultry line, which he raised, last spring, at his home on Parkview Avenue. Some months ago a hen that belongs to the officer showed an inclination to “set,” and a dozen eggs were placed under her, all supposedly hens’ eggs. She attended them diligently, and in due course of time she produced an even dozen of little ones. But they were not all chicks, for among them was the freak. Half of it is chicken and half is duck. The feet are webbed. The feathers on the head are a mottled gray, while those of the body are white, and in the tail there are a number of bronze feathers that are the duck’s crowning beauty.
    The freak is most awkward-looking thing. It stands erect, with its head high in the air, but when it starts to walk it has the “waddle” of the duck. The curiosity, which is a female, is now about six months old, and is in the best of health and spirits apparently, in spite of the fact that neither the other chickens nor ducks on Officer Snyder’s place will have anything to do with it socially.

The following notice appeared on page 3, column 2, of the January 23, 1918, issue of the Evening times-Republican, a newspaper published in Marshalltown, Iowa (source).

    Bellevue. A resident of Savannah, near here, has a freak of nature in his possession. The freak is a fowl, a cross between a duck and a chicken. The bird has the head and neck of a chicken, but the body is that of a duck. The feathers on the bird are soft like those of a duck and the feet are partly webbed. The owner of the fowl says it is the only one to hatch which has lived.
chicken-duck hybrid

Another report about a chicken-duck hybrid appeared in many newspapers around the U.S. The original source of the report was the New York Herald, but the story quoted here, as well as the crude image shown at right, are from page 2, column 4, of the May 5, 1906, issue of The Tucumcari News, a newspaper published in Tucumcari, New Mexico. (source).

Half Hen and Half Duck

    Policeman Joseph Lussier of Willimantic [Connecticut], has a queer freak chicken. The question which perplexes the observer is whether the freak is a hen or a duck. The hen-duck was hatched last May, and it has always borne the eccentricities herewith described. Its breed is the white Wyandotte. It has the head of a pullet and other characteristics, but its walk, posture, etc., are like the duck’s. When walking its body assumes the upright position, as in the picture [i.e., the crude old newspaper image shown at right above]. Its tail is short and stubby and has that peculiar wag such as only the duck can give it, and its legs and feet resemble those of a duck, though the feet lack a web. When it tries to cackle it makes a sound which is seemingly a mixture of a cackle and a quack. It eats from the ground like a duck and drinks a great amount of water. As yet the freak has not laid an egg or essayed to swim, and these may determine later on to which family it belongs.—New York Herald

The following report is quoted from page 4 of the April 11, 1913 issue of The Tacoma Times, a newspaper published in Tacoma, WA (source). The description of the Tacoma bird is similar to that of “Chuck,” the alleged Texas chicken-duck.


    ST. LOUIS, Mo. April 10.—A strange bird, appearing to be half silver lace Wyandotte chicken, half mallard and Indian runner duck, was take to P. J. Meyers of the St. Louis Poultry Supply Co. by a man who purchased the fowl as a spring fry for his Sunday dinner. The freak bird’s owner was preparing to kill it for the cook when he noticed the peculiar mixture of chicken and duck. The bird stands erect like the Indian runner duck, and has the broad back and smooth, downy breast of a duck, colored like the wild mallard species. The foreleg is the exact counterpart of the ordinary duck’s, but the toes are not webbed. It has a rooster head and crows. The bird waddles duck fashion.     The fowl is about eight months old. An attempt will be made to see if it is duck enough to try to swim.

The following report is from the front page, column 5, of the January 17, 1889, issue of Waco Evening News, a newspaper published in Waco, Texas (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.


    Mr. Henry C. Hamilton, one of the most truthful men in Georgia, tells of a great curiosity which Bob Kenyon, an old negro man, is raising on Mr. Hamilton's place in Dalton. The object may be described as a fowl mugwump. It is half duck and half chicken, its father being a duck and its mother a hen.
    The mugwump is about the size of a frying size chicken. It is of the feminine gender. The head and breast are built like a hen, and the back, tail and legs are formed like those of a duck. But, strange to say, the creature is not webfooted. The fowl mugwump cackles like a hen, and in walking wabbles like a duck. Mr. Hamilton says that he was in Dalton Sunday and spent an hour looking at the freak. He says that it is the funniest thing he ever saw in a barnyard.—Atlanta Constitution.

A mugwump was a person who abandoned his political party to become an independent.

So in the twelve cases just cited, we have two individuals with a duckbill, and ten with a beak like a chicken’s. This small sample suggests that in this cross chicken traits tend to predominate in the anterior portion of the body, and duck traits posteriorly.

Several other alleged chicken-duck hybrids are described in the reports quoted below, but it seems only one of these, that reported by Schöpf, had an unmixed beak or a bill (its head was like a chicken’s). All of the others had mandibles intermediate between those of chickens and ducks. So it seems these hybrids, if they actually were hybrids, and if they truly were as described, were quite variable even though they were, 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.

