Duck Colour Genetics

An introduction to duck colour genetics was published in 'The Domestic Duck' (2001, reprinted in paperback 2008). This analysis was based on the work of F M Lancaster and R G Jaap, and also took into account colours developed subsequent to 1963. Experimental breeding with Calls and Indian Runners in particular has expanded our knowledge and understanding of the interactions of the colour genes. The British Waterfowl Standards 2008 now incorporate genotypes, and Colour Breeding gives examples of the colours which span the breeds and gives advice on how to recognize them. Such knowledge enables breeders to eliminate faults more easily, and to refresh inbred flocks by appropriate out-crossing. It takes the guesswork out of breeding and allows recognition of the phenotype by focusing on diagnostics such as wing colour and pattern.

FOREWORD TO 'Colour Breeding in Domestic Ducks'

As far as duck breeders are concerned, the most influential figure in the understanding of colour breeding is Maurice Lancaster.
‘F. M.’ Lancaster published a short series of articles in the Waterfowl Magazine (1977–79). These were based on his research at Harper Adams University College and the original monograph ‘The inheritance of plumage colour in the common duck’, Bibliographia Genetica, 1963. Even for readers not trained in genetics or biology, these articles were ground-breaking. So it is with gratitude and humility that our book explores the same field from the position of the amateur duck breeder today.

Mike and Chris Ashton 2007 See Lancaster's review


Section 1 Basic genetics; The effects of all the known colour and pattern genes in ducks and a list of breeds.
Section 2 Breeds and colour varieties under ten major headings - ducklings and adults. Pictures of the wings of various breeds showing the specula and wing coverts etc. in great detail.
Section 3 Sex-linkage
Section 4 Punnett’s early experiments with sex-linked brown dilution; its effect when combined with the two pattern loci, M+ and Li+
Section 5 Major pitfalls encountered in producing new breeds and revitalising old ones. Recessive genes; epistatic genes. Complex interactions between the two triple series controlling variations in the basic ‘wild mallard’ pattern.

An understanding of colour genetics is particularly useful in popular breeds where several colours can be developed on the same type. This applies to Call ducks and Indian Runners. A knowledge of genetics allows compatible colours to be crossed to keep the birds healthy (not too inbred). Only small numbers of F1 and F2 birds need be produced if the outcome is predictable.

Basic Colours
There are reports of ‘Penguin’ ducks being imported into Britain as early as 1835. These ducks brought with them brown dilution and also light phase and dusky mallard genes.

The term ‘Indian Runner’ was largely coined by John Donald in about 1890, when he described similar birds imported also some time in the 1830s. These included all-fawns, whites and pied pattern ducks, the latter being the basis of the Poultry Club Standard publication of 1901. Black Runners were developed from an early white import that also had a certain amount of black in its plumage. Crossed with a Black East Indian, it allowed the development of both Black and Chocolate Runners standardized in 1930 and the later Cumberland Blue Indian Runner, all three of which have extended black.

Trout Runners were the next to be standardized in Europe. They have mallard (M+) genes instead of the more common dusky mallard (md). When heterozygous for blue dilution (Bl/bl+), Trouts become Blue Trouts. When homozygous for blue (Bl/Bl) they are Apricot Trouts (Blau-gelb in German).

Note that in the USA, dark phase Mallard is the norm (with a solid claret bib) rather than the light phase Trout predominant in Europe. However, good Mallard stock is available in Germany.

Where dark phase has been combined with dusky, new colours such as Khaki and Buff have been produced. These lack any claret bib and are a similar colour to the Khaki Campbell and the Buff Orpington because they have a similar genotype.