Call Ducks

Magpie Calls - Kate Elkington

The Call Duck is the smallest breed of domestic duck, weighing less than a kilo. Small and easily transported, they were developed as calling ducks, to call down the wild Mallard to the great traps or decoys in the Fenlands of the UK and the marshes of Holland. They were first known as the Decoy Duck, the name coming from the Dutch term ‘de kooi’ meaning the ‘trap’ or ‘cage’.

First standardised in the UK in 1865, the Call Duck is said to have been imported from Asia into Holland. Decoy ducks were used in Holland in the 1600s, but these are thought to have been decoy ducks by training (i.e. tame ducks) rather that the true Decoy or Call. The Call itself seems to have suddenly become popular in Holland around 1800. For this reason, it is suspected that the birds could have been imported from the Far East.

Many enthusiasts are happy to keep these ducks as pets. They are wonderful pets. The females do have a very loud quack, which is why it would not be advisable to keep female Call Ducks if you have close neighbours. There is however, a huge following both in Europe and North America for showing Call Ducks.

Calls were virtually unknown in the show pen from 1900 to the 1970s, other than as ‘Ornamental Ducks’, placed with the likes of Mandarin and Wood Ducks (Carolinas) in exhibitions. The 1971 edition of Poultry Club Standards included standards for the ‘Decoy’ and within a decade their popularity took off.

Calls are now usually the largest entry at a show. Our Champion Waterfowl Exhibition sometimes has over 300 entries. Calls are cheap to keep and transport but really difficult to breed and find a winner.

Call Ducks are not great layers and the females are most likely to lay in clutches of 8-12 eggs and, if left to sit and hatch them out, the duck will look after the resulting ducklings with great care and attention.

The colours represented in Call Ducks are derived from the same colour genotypes as their larger relatives. For a colour to be standardised, it must breed true to type and colour. With a basic understanding of colour genotypes, this can be achieved predictably.

To reach perfection in any standard, understanding and rigorous segregation is imperative. A mishap in the drake department can undo many generations of patient breeding.

In published ‘Standards’, the colour names and descriptions match those traditionally used and recognised across the waterfowl breeds, in both BWA and PCGB standards publications.

The following Call colours are standardised by the BWA and PCGB:

  • Mallard
  • Blue Mallard
  • Apricot Mallard
  • Appleyard
  • Apricot Appleyard (Butterscotch)
  • Silver
  • Blue Silver
  • Apricot Silver
  • Mallard Dusky
  • Khaki
  • Blue Dusky
  • Apricot Dusky
  • Black
  • Chocolate
  • Bibbed
  • Magpie
  • Mallard Pied
  • White
  • Yellow Belly

Full exhibition standards for these colours may be found in the British Waterfowl Standards.

Waterfowl FAQ

In biology, taxonomy is the science of naming, defining and classifying groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus is regarded as the founder of the current system of taxonomy, as he developed a system known as Linnaean taxonomy for categorizing organisms and binomial nomenclature for naming organisms. With the advent of such fields of study as phylogenetics, cladistics, and systematics, the Linnaean system has progressed to a system of modern biological classification based on the evolutionary relationships between organisms, both living and extinct. All life which has ever existed on Earth is a gradient of relatedness, and taxonomy allows us to make a phylogenetic tree showing the evolutionary relationships among various biological species or other entities, based upon similarities and differences in their physical or genetic characteristics. Think of it as a huge family tree!

Breeds and species are two groups of living things that can breed with the members of the same group. Breed is mostly used to describe groups of domestic animals while all non-hybrid life forms belong to a species. The main difference between a breed and a species is that a breed is a specific population that is selectively bred for the preservation of specific characteristics whereas a species is the largest group that can routinely produce fertile offspring through breeding. Therefore, a breed is a smaller group of animals than species. Think of a breed as a domesticated version of a subspecies, which has been subjected to artificial, as opposed to natural, selection. All domestic waterfowl are descended from a select few species: the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) for all duck breeds except the domestic Muscovy Duck, which is descended from the wild species (Cairina moschata) of the same name, and the Greylag (Anser anser) and Swan Geese (Anser cygnoides) for domestic geese. For a breed to be standardised it has to have proven to breed predictably for several generations.

A true-breeding organism, sometimes also called a purebred, is an organism that always passes down certain phenotypic (i.e. physically expressed) traits to its offspring of many generations. An organism is referred to as true breeding for each trait to which this applies, and the term ‘true-breeding’ is also used to describe individual genetic traits.

In Mendelian genetics, this means that an organism must be homozygous for every trait for which it is considered true breeding; that is, the pairs of alleles that express a given trait are the same. In a purebred strain or breed, the goal is that the organism will ‘breed true’ for the breed-relevant traits.

Waterfowl showing is fairly easy – a bird in good condition, is pretty much in show condition. Cleaning beaks, legs and feet is desirable just before penning. It is much better to provide the opportunity for birds to clean themselves and stay clean rather than try to clean their feathers yourself. Shows are a great place to see the diverse varieties, compare the quality of your bird(s) and gain customers for your stock. All standardised varieties of waterfowl can be exhibited and if your bird’s attributes, breeding and conformation fit a breed standard, you may be taking some trophies home! Ensure your bird is a true representative of a standardised variety — unfortunately just because it was sold to you as a particular one, doesn’t necessarily mean it is, so prior research will pay dividends. The standards for each breed is published in the British Waterfowl Standards. You could attend local shows first, though novices are welcome at our Champion Waterfowl Exhibition too. Speak to exhibitors — no question is a silly question, we have all been new once so go ahead and ask away! Just remember not to disturb or distract judges while they are judging.

In the UK we face few restrictions as to which species of waterfowl we can keep. Only the (North American) Ruddy Duck is prohibited. This is to protect the endangered White-headed Duck.

As long as you keep them contained, that means not released or allowed to escape, you may keep all the other Anseriformes. All may be traded freely as long as they are individulally proven as captive bred. This means close ringed or microchipped for identification. Our native and ordinarily resident birds listed in Appendix 2 of the General Licence may be moved without a ring. Mute Swan and Egyptian Goose require an individual licence to be moved.

Our responsibility to these birds is to keep them in conditions sympathetic to a contented mental state. They should be adequately fed and watered, kept in comfortable conditions with relation to their size and normal habits, and sheltered from weather extremes. We should protect them from pain, injury and disease and allow them the freedom to express normal behaviour. We should do all in our power to protect them from fear and distress.

Essentially, these are summed up in the five freedoms of animal welfare. Expanded; four physical or functional domains of nutrition, environment, heath and behaviour surround and influence the mental state. The Five Domains are key to the highest standards of welfare.

As the British Waterfowl Association we believe that the highest standard of welfare should remain one of our core values.

Read the paper about Fundamental Welfare Requirements here.

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