The following notice, if accurate, describes a great rarity, a chicken-duck hybrid that was also a conjoined twin. It is quoted from page 3, column 5, of the April 20, 1894, issue of The Washington Times, a newspaper published in Washington, DC (source):

Nicholas Van Pelt’s Curiosity

    Nicholas Van Pelt, who lives on Sycamore Street, Cincinnati, has a genuine curiosity. It is half chicken, half duck, with three legs, all of which it uses in walking. The back, neck, and wings are chicken, two of its legs are also chicken, but the third leg and body are duck. The three legs are equidistant. The two chicken legs work in unison against the duck leg. The creature is lively and healthy, and is nearly a month old.

A second case of asymmetry, a chicken-duck hybrid with one chicken foot and one duck foot is briefly described in an Australian report, which appeared on page 2 of the February 5, 1935, issue of the Coffs Harbour Advocate, a newspaper published in New South Wales (source):


     Mrs. H. M. Richards has at her home at the Red Hill, Coffs Harbour, a young duckling which one could not distinguish between a duck or a chicken by looking at its legs and feet alone. One is a duck’s leg with a web foot, and the other a chicken’s leg with a fowl’s foot and toes. It is about a month old, quite healthy and apparently not in the least concerned about its freak nature.

Another Australian report about a chicken-duck with webbed feet waddled onto page 3 of the October 7, 1937, issue of The Farmer and Settler, a newspaper published in Sydney, New South Wales (source):

Web-Footed Chicken

     Among a clutch of Black Orpington chickens hatched at Wingham last week,says the 'Chronicle,' was one web-footed like a duck, quite healthy and that has attracted considerable attention.
Notice: If you have a bird you think might be a chicken-duck hybrid (or any other unusual suspected hybrid), and you'd like to have it genetically tested, please contact me through the contact page of this website. Thank you.

Note, however, that a single gene being blocked can produce webbed feet in chickens, as shown by Zou and Niswander (1996). So no bird should be diagnosed as a chicken-duck hybrid solely on the basis of its having webbed feet. Rather it should have multiple traits of both chickens and ducks.

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

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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.

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

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.]

For more details about this same case see: Mannigfaltigkeiten: eine gemeinnützige Wochenschrift, 1771, pp. 600-604.

Johann David Schopf Johann David Schöpf

In his account of his travels through early America during the years 1783-1784, the German botanist, zoologist, and physician, Johann David Schöpf mentions (Schöpf 1788, p. 138) that while in Philadelphia he saw a chicken-duck hybrid at the home of a certain D. Glentworth. Thus, he writes, “At this gentleman’s home I encountered another remarkable phenomenon, which

I'll take this opportunity to mention, namely, a hybrid of a chicken and a duck. The creature was completely similar to a rooster in the front portion of its body, and in the rear, like a duck. The feet were half-webbed and placed far back toward the rump, so that the animal had to totter along in the almost completely upright position of a penguin. An onlooker told how he had seen two similar hybrids in the West Indies. Such birds are otherwise rare, although many roosters seem to prefer ducks to their own chickens. [Translated by E.M. McCarthy. Original German.]
An Austrian case

The German-language magazine Jurende’s vaterländischer Pilger (1828, vol. 15, p. 374, #19) reports a duck on an Austrian farm who flocked with chickens by preference and who mated with a rooster (probably, she had been hatched under a hen and was imprinted on chickens). She produced seven mixed offspring who looked mostly like a duck, but without webbed feet and with a mandible that was a duckbill in its lower part, but a chicken beak in its upper. These birds, like those described with a similar bill structure elsewhere on this page, could not pick up individual kernels of grain and, so, had to be given their food in heaps (e.g., compare the report of Biggs, quoted at left). According to the account, all but two of these birds drowned trying to forage for food in water.

There are at least two other eyewitness reports by scholars. 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

Anton Sommer Dr. Anton Sommer

In another 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.]
chicken-duck hybrid An early illustration of a chicken with webbed feet (Schenck, Monstrorum historia memorabilis, 1609, p. 124, fig. 94).

The early medical journal Miscellanea Curiosa (1685, Dec. 2, vol. 4, supplement, Observation XXXVI, p. 204) mentions a hen that “produced chicks that were clearly chickens, but which had the bill and feet of a duck.”

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.]
Above all things is the behavior of a hen when ducks’ eggs have been put under her and have hatched out—first her surprise when she does not quite recognize her brood, then her puzzled sobs as she anxiously calls them, and finally her lamentations around the margin of the pond when her young ones under the guidance of instinct take to the water.
Pliny the Elder
The Natural History, Book X, lxxvi, 155
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, but with others 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.]
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.

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An old news report >>

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

Note: An old French name for chicken-duck hybrids is gélinottes d'eau, which roughly translates as “water grouse.”

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, (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, (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. (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.

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

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